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South Africa: Cops accused in child sex abuse

Publish Date: 04 Dec 2005

Source: Southern African Legal Assistance Network
By Chiara Carter and Sheena Adams

Cops accused in child sex abuse

Child sex tourism is but one aspect of widespread sexual exploitation of children taking place from remote corners of the country through to the heart of urban centres, children's rights activists have warned.

They have information pointing to trafficking of youngsters both within the country and across its borders, children being forced into prostitution and an increasing number of reports of sexual abuse of boys. There are no reliable official statistics on child abuse, but Childline South Africa estimates that one out of every three girls and one out of every five boys are abused, before the age of 18. This, however, includes both reports of violence and sexual abuse.

Director of Childline South Africa Joan van Niekerk said the reluctance of many children to "disclose abuse to the system" meant that it was very difficult for police to gather information. She said the problem of police complicity in cases, either through being bribed or being perpetrators themselves, was brought to the attention of the NGO "almost every month".

"We come across case after case, where the perpetrator is a relative of a policeman or a policeman themselves," she said.

In one instance, the docket pertaining to a case of serious sexual abuse involving the brother of a policeman in North West simply disappeared.

"The docket vanished along with all the evidence. It happens all the time," she said.

Childline is often forced to lobby the director of public prosecutions to recreate dockets, a step that often results in the dockets "mysteriously being found again".

"It is also well-known that you can purchase a docket if you know who to go to."

Van Niekerk said that in recent months the country's border areas had become particularly problematic because of the worrying levels of sexual abuse of children reported. She said the far reaches of KwaZulu-Natal were of concern because of the poverty and isolation of the region.

"There have been lots of allegations against South African National Defence Force members who are pretty much isolated over there," she said.

In terms of sex trafficking, again the problem of not having accurate statistics made it very difficult to estimate the extent of the scourge.

"But in Mpumalanga, for instance, we are seeing children being trafficked over the border. Zimbabwe is also a very difficult situation with lots of children coming to Limpopo either as refugees or they are being trafficked from Zimbabwe," Van Niekerk said.

Children's advocacy organisation Molo Songololo has done pioneering work on child trafficking and sexual exploitation in poorer communities. Director Patric Solomons says the organisation has noticed more reports of boys being sexually abused. Some of the perpetrators are children themselves - even as young as eight.

They have begun working in Beaufort West, the Karoo town that shot to prominence after municipal manager Truman Prince was filmed behaving inappropriately with young girls. Solomons says there are reports that professional sex workers from as far afield as Port Elizabeth come to the town and recruit young girls to prostitute themselves to truckers. He questions why despite the publicity following the outcry over Prince there has been no criminal investigation over adults procuring sex in the town. He said often youngsters were drawn into a world of sexual exploitation and drugs by friends and acquaintances including taxi drivers and conductors.

"Gangsters target certain girls, and if families object they themselves are intimidated," he said.

Solomons says more often than not the bigger picture dominates - children at risk come from poor communities where there are socio-economic problems that translate into domestic violence at home, unemployment and widespread substance abuse. He says much more support is needed from the upper echelons of government.

"Why is the children's desk in the office of the president silent on key issues and not mobilising the presidency?"

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has been looking at the extent to which people - including youngsters - are trafficked into and out of South Africa. They estimated that during the past 18 months 84 women and children were rescued from sexual slavery in SA.

Their work has included reporting on a trade that sees women smuggled from Mozambique and sold either to "husbands" or brothels in South Africa.

A similar trade exists from Zimbabwe.

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