South Africa's Child Protection Week Wraps Up with Message of Unity

27/5/2010 – As 350 000 foreigners prepare to flood South Africa for the World Cup in only a few short weeks, protecting children from opportunistic traffickers is on everybody’s mind.

The national Child Protection Week in South Africa has brought awareness to the fact that a comprehensive and sector-wide approach to the protection of vulnerable children during the impending World Cup is vital. The country’s national Department of Health and Social Development (DHSD) has announced that it is not just the government, but the media, NGOs and sporting organizations, who must share the responsibility for child protection.

South African President Jacob Zuma kicked off the week of observance last Friday.

During the time that the World Cup is one (mid-June to mid-July), school children will be on summer vacation, making them extremely vulnerable to dangers such as child trafficking, for they are without regular supervision. The South African centres of Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth have been hub for commercial sex trafficking in children between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. Last Friday, President Jacob Zuma enacted the Children's Act, which is aimed to criminalize and deter trafficking in children under the age of 18.

While the well-being of South African children in the coming months is the focal point of this year’s national Child Protection Week, this time of observance also hopes to draw attention and action to such areas as child neglect, abuse and exploitation, as well as growing drug and alcohol problems affecting children and youth. Child poverty, of course, remains among the foremost of the country’s challenges, as does HIV/AIDS, which results in thousands of AIDS orphans and paediatric HIV infections annually.

Poor families, especially in rural areas, lack access to proper housing, sanitation or reliable power. Health and education can sometimes be seen as luxuries instead of the fundamental human rights that they are regarded as in international covenants and in many developed countries.

There is not one, not two and not just three stakeholders in the life of a child. Quite the contrary, eliminating child poverty and maximizing child protection begs the vigilance and commitment of families, communities, schools, and NGOs altogether. Policies and laws drawn up and written down on paper can do little to protect children in actuality if they do not have the full weight of the South African people behind them. This is what the chief of the DHSD is advocating.