'We need to look at root causes': Child protection experts call for urgent action

‘We need to look at root causes’: Child protection experts call for urgent action

  • A Cape Town woman who allegedly poured boiling water on a 5-year-old boy faces charges of intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
  • The incident brought to light the issue of child abuse.
  • Experts say urgent intervention is needed to prevent child abuse cases like these.

Child protection experts said combating child abuse requires the participation of all members of society.

Child abuse came under the spotlight in Western Cape province last week when a woman was arrested and accused of pouring boiling water on 5-year-old Unako Kala while he was apparently playing with dogs on her street.

The child suffered several burns.

Asanda Macalusa, a 22-year-old woman from Langa, was arrested in connection with the assault.

According to the police spokesman, Captain FC Van Wyck, the assault took place on Saturday 24 June.

The boy’s aunt, Yonela Minombulo, said Onako was recovering well.

Read | Arresting a woman for burning her child with boiling water

“It’s so much better,” she said, remembering the day he came home screaming and crying.

“[He had] Open wounds from where water was poured on him.

Mneumpolo said:

We are still angry that our child was treated this way. He’s just a kid and he doesn’t deserve this.

According to the aunt, Unako left their home in District 17 to play with his neighborhood friends in the park on Settlers Street, where the accused lived.

“When it was time to go home, the children walked down the street,” Mneumpolo said.

She said the dogs were distracting the children in the street and they wanted to play with them, but the dogs kept barking at them.

At that time, the woman allegedly poured a bucket of boiling water over the child.

“We went to her house to ask her why she did this to our boy,” Minompolu said angrily.

Echoing the family’s account of events, ward counselor Lwazi Phakade said: “The children love to play with animals, and they found the dogs amusing as they came home from playing in the garden. Somehow between the boy playing with the dogs and the dogs barking, Asanda may have found it annoying and acted out condemned.”

“We understand that society is still outraged by what happened to the child. Any act of violence is condemned in the highest form, and we must allow the law to take its course in this case,” Vacady said.

He said dozens of residents protested in front of Bishop Lavis Magistrates’ Court on Friday where Makaluza appeared on charges of intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

“We have been told that she has been transferred to Pollsmoor Prison until her next court appearance. She currently remains behind bars,” Vakady said.

Read | ‘Our boy is not well’: Family of toddler scalded with boiling water in nursery school struggles with medical bills

The boy’s family said they had not received an apology from the accused or her family.

“Onako now has to walk around with those scars visible on his little body, which is wrong. He didn’t deserve to have hot water poured over him as if his life didn’t matter,” said Miniumpolo.

Boy abuse is not an isolated crime. According to the latest Quarterly crime statisticsThere were 419 cases of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm to children in the Western Cape between January and March.

During the same period, 39 children were killed and 81 attempted murders were opened.

Reasons why someone would commit violence against a child can range from mental health issues to substance abuse, said Margarete Holtzhausen, director of the Trauma Centre.

Holtzhausen said:

We don’t know what made her feel like this would be something she could do for a child.

However, Holtzhausen noted that mental health is often a contributing factor in such cases.

“There are a lot of reasons why people act the way they do. It’s an individual diagnosis.”

Holtzhausen believes that one way to stop violence is to work with children in schools.

She said it was important to look at the source of the violence.

“We know that many perpetrators of violence suffer from childhood trauma. We have to look at the root causes,” she said, adding that many South Africans live in a permanent state of “fight or flight”.

“We have generational trauma,” she said. “Look at our history as a country. That hasn’t been dealt with before. We don’t have programs where we focus on community recovery.”

Children were often at risk because they didn’t have safe places to play, Holtzhausen said.

“Small children are often out in the streets, running free without supervision. They don’t have proper places to play, and no one is watching them,” she said.

Edith Creel, director of child protection Jelly Beans, said many South Africans are “in survival mode on a daily basis”, without room for empathy or kindness.

In addition, children’s rights are still grossly undervalued in many societies, Creel said.

“Children are still not seen as people in their own right,” she said. “There is very little understanding or empathy for them as human beings.”

Also read | Their 3-year-old died during a power outage. They think it’s time for City Power to pay

Preventing child abuse requires a systemic shift that includes providing social support to parents, Creel said.

“Because of the legacy of apartheid, there’s a lot of fracture in families’ capabilities, parenting capabilities. How do we really support families? The best the government has done is create a childcare grant. But that’s just money, and often not until the end of the month.”

Children’s rights campaigner Lucinda Evans called the case “appalling” and said she hoped the law would take its course.

She added that women and mothers need more support and services, especially if they have mental health issues.

“What more can we do to protect children? Do we have enough facilities and after-school programmes? The answer is no,” Evans said.

Ministry of Social Development spokeswoman Monique Mortlock-Malgas said they were aware of the issue and that a social worker from a partner NGO was in contact with the child’s family.

“Psychosocial support will be provided if needed,” Malgas said.

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