During Child Protection Week, Deputy Police Minister Fikile Mbalula announced that the new administration was considering re-introducing specialised units to deal with child abuse cases. In the wake of this announcement, Candice Bailey explores the police’s capacity to deal with child abuse cases in the article “Child abuse is a specific crime” (Saturday Star, 06/06/09, p. 15). Accompanied by a photograph of a child victim of rape, which protects the child’s identity, the article is written from a child rights perspective, reiterating that child abuse is a priority crime that cannot be treated like any other. Bailey accesses a number of expert sources, looking at the problems, as well as solutions, posed by the government’s restructuring of the police units. Thus the article deserves a glad nomination.

The article starts from the premise that “of the 21 900 child rapes that are reported every year, less than 9 per cent are successfully prosecuted”. Against this backdrop, Bailey explains to the reader why there has been such a low successful prosecution rate.

The article reports how in 2002 the government replaced Child Protection Units (CPUs) with Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units (FCSs), which operated within clusters. Each FSC had jurisdiction over 6 to 8 police stations. This meant that FCS officers could share cases they were investigating and information they had. However, in 2006, the government took FCSs from cluster level down to station level hoping to strengthen police stations, improve service delivery and assist police functioning.

Bailey reports how this change is seen to have hampered police efforts to protect children.In the quest to show the reader how and why FCSs at station level hampered police efforts to protect children, Bailey accesses expert sources including one from Resources Aimed at the Protection of Child Abuse and Neglect (RAPCAN), another from Institute for Security Studies, and a Gauteng-based sexual offender Prosecutor.

She uses these sources to explain some of the problems, such as lack of government consultation, inexperience and lack of training, and the unit’s ability to investigate cases and provide support to victims.

For example, a Gauteng-based sexual offender prosecutor says “[FCS officers] are not specialised and not clued up.  They don’t know which medical facilities are available 24 hours a day.  As a result, in one case a 12-year-old who was raped had to walk from one hospital to another and therefore only reported it two days later when the DNA evidence had disappeared”.

Having such expert voices is pivotal to taking government and police to task on issues concerning child abuse.

Holding government and police accountable for protecting or failing to protect children’s rights is both commendable and to be encouraged, as these are rights and responsibilities enshrined in the Constitution. For example, Section 28 of the Bill of Rights of the South African Constitution reiterates the importance of the child’s best interests in every matter concerning the child.

Clearly, all levels of society, media included, have a duty to promote, respect, protect and fulfill children’s rights, and

, in reporting this issue, have taken this duty seriously.

Aside from holding government and police to account, the article is accompanied by a photograph that relates to the thousands of child rapes that go unreported. The photograph is commendable as it protects the child’s identity.

While the photograph protects the child’s identity, the overhead angle it is taken from can be seen as disempowering the child. Instead, the photograph could have been taken from an angle that puts both the child and the photographer on an equal footing.

Nevertheless, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) applauds Saturday Star and Bailey for publishing such an article from a child rights perspective, holding government and police accountable for protecting children, and setting a good precedence for other media to follow suit.