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  • Norman Brook

Child Protection in Sport in South Africa

This week two reports were published detailing the alarming extent of child abuse in South Africa. Helping Hand Fund, an organisation for social care that was founded by the trade union Solidarity, reported that one child is raped in South Africa every three minutes.  SAPSAC, a professional body investigating child abuse in South Africa claimed that there are about 10 000 child prostitutes in Johannesburg alone and that the situation in Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth are “equally grave” writes Norman Brook.

Dee Moskoff, Manager of Connect Network, a coalition of 82 NGOs in the Western Cape wrote earlier this month about the extent of child abuse on the occasion of Child Protection Week in the Cape Argus “….as a nation, we’re failing to protect our children from abuse, neglect and extreme poverty.”  To demostrate her message she pointed out that:

  1. a child is assaulted every 15 mins in South Africa;

  2. a child is raped every 30 minutes in South Africa;

  3. the number of orphans increases by approximately 250,000 a year (77% AIDS related);

  4. 66% of children in South Africa live in poor households;

  5. only 25% of South African children have access to registered early childhood development facilities;

  6. 75% of children in South Africa are without the stimulation necessary for mental, physical and social development.

That last statistic begs the question what role sport has to play in engaging with young people in poor communities.  Sport was withdrawn from the school curriculum denying many children the opportunity of developing fundamental movement skills.  However, President Zuma in his first State of the Nation speech has pledged to return sport to the curriculum.

The NSPCC and Sports Councils in the UK operate a support organisation for sports organisations in child protection.

The NSPCC and Sports Councils in the UK operate a support organisation for sports organisations in child protection.

In the UK child protection is high on the agenda of all sports organisations.  The four national sports councils lead on this work with the NSPCC’s Child Protection in Sport Unit.  This work has most sports organisations:

  1. recognise their responsibility to protect children and young people left in their care;

  2. develop strategies and standards to protect children and young people;

  3. identify and respond to adults who are a threat to children and young people;

  4. develop child protection knowledge and skills among all staff and volunteers.

If you search for “child protection in sport policies” using the Google UK website up will pop links to hundreds of sports organisation and clubs published child protection policies.  When a similiar search is performed using the Google South Africa website up pops a solitary link to an article by Professor Paul Singh on Child Protection in Sport on the Department of Sport and Recreation’s website.

It is clear that the sport in South Africa has not yet recognised the role that it can play in helping to protect young people from physical, sexual, emotional abuse and neglect.  Experience in other countries has shown that those who wish to abuse children often access them through sport and sports organisations need to be aware of this and know how to deal with such incidents.  Sports coaches like school teachers get unique access to young people and often observe symptoms of abuse or as trusted adults hear discloures of abuse.  They therefore play an important role in protecting children and need to know what to do when they suspect abuse.

The South African constitution states that “every child has the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation.”  All though sports clubs provide partial care for children attending sports training and competitions they are exempted from being a partial care organisation and are not required to be registered.  Nor do the coaches and other volunteers who work with the children require to be vetted or qualified.  Whilst the standard set in the Children’s Act Regulations for partial care organisations might be too onerous for voluntary sports, a requirement for all organisations working with children to adopt child protection protocols might be a reasonable expectation.

The Childen’s Act in South Africa makes provision for “any person who on reasonable grounds believes that a child is in need of care and protection may report that belief to the provincial department of social development, a designated child protection organisation or a police official.”  They will have to “substantiate that conclusion or belief to the provincial department of social development, a designated child protection organisation or police official;” but have the comfort of knowing that someone who “makes a report in good faith is not liable to civil action on the basis of the report.”  This is different from the UK where a person who believes that a child needs protection has a common law duty of care to that child.

Whilst teachers and other professions must report concerns, those who work in sport may, but are not required by law to do so.

Childline South Africa believes that all organisations that provide partial care for children should have Child Protection Policies as an essential requirement for registration or funding. “Few organisations in South Africa that have children in their care have written child protection policies; therefore when children report abuse, either in the home or partial care facility, by either caretakers or other children, this tends to be dealt with in an ad hoc and inconsistent manner. ”

They recommend that organisations working with children have policies that provide:

  1. a brief statement of legal obligations when abuse is reported or witnessed;

  2. procedures to be followed when abuse is observed;

  3. procedures to be followed when a staff member or volunteer is alleged to have abused and/or neglected a Child;

  4. procedures to be followed when a child reports/alleges abuse and/or by a parent or caretaker;

  5. procedures to be followed when child on child abuse is observed or reported by either an employee/volunteer in the facility, reported by a parent or caretaker, or by a child;

  6. how records of such incidents should be kept;

  7. who has access to such records.

Sports organisations in South Africa that work with children should consider placing child protection protocols on their agendas.  They should put in place appropriate policies and increase awareness of child protection issues amongst their coaches and volunteers.  The reported high levels of child abuse in South Africa would leave one to conclude that sport should be playing its part to protect young people. South African sport should followfrom other leading sporting nations by introducing a national child protection policy. 

Norman Brook has contributed to the development of child protection in sport through his work with Sportscoach UK helping to deliver training to a wide range of sports organisation in the UK and training tutors to deliver child protection training.

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