This post comes with a WARNING. It contains graphic content around child abuse, which may upset anyone with a heart (and hormones). If you wish to skip the grim bits, please scroll down to the third last paragraph.
I was about 10 when it happened. We were at the coast on holiday. I was standing on a wooden bridge that linked our beach-front apartment to the promenade, watching the angry waves crash against the unphased rocks.
A man approached me. He was probably in his early 30s. He was polite. Nice even. He asked me what my name was, where my parents were and if I wanted to come with him. He had ‘something’ to show me, you see.
I resisted. He became quite insistent, in a quiet kind of way. Pulling my hand gently. Smiling. Almost whispering, “come one”.
Any onlooker would have looked on.
I became nervous. Uncomfortable. But because he was being so nice, I didn’t want to make a scene. It was all a bit confusing to my 10-year-old self.
Just then a couple strolled onto the bridge. I could feel the vibrations of their footsteps on the weathered wood getting stronger.
As they neared I began to coordinate my escape with their passing – ‘Three, two, one, GO!’
I ran. But I remember still not wanting to make a fuss, so I yelled, something flippant, like “nice to meet you” even though it wasn’t.
I didn’t know what would happen to me if I went with that man. But I just had a feeling that if I did, I would never come back the same.
I escaped that day. But so many children don’t. So many children are left at the mercy of these hideous humans. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends and people from their communities that are meant to love, cherish and protect them. But they don’t.
Instead they rape them. Use them as punching bags, human shields, ashtrays or as tools for emotional blackmail.
Or they just don’t. They don’t love them, bath them, feed them, teach them, even acknowledge their existence.
Some time ago this box was delivered to my door from the The Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trust. Now it doesn’t look too exciting, because, well, it wasn’t. A little unusual for a Blogger Drop as they’re called. Normally they’re brimming with the latest this or the coolest that, but not this one. This one was empty.
Why? Because for many children in South Africa, childhood is a lot like this box – empty. They grow up in an environment of pervasive violence and abuse. This violence alters the very fabric of their childhood, which ultimately shapes their future.
The Child Protection Office at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital sees an average of 40 to 50 cases of child abuse every month. And as the season gets sillier, so the stats rise due to an increase in alcohol intake and drug abuse.
I was (un)lucky enough to be taken on a tour of this amazing hospital to witness, first-hand, the incredible work they do, and to listen to the terribly-hard-to-hear stories they had to share. It was a hard reality to have to face, and I certainly didn’t enjoy it, but I am glad I did it.
At one point, with utter disbelief in my eyes, I said, ”I look at my gorgeous 4-year-old boy and I just want to hug him, and protect him, and love him. How is it that someone can look at a child of a similar age and cuteness, and want to rape them?”
The response, “4 years old, try 7 DAYS OLD!” It was hard to fight back the tears. Another nightmare tale that has imprinted on my brain is that of a newborn that was stabbed 22 times with a pair of scissors by his own mother. The child survived, miraculously. But did he really? How is that going to impact the rest of his life?
In cases of extreme abuse and neglect, children are removed from their homes and are relocated to places of safety. Very often these children leave with just the clothes on their tiny frames.
There isn’t a huge amount we can do about child abuse and neglect. But we can make sure that when these traumatised children are moved to these strange, new places, there’s something lovely waiting for them there. A little package that lets them know they’re not completely alone. A little package that shows them someone cares.
During the 16 Days of Activism for Violence Against Children, let’s help The Red Cross Child Protection Office care for these vulnerable little people. You can donate a full package, or whatever your pocket allows from the listed contents below. These can be dropped off at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital (Klipfontein Rd, Rondebosch, Cape Town).
There are plenty of other ways you can help this amazing hospital, click here to find out more.
Give your precious kiddies an extra hug today, and let’s be kind to one another. The world can be cruel enough as it is.
If you enjoyed this post, why not take a look at I’m a Selfish Mom in the Making?
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Kate Royce is an advertising Creative Director, co-founder of Mammas’ Meeting Place and adoring mother to little Ethan whom, she is convinced, is set to be the greatest adventurer and explorer the world has ever known. Her dad once described her as “having the ability to find beauty in the strangest places,” which she thinks is one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said about her.