/ 10 July 2008

‘Police not liable for child crimes’

”One day I was walking home from school with my friends. We met two boys … one of them followed us and demanded money and searched our school bags.

”We told the boy that we were coming from school and we do not have money. They beat us, then a guy came to stop them; they shot him and he died instantly.”

The Cape Town child, who cannot be identified, gave this chilling account to Human Sciences Research Council researcher Catherine Ward.

In a study of the Western Cape titled It Feels Like it’s the End of the World, Ward tries to understand the violence engulfing South Africa’s children.

The study, published last year, took on special significance this week in the light of police crime statistics revealing that 1 410 children under the age of 18 were murdered between April last year and March this year — a 22,4% increase.

The Western Cape has been singled out by police as having one of the highest incidences of child murder.

Releasing the figures, police claimed they indicated a major reduction in serious violent crime.

Over the latest reporting period, the murder rate per 100 000 South Africans fell marginally from 40,5.

Freedom Front Plus spokesperson Pieter Groenewald put the murder figures in perspective, pointing out that the rate was now ”38,6 per 100 000 of the population while the world average is five per 100 000 … in South Africa, murder is still nearly eight times higher than the world average”.

The latest figures show 258 more children were killed in the past year and there were attempts on the lives of a further 279.

The majority of the children live in poverty-stricken areas in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Police stations in towns such as Nyanga, Khayelitsha, Delft, KwaMashu, Umlazi, Plessislaer, Alexandra and Tembisa are among those which report the highest number of child murders.

Although the figures come off a base of just over 1000 incidents, police assistant commissioner Chris de Kock conceded that the trend was a worrying one.

Speaking at an Institute of Security Studies round-table meeting on the crime statistics De Kock said the majority of the murders occurred among children at the older end of the age spectrum, between 16 and 18 years old and many of the affected children were engaged in criminal or gang activities.

Minister of Safety and Security Charles Nqakula, who also attended the debate, agreed.

Nqakula added that in 2003 the police had carried out socio-graphic profiles of the top priority police stations to understand better the factors leading to violent crime.

”We discovered in Khayelitsha most of the serious and violent crimes were being done by children who were 10 to 12 years old,” he said.

A close analysis of the recent xenophobic attacks had also revealed that children were at the forefront of attacks against perceived foreigners.

But Nqakula insisted the police could not be held accountable for what they have repeatedly described as ”social fabric crimes”.

”You say the police must handle them — why must it? Is it not true that some of these children are in conflict with the law because they come from families that are completely unstable?”

Drugs and alcohol abuse, added De Kock, appeared to be contributing to peer violence among children.

But Ward’s research suggests the South African Police Service is not entirely powerless and that most children believe ”effective policing” could help curb child violence.

Her recommendations include rooting out police corruption and adequately equipping police, frequent neighbourhood patrols, quick responses to reported crime and frequent raids on known gang and drug houses.

”The police must come into our area more often,” one youthful respondent is quoted as saying. ”They patrol maybe once a day — then they don’t worry any more.”