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Concerns over handling of child sex abuse cases

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Child rights activists have voiced concern over lengthy delays in child sex abuse cases as well as the failure of the state to appropriately cater to the needs of young victims. It comes amidst a high profile case against a Plettenberg Bay educator accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year old pupil, with the investigation seemingly stalling since the teacher was apprehended by authorities in June.

Advocacy manager with Women and Men against Child, Germaine Vogel said it was the duty of the state to ensure the full protection of children meant to testify, as well as that the state and the perpetrators own needs were not put above that of the victim.

She also stressed that all personnel involved in dealing with such cases should have the sufficient experience and training in dealing with children, especially in cases when the victim had some physical or mental disability.

In the Plettenberg case, which has been postponed for further investigations, she questioned the delay in proceedings.

“We are still in the early stages but there is no excuse for unnecessary delays. We must also remember that these are very young children that have to speak about intimate subjects involving details (of the incident) as per the requirements of the court. It is extremely typical for children who have to express these things to not have the coping mechanisms and vocabulary,” she said, suggesting social worker reports were taking longer as a result of this.

Sexual offences courts have been opened up at various courts across the Western Cape, allowing children to be in a separate room from proceedings when providing testimony. But Vogel said there were still many courts without any such facilities, suggesting that in some places children were waiting up to two or three days before testifying, leaving them exposed to the negative atmosphere of these courts.

“You have shackled prisoners being walked up and down to various courts. These are things the children witness, and it is frightening and traumatic for them,” she said, adding that there was a need for court employees dedicated to managing child cases and ensuring that children were cared for during the court process. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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