Hard Questions as Another '16 days' Comes Around

16 Days of Activism on No Violence against Women and Children.Creator: Lisa Skinner. All rights reserved.

Three years ago, a 6 week old baby girl, Jamie Naidoo, was saved from the brink of what could potentially have been a life of sexual servitude. While the odds that Jamie would lead a better life increased, after her father’s attempts at selling her to a man for R100 were foiled by the Durban Metro Police, this idealist hope was cruelly extinguished last Thursday when her lifeless body was found at the home of her grandmother. Jamie had been tortured, raped and beaten to death. Her mother and grandmother have since been taken into custody. The Child Welfare Centre in Chatsworth, a non-profit organization which had placed this young girl in the care of these family members following a court order, had on previous visits with the family found no evidence of Jamie being mistreated. But surely somewhere along the line the system failed her, even if perhaps it started just as soon as the judicial system thought it prudent to return her to her family.

As we observe another 16 Days of Activism on No Violence against Women and Children one wonders what impact this annual campaign really has. While the 2013/2014 police crime statistics released earlier this year boasts a decrease of reported cases of sexual offences and rape, extracting any form of meaningful information on the rates of domestic violence is not as evident.  The police, although expected to record this information, do not release this data but instead assign domestic violence cases to other categories of crimes i.e. common assault, assault with the intention to inflict grievous bodily harm, attempted murder and murder. Of these categories, murder was found to have increased by 3.5 %.

Whether the statistics reflect a decrease or an increase, the reality is that there is not a single day that goes by without one being confronted, in one way or another, by tales of a mistreated child or a young girl being gang raped; of a woman being killed by her intimate partner or a grandmother being physically and sexually assaulted. The loss experienced by each and every one of these victims, be it the loss of a life or the loss of one’s dignity and sense of safety and self-worth, is one loss too many.

The Chatsworth based Child Welfare Centre which had managed Jamie’s case reports that it deals with at least 5000 cases on an annual basis and due to lack of resources the organization is only able to employ 10 social workers to carry this workload. Let’s unpack what this really means: a case load of 5000 at a rate of 10 social workers equates to each social worker having an annual caseload of 500 or about 42 cases on a monthly basis. If one supposes that each social worker works a standard working week, i.e. 20 days a month, then he or she needs to provide practical and social support, care and/or supervision to at least two children a day – a situation far less than ideal and one which is untenable considering that a social workers job entails far more than attending to children.

The Welfare Centre is however not alone in this predicament. Most non-profit organizations are ill-funded, understaffed and overworked.  Take shelters for abused women for instance, in 2012 and 2013, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre undertook two provincial studies on shelters, one in Gauteng and the other in the Western Cape. Both studies revealed that shelters were significantly underfunded by the Department of Social Development. Not only was it a daily struggle to cover their financial short-falls but they were also not able to deliver the full bouquet of services that they needed to provide. The demand for shelter services was also far greater than they could meet. Although funding post these studies have increased quite positively, it remains insufficient. St. Anne’s Homes and Sisters Incorporated for example, two established and well-respected shelters in Cape Town, record that they are forced on average to turn away 40 women and their children every month due to space and financial restrictions, reinforcing yet again that South Africa has a significant problem of violence against women on its hands.

Although we all need to take responsibility to prevent violence against women and children, it is also the government’s duty to ensure that its citizens are safe and thus logically the state should be ensuring that organizations which provide social welfare services on behalf of the state (as this essentially should be government’s responsibility) are given adequate financial resources and support. Government pleads poverty when challenged to provide these resources yet there is not a year that has gone by that we have not heard about the maladministration of funds by this or that government department.

The year ahead looks bleak. The gradual dissolution of the National Gender Based Violence Council and recent shocking patriarchal and anti-feminist rhetoric at the launch of the new Ministry for Women’s 16 Days of Activism campaign, some serious questions need to be raised. One key question that comes to mind is what is government’s thinking on these issues and does it really deem addressing violence against women and children a political priority? With the 16 Days of Activism on the agenda for the next two weeks, one wonders how many resources government will be pumping into sporadic events across the country and what meaningful impact this will really have on the lives of children like Jamie, in the long-term. For Jamie though, it is sadly too late, she is now just another number on next year’s crime scorecard.

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Claudia Lopes is a Programme Manager at the Heinrich Böll Foundation specializing in women’s rights activism, with a particular focus on violence against women.

A shorter version of this article was published in the Cape Times on the 28 November 2014. This article has also been published by FeministSA, 1 December 2014 and The Star “Jamie’s last breath should be the call to action”, 3 December 2014

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