Child Sexual Exploitation

In 2013 South Africa had 45 000 children prostituted. With South Africa as a growing economy and competing with first world countries, there still remains a disparity of racial inequality and poverty. Researchers believe 60% of children live under these and other conditions, which leaves children at a high risk to be targeted for sexual exploitation and trafficking. While South Africa is not renowned for being a ‘hot spot’ for child trafficking, the realities of our country create the ideal backdrop for child sexual exploitation in that

  • South Africa is a favourite tourist destination for many individuals

  • There is a relative ease of access for those who want to cross the borders

  • High levels of poverty

  • There is a lack of specified anti-human trafficking laws

Sexual exploitation is not unique to young people and adults only, but encompasses a type of sexual abuse where children are exploited for money, power or status.

Child sexual exploitation is a hidden crime. Poverty, lack of education and in some cases coercion places the children of South Africa at high risk. It is often facilitated by the lack of economic power and job opportunities. In the hopes for a better life for the family, parents may facilitate and coerce their children to be in the “relationships”. A recent study found that 30% of girls reported that their first sexual encounter was forced. Research estimates that a quarter of all boys and girls living and working on the streets in Cape Town are sexually exploited though prostitution.

It involves children under the age of 18 years who get into “conventional” relationships where they receive something (food, accommodation, drugs, affection and other gifts) without their immediate knowledge for sexual purposes.

With the growing interest and a large portion of our lives lived online, sexual exploitation happens online where young people may be forced to:

  • Send or post explicit images of themselves

  • Take part in sexual activities using a webcam or their smartphones

  • Be involved in sexual conversation, via text or online

Abusers may also threaten to send the images they have acquired to family and friends unless they continue/take part in other sexual activities.

Sexual exploitation involves:

  • Violent, humiliating, degrading sexual acts

  • Taking advantage of another sexually without their consent

  • Taking advantage of another’s sexuality

  • Threatening to disclose an individual’s Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, or Gender Expression

  • Observing another person’s nudity or sexual contact without their knowledge

  • Sharing, streaming, posting and/or exchanging sexual images of individuals without their consent

  • And taking advantage sexually of another person

The severity of the situation is clear to all, as Lieutenant-General Lesetja J Mothiba said “This is an issue that affects all of us, across the board and across all racial lines. The problem of sexual exploitation of children through the usage of technology devices and communication platforms is growing. The use of these devices has proven to be both useful and dangerous, and at the same time, very difficult to deal with.”

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The Invisible Child

2014: a 50-year-old Johannesburg man and his wife were arrested for allegedly locking up his four children in a room for eight months. He is reported to have told the police and social workers that he locked his children up because the world was a dangerous place and he did not want them killed.

A couple in their twenties were arrested in Brooklyn after they left their six month old baby boy unsupervised. After a police manhunt for the parents, the parents returned to their home at 3am smelling of alcohol.

In 2013 a women was arrested for child neglect after her son was found walking the streets at night.

These are just some tragic stories reflecting parents unable to look after their children.

In other cases of neglect, a child coming home from school with no one to share the news of their day with, children who see more of their nannies than their parents, children who are unable to form bonds with their parents due to no emotional connections are other examples. Some may say these situations are not as serious, but the truth of the matter is that child neglect and abandonment can take various forms such as emotional, physical, educational and medical neglect. Feeling unloved, unwanted, unseen or left to fend for yourself at a young age classifies as a form of neglect.

It is not always clear to detect if a child is being neglected, but there are signs you can look out for that can indicate if a child is a victim.

A child who is neglected may:

  • Have medical problems that are not being cared for

  • Not be properly supervised

  • Rarely attend school or not be attentive in class

  • Be dirty, unbathed or hungry

  • May exhibit sudden, extreme and/or unexplainable mood swings

  • Beg for, steal or hoard food

Child abuse is kept a secret and the shame the kids feel do not allow them to talk to anyone about their situation or ask for help. This neglect can often be left unseen and the victims live in a cycle that does not allow for them to feel valued, loved and cared for.

AIDS, poverty, drug abuse and teenage pregnancies are often the main reasons child neglect and abandonment occurs. Most of these victims of abandonment are children under 10 years as they are reportedly “easier” to abandon them in public places. Police and neighbours bring in the children they discover wandering the streets to Child Protection Services and in more tragic cases, babies are found wrapped in plastic bags in dumpsters-these as young as new-borns to 12-month old babies.Child Welfare reports that older children are more often left with relatives before their biological parents disappear.

Reports by Child Welfare SA say that the number of cases has been showing a steady increase every year. The severity of the neglect differs, with neglect resulting in death as the most severe. However, the when a child grows up without the healthy love, support and attachment needed from a parent, they grow up believing they are invisible- the scars and impact of which, can be detrimental to their future.

Nelly Kgoabi

Child Neglect and Abandonment

When one hears the phrase “child abuse”, physical, emotional and sexual abuse are the first kinds that come to mind. However, there is another that many do not consider as a form of child abuse- that is ‘neglect and abandonment’.


Neglect is a unique trauma because children and in some cases adults, are susceptible to it. The trauma occurs when there is a failure to provide the necessary care, aid or guidance to children and adults by those responsible for their care. In order for one to experience neglect, a child (or adult) must be reliant on the caregiver for their physical and emotional well-being.

