The Department Social Development has appealed to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to report all cases of child abuse, neglect, abandonment and exploitation.
The call comes after an article published by The Citizen newspaper on 10 June 2020, entitled 'Baby dumping increases under lockdown hardships'.
The article claims that the number of abandoned babies has risen by 80% during lockdown. According to unofficial figures and child welfare experts, the trend is expected to continue as times get tougher.
The article also quoted the National Adoption Coalition of South Africa, which claims that there was a surge in child abandonment during the first week of the national lockdown.
Responding to the article, the department said it has no record of the increase of cases in child abandonment during the lockdown period.
"Contrary to these figures, the department has to date received nine cases of child abandonment that were reported by provinces between March and April this year. No reports of such cases were received from NGOs for the same period," the department said in a statement.
The department said it recognises that it is particularly important to safeguard children, who may be at an increased risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation, including abandonment, during this time of uncertainty, as some parents/caregivers are struggling to provide the needs of their children.
"The department takes this opportunity to appeal to all NGOs to report all suspected cases of child abuse, neglect, abandonment and exploitation to a designated child protection organisation, the provincial department of social development, local social worker or a police official," the department said.
Section 110 of the Children's Act (Act No. 38 of 2005) states that professionals and organisations that work closely with children, have a duty to report suspected cases of child abuse, neglect or abandonment to a designated child protection organisation, the provincial Department of Social Development, local social worker or a police official.
The purpose of reporting cases of child abandonment is to ensure the safety and protection of the child in question by recording them in Part A of the Child Protection Register and providing therapeutic services.
The Act further stipulates that the Department of Social Development must assess and further manage the situation in the best interests of the child.
In the case of an abandoned child, the Act stipulates that a social worker must gather all necessary information and affidavit/s from person/s who found or reported the child as abandoned and to report the case to police for investigation.
The Act provides for the placement of abandoned children in temporary safe care, pending further investigation and final placement.
"Each one of us has a responsibility to protect children and a duty to report cases of children in need of care, including abandonment. Report cases of child abandonment to your local social worker or your local police.
"COVID-19 is causing great social and economic challenges for many families, as their circumstances are changing. The department remains committed to the delivery of all child care services, whilst ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children is paramount this time," the department said.
The department said that one of the alternative care options that it renders to children in need of protection and abandoned children, is adoption, which gives them a permanent or stable family life.
Under level 3 of the lockdown regulations, the department said, matters relating to child and spousal maintenance proceedings, child abuse, neglect and exploitation, including child abandonment, foster care applications and hearings; international child abduction cases and adoption and hearings are prioritised.
"If members of the public need advice on the choices available to pregnant mothers, they can contact their area social worker or the nearest Department of Social Development office.
"Adoption services are rendered by qualified social workers who are registered as by the South African Council for Social Service Professionals (SACSSP) to render adoption services as well as organisations that are accredited by the department," the department said.