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South Africa, 2 October 2013: In South Africa, helping children to help end violence

© UNICEF South Africa/2011/Maduna
The Young Reporters Network, a partnership between UNICEF and the Children’s Radio Foundation, gives children and young people the opportunity to engage communities on issues of violence.

By Emma de Villiers

International Day of Non-Violence is 2 October. 

In South Africa, community-based programmes are helping young people confront widespread violence and abuse.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 2 October 2013 – “Girls my age think sexual or physical assault is the norm when it comes to relationships,” says 15-year-old Cindy*, who lives with her family in the community of Atlantis in South Africa’s Western Cape Province. “Violence and abuse are so common in my community that girls think that being hit by your boyfriend means that he loves you.”

Cindy is part of the Young Reporters Network, a programme that trains young reporters in storytelling for radio and equips community radio stations nationwide to take them on board.

Violence is often the topic of the young reporters’ stories, because it is one of the most prominent issues affecting their lives. Every year, thousands of children are victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation. Most cases go unreported, as victims fear being ostracized by male community members.

“Most women and girls will never speak out against their abusers,” says Cindy. “And their children will grow up so used to violence that they will simply repeat the behaviour they saw while growing up. It’s a vicious cycle.”

No simple task

Protecting vulnerable children and preventing abuse from happening in the first place is no simple task. The Safer South Africa for Women and Children Programme: Improved Security and Justice for Women, Girls and Boys is a three-year programme implemented by UNFPA, in partnership with  UNICEF, the South African Government, Save the Children and other organizations. The programme looks at the role of communities in addressing violence and abuse and aims to improve access to response services and provide support for community and individual involvement.

© UNICEF South Africa/2013/Hearfield
The Girls and Boys Education Movement (GEM/BEM clubs) offer children a safe space to gather and discuss issues affecting their communities.

The Safer SA Programme is funded by the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), which recently visited South Africa to look at its impact.

“What we are seeing in South Africa is the benefits that an integrated approach can have on addressing violence against women and children,” said DFID Social Development Advisor Catherine Arnold.

The Young Reporters Network is part of this integrated approach. By giving young people a platform to voice their opinions, the programme enables them to become agents of change in their communities.

Integrated approach

One of the greatest challenges faced by communities is the high rate of sexual violence in South Africa. To address the trauma experienced by survivors, Safer SA takes an integrated approach to the management of rape cases. The nationwide Thuthuzela Care Centre model provides one-stop response for violent sexual acts against women and children, including medical, legal and psychosocial support.

“The idea is to ensure a child-friendly environment right from the start – from the crime reporting stage all the way through to the provision of follow-up victim support services,” says UNICEF South Africa Chief of Child Protection Patrizia Benvenuti.

The Safer SA Programme’s mandate also extends to the classroom. The Girls and Boys Education Movement (known as GEM/BEM clubs) offers children a safe space to engage with their peers on issues affecting their communities. Participants get together weekly to discuss issues that have an impact on their communities, and the clubs have had a noticeable impact on perceptions related to gender and the role that men can play in addressing violence.

While putting a stop to violence against women and children remains an enormous challenge across South Africa, such efforts are an important step toward lasting change. 

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