Child abuse is a very broad term, covering neglect of a child, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. Depending on the nature of the abuse, and the person committing the abuse, there are different courses of action to be taken and different ways of dealing with the problem. These can involve the police, or social workers, or both, and counselling. Certain kinds of professionals - dentists, medical practitioners, nurses, social workers, teachers, anyone working at a children's home - are obliged by the Child Care Act to report any suspicion of abuse of a child.
Physical and Sexual Assault
Where it is obvious that a child has been physically assaulted or sexually abused (rape, indecent assault, assault), you should contact the nearest Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS) of the South African Police Service, as these are criminal offences which should be reported to the police. These FCS units have police officers that are specially trained to deal with abused children.
If you don't have an FCS unit nearby, you can also report the crime directly to the police station nearest to you, and they should refer the matter to the nearest FCS, unless they have an FCS-trained individual working at that police station. You can check the SAPS website or The South African Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect website for your nearest FCS or police station which has a trained individual. If you cannot get through to any of those telephone numbers you can call 0800 11 12 13 instead. It is important for the child's sake that someone who is properly trained deals with the case, as they will alsoknow about which medical practitioners or child abuse clinics are trained to examine the child medically, if that is necessary.
Abuse and Neglect by Parents
Where it is the parent or the child's caregiver who is suspected of any kind of abuse or neglect, this should be reported to your nearest Child and Family Welfare Society (Child Welfare) for investigation by a social worker. If the matter has already been reported to the police, the police will contact Child Welfare. However, if the child has been simply abandoned or otherwise neglected and the matter has therefore not been reported to the police, Child Welfare can investigate how best to protect the child from further harm.
Child Welfare social workers have been given the responsibility to investigate reports of child abuse, and to decide on the best intervention to protect the child. Depending on the circumstances, this might involve removal of the child from the parents or caregiver. Children who have been abandoned or removed from their families, are placed in places of safety on a temporary emergency basis while plans are put in place to re-unite the child and the family, should this be possible, or while alternative arrangements for long-term care, such as fostering are made.
Children are then either returned to their families, or placed with other caregivers such as foster parents or residential care centres, on a temporary basis. Fostering is usually for a period of two years, after which the child and its family are again evaluated, to find out whether the child can return to the family. If there are no prospects for the child's eventual return to the family, then the child can be adopted.
For information about the Child and Family Welfare Society nearest to you contact the SA National Council for Child and Family Welfare: Tel: 011 339 5741
Fax: 011 339 8123, or have a look at this contact list. You can find out more about Cape Town Child Welfare on their website. In some instances, social workers at organisations other than Child Welfare will have the responsibility for children in your area; however, Child Welfare will refer you to the correct person.
Emergency After-hours Service
After-hours services for child victims of abuse and neglect are available from 16:00 - 08:00 on weekdays and over weekends and public holidays through a Child Protection Coordinator. If you are in emergency need of after-hours services by social workers, police, justice and health care workers, you can contact your nearest District Child Protection Coordinator of the provincial Department Social Development.
For counselling for yourself or your child in respect of child abuse, you can call Childline on their toll-free number 0800 055 555. In the Western Cape, Childline is part of Lifeline. There are Lifeline Centres in Cape Town, Bishop Lavis, Khayelitsha, Guguletu and Wynberg that you can phone or visit for counselling and help.
You can volunteer to help any organisation involved in dealing with child abuse by checking this directory on the Volunteer Child Network website. For each organisation, this directory indicates what kind of volunteers are needed. You can contact an organisation directly where you find you match their needs. If you don't find an appropriate organisation, you can register as a volunteer and be contacted in future, should a need for your help later arise.
Preventing Child Abuse
Preventing child abuse is a campaign, called "Hands Off Our Children" (HOOC), of the Provincial Minister of Community Safety. The provincial Department of Social Development is also to keep a register of reports of child abuse, once this has been rolled out by the National Department.