/ 23 November 2023

No space in KZN havens for raped and abandoned children

Child Abuse: Church Conference Needs A Rezolution Of Its Own

Several children’s homes in the uMgungundlovu District of KwaZulu-Natal (Pietermaritzburg area) are battling to accommodate the growing number of child survivors of rape who have been abandoned by their parents.

LifeLine and Rape Crisis Pietermaritzburg said the organisation is struggling to find safe havens for vulnerable children, given that many facilities have reached their maximum capacity.

Sinikiwe Biyela, the director of the organisation, said: “Every time we see the age of the child that was raped, stress levels become high because we don’t know where we are going to place him or her.”

She said the heart-wrenching reality is that some of the children seeking refuge in the havens are victims of rape who have been abandoned by their parents, some of whom choose to support their “abusive” partners over the well-being of their own children.

From July to September this year, LifeLine and Rape Crisis Pietermaritzburg provided support to 987 child survivors of rape.

“Children’s homes are at full capacity, and we struggle to find placements, especially when mothers take the perpetrator’s side. Some extended family members are afraid of the offending families and opt not to support the rape survivors. At best, we manage to secure one or two available spaces, but generally, the homes are full,” said Biyela. 

In these circumstances, it is often the innocent child who ends up leaving their home, rather than the perpetrator, she said. 

“Most of these children end up being placed outside the district. We cannot endanger a child’s life when the perpetrator remains at home. Sending a child to a place where the offender is supported risks them being mistreated for speaking out.”

Biyela said some mothers have been reluctant to support their children and acknowledge the abuse, sometimes even branding their sons and daughters as liars.

“Some mothers go as far as coaching their children to remain silent about the abuse,” she said, adding that children require intensive counselling and in certain circumstances admission to mental health hospitals for treatment. 

Some never fully recover despite therapeutic interventions.

The KwaZulu-Natal department of social development said it was concerned about reports that some parents opted to abandon children who were victims of abuse, and warned of serious consequences.

“It is irresponsible for any parent to abandon their child just to spend time with their partner,” said department spokesperson Mhlabunzima Memela.

“The government has established mechanisms for parents who cannot care for their children to seek assistance and discuss how the children can be raised.

“We will investigate and hold negligent individuals accountable for abandoning their children, ensuring they face legal consequences.” 

But he denied allegations that facilities were too full to accommodate children in distress.

“As a department, we have not received such a report. It may be a matter discussed at a lower level. We will investigate and find a solution, if necessary,” he said.

He said the department will investigate all allegations of parents who abandon their children and urged anyone with information to contact the department’s social workers.

Psychologist Kevin Fourie said that rape and the additional trauma associated with abandonment often lead to victims suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which can manifest as anxiety and depression.

He also noted that there are growing levels of the abuse of males being reported.

This article was first published by The Witness