The Editor, The Times Newspaper.

EDITORIAL: CHILDLINE received close to one million calls last year. Any way you cut that number, it is a scary indictment on our society. One million children were in some form of acute distress that necessitated a desperate call to 08000 55555.

Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Women heard yesterday that of these one million calls, Childline, which is a non-profit organisation, managed to deal with 25000 of these children.

These figures bear out Acting National Director of Public Prosecutions Mokotedi Mpshe’s assessment last year of the state’s ability to respond to children in crisis.

“Instead of having made vast progress since 2000, dedicated [child rape] courts have declined in numbers; SA Police Service family violence, child protection and sexual offences units have been redeployed, trained forensic social workers employed by the police have become scarce; the system of district surgeons was abolished (giving rise to a loss of expertise); and the need for training remains, with language barriers exacerbating every identified issue.”

The Tracking Justice study put out last year by the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation showed that only one in every 10 child rape cases resulted in a conviction. They concluded that “the police are failing to grasp their role in child protection and, in particular, their responsibility to prevent children’s repeat victimisation and intimidation”.

But it is not just the duty of the police and justice system to protect and vindicate our children. What these figures represent is a broader societal malaise. South Africa is failing our children on a devastating scale.

When scholars give birth in school bathrooms and hospitals can’t safeguard newborns, there is a crisis. We need more than a plan to deal with this problem. It’s an emergency.

In The Times.