#ChildProtectionWeek2022: Now or never, SA must prevent and proactively act on statutory rape

South Africa commemorates National Child Protection Week annually to raise awareness of the rights of children as articulated in the Constitution and Children’s Act. This week is about ensuring that the most vulnerable in our communities are taken care of mentally, physically, and emotionally and the prevention of any kind of violence (physical, emotional, and sexual) and the exploitation of children.

However, there is still a high number of child abuse cases in the country despite a progressive legal and policy environment that should facilitate protection of children in South Africa. Statistics show that about a third of girls in South Africa will experience some form of sexual abuse during their lifetime. The 2019/2020 South African Police Service crime statistics showed more than 24 000 children were sexually assaulted. This is just the tip of the iceberg as it is widely known that a number of these cases are not reported. This is further exacerbated by the alarming rates of new HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women.

It is for this reason that the Soul City Institute has focused on creating an enabling environment for all children, in particular girls, to fully realise their human rights so that they are able to live with dignity and self-determination and have the health and wellbeing to grow, flourish, and reach their full potential. The Institute's school-based programs, such as Soul Buddyz and Rise Young Women clubs, are critical to raising awareness and advocating for children's rights in the future.

The failure to address the societal factors that lead to statutory rape, which often results in unintended pregnancies amongst teenage girls, is our collective failure to protect children. We need, amongst many things, comprehensive sexuality education; economic empowerment of women who are often single parents; a legal and judicial system that facilitates justice for survivors; and access to youth-friendly sexual reproductive health services in public health facilities.

South Africa also requires more resources to facilitate convictions in statutory rape cases, to construct more one-stop post-rape care facilities such as Thuthuzela Care Centres, to establish community-based child protection forums, particularly in rural communities, and to establish parenting and caregiver programmes to promote positive parenting.

However, ending statutory rape will not be possible while practises such as payment of "damages" by perpetrators as well as the shaming and blaming of pregnant teenage girls continue.

For media interviews, contact:
Phinah Kodisang, CEO of the Soul City Institute for Social Justice
email: phinah@soulcity.org.za, 011 771 790

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