Violence, inequality and poverty put children at risk of sexual exploitation

SA has been ranked 16 out of the 60 countries scored by the Out of the Shadows Index on the country’s response to child sexual exploitation and abuse.
SA has been ranked 16 out of the 60 countries scored by the Out of the Shadows Index on the country’s response to child sexual exploitation and abuse.
Image: 123RF/Artit Oubkaew

High levels of violence, inequality and poverty are leaving South African children at risk of becoming victims of sexual exploitation.

This was the finding by End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT) International and the Youth Research Unit (YRU) of the Bureau of Market Research (BMR).

The new briefing paper was launched at the University of SA (Unisa) on Tuesday.

SA was ranked 16 out of the 60 countries scored by the Out of the Shadows Index on the country’s response to child sexual exploitation and abuse.

“Even though SA has knowledgeable welfare support workers and a strong legal framework to protect children from sexual exploitation, serious limitations still exist,” it said.

The country has policies and laws in place to protect children, but researchers believe that there are gaps in funding, weak monitoring and enforcement, and mediocre co-ordination by government departments to implement laws.

“We have enough [policies and legislation], if we can’t even meet the requirements of what we have available, what will be the point of developing more policies and legislation?” a researcher from KwaZulu-Natal said.

In September, the crime statistics revealed that sexual offences have increased by 4.6% to 52,420 cases in the 2018/19 reporting period, up from 50,108 cases the previous year.

The surge in school violence was also highlighted in the paper.

“School-based behaviour-change programmes, like promoting alternatives to corporal punishment or peer leadership projects challenging gender-based violence or harassment, are urgently needed to address young people’s attitudes towards violence and abuse,” it said.

According to the paper, the tribal custom of ukuthwala (bride kidnapping) is practised in some regions and is considered a risk factor for sexual exploitation.

“SA ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and, therefore, has committed to establishing the minimum age of marriage at 18 years old for both boys and girls, with no exceptions,” Andrea Varrella, legal research officer at ECPAT International said.


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