Child protection is a new struggle the nation faces

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The atrocities that our children suffer are unfathomable.

One of the hardest things to accept perhaps, is that in a country that is meant to be a nation of civilised people, one still wakes up to headlines such as the murder and necrophylic rape of Courtney Pieters; the story of the mother who is going to spend the rest of her life in prison because she attempted to cover up the rape of her two-month old baby daughter, and many other chilling media reports detailing the brazen slaughter of children.

As I write this, I remember how during the 2017 edition of National Child Protection Week, I had been just as horrified by the cases and statistics that were released and reported by media, of different forms of violence visited on children. Defenceless children who likely could not comprehend what was happening to them, done to them by people who were meant to take care of and nurture them.

As we celebrate the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, one remembers the efforts he had made to make sure his administration put child protection at the centre of the South African agenda.

He aligned himself with the UN under the leadership of Civil Society. Immediately after being sworn in as president, he set in motion a process of making South Africa a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This happened in 1995, a feat achieved ahead of countries which had been in democracy for a lot longer than Souh Africa - some for more than a century.

The UN, under the leadership of Scholastica Kimaryo - who is a Tanzanian by birth - began to support children's rights development work in South Africa.

It was during those days that South Africa adopted the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, as well as ensure that the Bill of Rights that is enshrined in our constitution, contained a clause that specifically addressed child protection.

This clause states that "every child has the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation".

Legislation was also put in place under the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act 32 of 2007, which addresses a number of crimes against children.

The annual National Child Protection Week is meant to not only further raise awareness around this subject, but is also meant to have us as a nation, take stock of the progress that has been made in this area.

The reality, however, is that whatever progress made, gets eclipsed by the endless horrific abuse stories that suggest we are taking two steps forward, and ten steps back.

The theme for this year's National Child Protection Week - which started on Monday and lasts until Monday is "Let us all protect children to move South Africa forward".

The purpose of this campaign is to mobilise all segments of society, including business, women's rights organisations and the faith communities to advocate for care and protection of all children in our country.

This campaign is also meant to renew our commitment as a society to child protection.

In the year of "Thuma Mina", I for one am raising my hand to volunteer towards the cause of protecting children.

I am pledging my support to making sure that I do my part in making our country a safer place for our children, and supporting those organisations that have taken this task on, even after the annual national campaign has ended. 

Mkhize is ANC MP and founder member of the National Child and Violence Trust

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