Bobby Stevenson

WITH the 16 days of activism for no violence against women and children campaign behind us, there is a need now, more than ever, to take concrete steps to make this programme to protect our women and children from violence and sexual predators effective for 365 days a year.

It is critical that:

l The Child Protection, Family Violence and Sexual Offences unit is re- instated;

l The ability to respond to crimes in progress needs to be radically improved; and

l An efficient detective service and forensic laboratories are necessary to track down perpetrators of crimes affecting women and children.

The disbanding in 2006 of the specialised units in South Africa runs contrary to both commonsense and international best practice. This is particularly so when it comes to the specialised Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) Unit. Studies confirm the disastrous effects the disbanding of these units have had on crime in South Africa, particularly in terms of assisting victims in using specialised skills and detective work. The Resources Aimed at the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (Rapcan) has found that the policy objectives to prioritise combating crime against women and children simply cannot be realised as a result of the dismantling of FCS unit. Similarly, a study by the Institute for Security Studies on the impact of the re-structuring of the FCS units confirms that the quality of service provided has weakened and that SA is now out of step with developments in comparable countries.

Real evidence of the disastrous impact of disbanding these units in our province is on page 54 of the 2007/2008 annual report of the SAPS for the Eastern Cape.

In an overview of family violence and sexual offences cases for the year 2006/7 it reveals that 1160 cases were finalised and went to court. In 2007/8 only 728 cases were finalised. That is for persons younger than 18. For persons older than 18 in 2006/7, 1249 cases went to court, and in 2007/8 only 875 cases went to court.

T his misguided policy by the ANC of disbanding specialised units has done tremendous damage.

Four children are murdered in South Africa every day and child murders are up 31 percent since the FCS units were disbanded in 2006. Prior to this decision, child murders in South Africa were decreasing. In 2007/2008, 1410 cases of child murder were reported – 20.4percent more than in the previous year.

A report compiled by Solidarity Helping Hand said there were in the region of 60 child rapes reported in the country daily. It further states that 88 percent of child rapes were never reported.

Furthermore, 43 percent of Childline South Africa’s cases involve sexually abused children. Children are also frequently misused as prostitutes – in Johannesburg alone it is estimated that there are 10000 child prostitutes.

These statistics are indeed horrifying, and a nation cannot stand back when children are subject to such maltreatment.

The decision to disband the FCS units which formed part of the ANC’s attempts to centralise all departments of the police service under the national commissioner – even though every study at the time as well as the international best practice mandated the expansion, not the dismantling, of specialised units of this nature – was nonsensical.

The ANC, as it does with all its policies, puts its own agenda ahead of the agenda of all South Africans.

Nonetheless, the ANC’s U-turn on this matter is welcomed and the new minister’s comments regarding the possible reintroduction of specialised units need to be acted upon.

Secondly, besides re-instating specialised units and having improved forensic laboratories that can ensure a rapid turn-around of results, we need to put much greater emphasis on the ability of the SAPS to respond to crimes in progress. When criminals know they are likely to be caught, the SAPS will be more effective in bringing down crime levels.

Women and children in crisis need to know that if they call the 10111 centre, the Buffalo City flying squad will be able to respond timeously. This cannot occur when there are vehicle shortages. Flying squads are rapid response units and they need to have the tools to do the job. Our flying squads are generally under-resourced and this must change.

Besides the ability of the SAPS to rapidly respond to crimes in progress, one needs to be able to catch criminals through efficient detective work. Currently the case loads for detectives in this province is 1 to 100. It should be one detective for every 20 cases. Clearly, when detectives are so overworked it is impossible for them to do their job properly.

It also becomes very difficult to prioritise crimes against women and children when you are no longer part of a specialised unit and subject to the daily demands put on policemen and women at station level. We cannot simply pay lip service to protecting our women and children. We need concrete action that is long lasting.

Bobby Stevenson is the leader of the Democratic Alliance in the Eastern Cape Legislature and party spokesperson on Safety and Security, Finance and Public Accounts.  This piece appeared in the Daily Dispatch.