This is a summary of the speech delivered by the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Ms Lulu Xingwana at the Opening of the 16 Days of Activism Against Women and Children.
As we mark 16 Days of No Violence Against Women and Children, we must pose uncomfortable questions to ourselves. One of the critical questions is: What are we doing, individually and collectively, to address this scourge that threatens to erode the gains we have been making since 1994 to build a caring society? Beyond adopting the role of critics, what is it that other sectors can do to help government to eliminate violence against vulnerable groups?
Whilst there are programmes and interventions to prevent and respond to abuse, government cannot do this alone and therefore depends on mutual partnerships with non-governmental and women's organisations, business, faith-based organisations, traditional leaders, political parties, various sectors of society and communities.
Domestic violence is not something that should be left to families to resolve. Neither is it a private family matter. An uncle who rapes a niece needs to face the full might of the law. Once a crime has been committed, let us allow the law to take its course.
The reality that we must collectively confront is the reluctance on the part of some victims of violence to come forward and seek legal advice and social support. This could be due to lack of knowledge about their rights and the social stigma around domestic violence. We must also accept the sad reality that financial dependency on husbands, fathers, partners and family members increases their vulnerability to domestic violence, rape, incest, abuse, and murder. We remain convinced that empowering women will help us win the war against poverty, inequality, unemployment and abuse.
Those most severely affected by violence are in these areas and may not be aware of the resources and services available to them to help them cope with their circumstances. We believe that the unacceptably high levels of gender-based violence require the collective efforts of all South Africans.
As South Africans, we must pause and ponder the real impact of gender-based violence. These include direct costs relating to health care services, judicial services, social services and other related services. Gender-based violence robs women and children of the opportunity to become productive citizens of the country. It denies them their constitutional rights and condemns them to a life of perpetual fear. They are therefore prevented from enjoying the fruits of our freedom and democracy.
Despite South Africa's constitutional and legislative protection, violence based on gender and sexual orientation remains at unacceptable levels. The violence takes different forms such as sexual harassment, abuse, assault, rape, domestic violence and other cultural practices that are harmful to women and children (ukuthwalwa and ukungenwa etc).
The current spate of child murders in our country is a matter of grave concern and a painful reminder of the disregard for human life and rights of children. In memory of all children who perished in the hands of abusers, we must move with speed to put these murderers behind bars. As we do so, we must also focus our attention to those who claim to be sangomas who pay for the body parts of our children. The law must be equally harsh on them. I urge real sangomas to take a stand and expose those who trade with the bodies of our children.
By giving women and child abusers harsher sentences, our courts are continuing to play a role in sending a message to these abusers that their actions will not be tolerated. Those who commit atrocities and murders against women and children must rot in jail. They do not deserve bail or parole. They must not be allowed to share the same spaces with our women and children, nor must they be allowed to roam our streets. We also urge the Minister of Justice to speed up the re-establishment of the sexual offences courts.
We are cautiously encouraged by the crime statistics released recently by the Minister of Police, Mr Nathi Mthethwa. For the 2011/12 financial year, the sexual offences cases decreased by 3,7%. Rape decreased by 1,9% but it is still unacceptably high. We believe that the introduction of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) units have contributed positively to the fight against the scourge of violence against women and children.
Despite these encouraging figures, we believe that the levels of crimes committed against women and children remain high, and that more needs to be done to ensure that we eliminate this scourge.