Child protection our responsibility

DEE MOSKOFF

When I think of the child victims of violent crime in Cape Town this year alone, I’m overcome by emotion.

Horror, anger, frustration, despair, pity and sorrow sit in my stomach like something that’s impossible to digest. Grief is probably the hardest to process.

I grieve for Sinoxolo Mafevuka, Franziska Blöchliger and for little Saadiqah Lippert, to name just a few of the victims. I grieve for their families and their friends. But I grieve also for you and for me; for us, as a city and a society – because Sinoxolo, Franziska and Saadiqah were our children. And we failed them.

This isn’t about apportioning blame. It’s about taking responsibility, each and every one of us. It’s all too easy to vilify the perpetrators or point to one of the many social ills that plague us, be it drugs and gangsterism, youth unemployment or misogyny and rape culture. To do that is to let ourselves off the hook, because we have a responsibility – collectively and individually – to protect the most vulnerable among us.

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children,” Nelson Mandela famously said.

He also said, “It is my deepest conviction that children should be seen and heard as our most treasured assets. They are not ours to be used or abused but to be loved and nurtured and encouraged to engage in life to the full extent of their being, free from fear.”

So what are we doing to make our communities safe for “our most treasured assets”?

This week is Child Protection Week (May 27 to June 2) and so it’s a pertinent question each of us must answer: what am I doing to protect the children in my life?

There is so much that you can do by merely being aware of the children in your community and by keeping an eye out for them. You don’t need any special qualifications, just a mindset of vigilance and care.

Look, listen, ask questions and report suspected cases of neglect or abuse. Be the adult that children in your neighbourhood can turn to if they’re in danger.

You don’t have to have all the answers to the problems they face, nor the resources to meet their need.

Your being there and showing that you care can have an immensely powerful impact on a child’s life, and if the situation calls for it, your speaking up and using your general knowledge to access help, whether it’s a phone call to the police, school or a social worker, can save a child from slipping into gangsterism or becoming the victim of a sexual predator. You do have the power to help.

You might think that this type of work is best left to the “experts” in government or NGOs.

The reality is that government cannot possibly meet the need, and hence much of the government’s work has fallen to NGOs.

While NGOs are playing a vital role in the undergirding of the social infrastructure, they are under-resourced and struggle to access the necessary funds and resources to do their work.

One way that they seek to address this lack of resources is by mobilising volunteers within communities.

NGOs desperately need the support of people who are like-minded and willing to serve, as well as the support of corporates and local businesses.

Poverty and developmental issues are affecting future growth in emerging economies such as ours. Fortunately, there’s a growing understanding in the commercial sector of the imperative to look at long-term investments that address development issues, in order to reduce the risks associated with future profitability and economic well being.

It’s encouraging that the for-profit sector is starting to see partnerships with NGOs as a “long-term investment” in the future. Similarly, we hope that you too would consider serving an NGO as an investment in your future.

If you’re looking for those who need some form of support, Connect Network can point you in the right direction. Connect is a coalition of 115 NGOs and churches serving women and children at risk in the Western Cape. We equip and mentor the NGO staff to ensure these organisations are well run and well governed. We also facilitate collaboration among NGOs to foster greater efficiency in the rendering of their services.

Go to connectnetwork.org.za to find an NGO near you that is helping the children around you.

* Dee Moskoff is the executive director of Connect Network and a Fulbright-Humphrey Fellow.