In 2014, Child Welfare SA estimated that 3500 babies were abandoned in South Africa in 2010. In 2009, 45% of children were reportedly murdered through instances of child abuse and neglect. Due to the nature of the child maltreatment, there is no detailed statistics on the actual number of child abandonment cases, but the authorities believe that the numbers have increased exponentially over the past decade.

Passive neglect’ is recognised by a caregiver “withholding or failure to provide the necessities of life”. ‘Wilful deprivation’ is when a caregiver denies an individual assistance and thereby exposes them to the risk of physical, mental or emotional harm. Professionals recognise four main types of neglect:

  • Physical: children need basic necessities like everyone else. They are reliant on their parent/s or caregiver to provide these necessities. When necessities such as adequate housing, clothing and nutritious food are not provided, this is considered neglect or that the parent has abandoned their child.

  • Educational: children have a right to basic education. If a caregiver fails to provide their child adequate schooling or home schooling, this is considered neglect.

  • Emotional: this is also known as psychological neglect. It is characterised by the caregivers lack, inability or failure to provide warmth, nurturance, encouragement and support. Teasing, verbally abusing, ignoring, withholding love, rejecting or isolating is also forms of emotional maltreatment.

  • Medical: this is failure to provide a child with the appropriate health care and therefore placing the child at risk for being disabled, disfigured or dying.

The Medical Research Council reported that “some of the events such as infanticide or abandonment generally occurred before the age of one year, but others such as neglect and sexual abuse spanned the full seventeen years of childhood”.

Many families are struggling to take care of their children. Neglect and abandonment are horrors that occur every day, but it is taboo in many households and the children will often keep it a secret in order to keep their families intact. Children are our countries treasure. In the words of Kenny Guinn, “I believe the best service to the child is the service closest to the child, and children who are victims of neglect, abuse, or abandonment must not also be victims of bureaucracy. They deserve our devoted attention, not our divided attention.

Counting The Cost Of Neglect- Are You Neglecting Your Child?

Self-esteem is the main spring that slates a child for success or failure” -Dorothy Corkille Briggs

We have often heard it said that in some people, there is a deep empty hole inside that cannot be filled. Where healing, love, care and intervention are not given as a remedies to the neglect; drugs, substance abuse and addictions, amongst others, are used as substitutes.

We cannot begin to understand the huge and significant impact of child neglect and abandonment. The consequences are far-reaching and leave an emotionally starved generation who are unstable, insecure, with low self-esteem and deep psychological effects.

To experience neglect, a child must be reliant on another for their physical and emotional well-being and development. Where the correct nurturing fails, the consequences can be dire for the child’s development. Researcher also believe that the hidden and often unseen and expected danger of neglect suffered for many years is the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which can affect victims in the long-term

Psychologically, according to the ‘attachment theory’, a child who is attached and forms secure attachments to their mother has a higher chance of survival. Neglect disrupts this attachment. Studies suggest that where this secure and healthy attachment and bond fails to be established in the early years can have a negative impact on a child’s behaviour later in their lives. They believe that children who exhibit and are diagnosed with oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CO), and/or PTSD were possibly victims of neglect and abandonment. What this means is that children who grow up neglected at an early age run the risk of developing and establishing proper and healthy relationships.

Emotionally starved children: children need someone who will be there with them often and share their thoughts are feelings. When there is no one to nurture, care and guide these children from an early age, we end up with children who turn to crime and violence because they have no one to teach them between right and wrong.

Love and care is more than providing a child with “things” – love is seen in action, and children are sensitive to affection and love.

When children do not grow up receiving this, at a later stage they may seek love, affection or care, they end up looking for it in unsafe places and from the wrong people. Without knowing what real, secure, genuine and real love is, they do not know any better but to go wherever and in whatever form it presents itself.

  • Risk of abductions (due to lack of care, protection and supervision)

  • Drug and substance abuse

  • Low level of education (due to lack of or poor schooling)

  • Psychological and emotional problems (depression, PTSD, low self-esteem)

  • Death (due to medical neglect)

These are some of the long term consequences of child neglect and abandonment.

Special attention needs to be paid to our children from an early age. To develop great leaders, teachers, families, communities, societies and a nation, we need to invest in the physical, emotional, educational and medical development of our children. When children are set up from a young age to win, the result will be a strong and healthy nation.

Author: Nelly Kgoabi

mandela-quote- there can be no keener revelation

How Can You Tell: Signs and Symptoms

Short of cuts and bruises on a child’s body, it is not always evident whether a child is being abused. It becomes that much harder to identify if a child is being sexually abused.

There are often tell-tale signs that you can pick up that could be indicators to sexual abuse. Children who are sexually abused may:

Stay away from certain individuals

  • They may avoid being left alone with certain family members or friends

  • They may show signs of fear, anxiety and reluctance to spend any time with the perpetrator

Exhibit inappropriate sexual behaviour/knowledge for their age

  • Becoming sexually active at an early age

  • Promiscuous behaviour

  • Use of sexual language and knowing information unsuitable for their age

Physical symptoms

  • Anal or vaginal soreness

  • An unusual discharge

  • STI’s or pregnancy

Unusual behaviour

  • Emotionally: withdrawn, clingy, anxious, depressed, suicidal thoughts

  • Engaging in risky and/or obsessive behaviour

  • Sleeping problems, nightmares, wetting the bed

  • Substance abuse, eating disorders and self-harm

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