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Let’s ensure that 34% of our population is not forgotten in this election

As South Africa gears up for the forthcoming election, it’s imperative to acknowledge a stark reality: over one in three citizens will not cast a vote. These individuals aren’t abstaining by choice or due to registration issues; they’re under 18 years of age. “This year’s election takes place on the first day of Child Protection Week, underscoring the trust our children place in us to advocate for their rights and welfare,” says Mandy Pearson, CEO and Founder of the ReStory Foundation.

 The adage ‘you measure what you value’ rings true. While the government diligently monitors economic indicators like growth and unemployment, the same diligence isn’t extended to child protection. “Shockingly, the last comprehensive measure of child sexual abuse dates back four years,” notes Pearson.

 Available statistics paint a grim picture. According to the South African Police Service (SAPS) Crime Statistics, a child falls victim to sexual abuse every 20 minutes. The most recent data from 2019/2020 indicates a staggering 54.45% increase in reported cases since 2015/16. “However, these figures likely underestimate the true prevalence, failing to account for cases with multiple perpetrators or repeated abuse against a single victim,” says Pearson.

 The Optimus Study, spanning three years and conducted by the University of Cape Town and the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention, reveals that one in three children has experienced some form of sexual abuse, with many subjected to repeated victimisation. Statistical evidence reveals that boys are equally susceptible to such abuse. The State of the South African Child 2023 report highlights the severity, revealing that 2 out of 5 male learners admitted to being raped in a 2021 study.

 Underreporting exacerbates the issue, with estimates suggesting that less than 1 in 10 cases are brought to the attention of authorities. This, coupled with an estimated average of two abuses per child, implies that a child is sexually abused every minute in South Africa.


“As an NPO dealing with many cases of neglect and abuse there are areas that beg for an improved response. We have seen first-hand: police marching a rapist directly past the 7-year-old victim after she had identified him behind one-way glass; a five-year-old boy with bowel incontinence from rape still isolated for safety years later while his rapist roams the community on bail. The norm being R1500 for bail after just 4 weeks, rather than an anomaly as it should be for a schedule 6 offense,” says Pearson.


The inadequate response to such atrocities is alarming. Instances where perpetrators walk freely while victims suffer in silence, fearing repercussions for reporting, highlight systemic failures that demand urgent rectification.


“Childhood exposure to violence not only scars victims but perpetuates a cycle of trauma that manifests in various societal ills, from substance abuse to perpetuated violence, often across generations. Victims without access to trauma support are not able to develop the agency and growth mindset necessary to succeed,” adds Pearson.


In addition to the crippling impact on individuals and families, violence against children can decrease potential, productivity and quality of life – reducing economic growth and hindering a nation’s full development.


Save the Children’s 2017 estimate of the cost of physical and emotional violence against children in South Africa was a staggering R238.58 billion, equivalent to 6% of South Africa’s GDP in 2015.


The ReStory Foundation urges South Africans to critically evaluate party commitments to child protection before casting their votes on May 29th. “What commitments has the party you are considering voting for made to ensure the protection of our children?” asks Pearson. Our children’s voices must not be overlooked. “Watch a poignant message from our children and share it with others.”


Let’s ensure that the 34% of our population under 18 does not remain unconsidered and is not forgotten in this election.

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