If We Change Childhood, We Can Change the World

By Carol Bower

Around mid-afternoon, the 3 July 2019 issue of The South African appeared in my inbox.

The first paragraph jumped out at me: A truly shocking story has emerged from Cape Town this week, after police confirmed that they were investigating all possible leads in the case of an eight month old baby who was raped in Bonteheuwel.

Thinking about what was done to that tiny girl made me feel incandescent with rage and and imploding with anguish, haunted by images of what was done to her. But this (the rape of tiny children) is nothing new in South Africa. This baby girl is not the first and will not be the last to be brutalised in this way. When Baby Tshepang was raped in 2001, she was nine months old. Nine months later, when she was 18 months old and had been living in a loving and nurturing environment, she was taken to a therapeutic playroom. Almost immediately, she used the dolls in the playroom to re-enact her rape. Some scars never heal.

Why? Why? Why? When are men going to stop doing this?

Everyone was shocked. Cape Town authorities were reportedly “shaken” by the case. The story gained traction on social media. But, despite the outrage and disbelief and shock and horror, it’s just a matter of time until another baby girl suffers the same fate.

Why? Why? Why? When are men going to stop doing this?

The answers are not simple. They are at least as complex as the murky, stinking context in which the problems arise.

A context characterised by:
 Social constructions of masculinity that include being strong, being in control, being a provider and having an active and entitled (hetero) sexual appetite;
 Social constructions of femininity which include being weak and subservient, prone to irrationality because we (well most of us under 50) bleed every month, and require “protection” from the man/men in our lives;
 High levels of poverty; of inequality; of unemployment (making it impossible to fulfil the “criteria” of toxic masculinity, leading to feeling “out of control” and the wreaking of vengeance against [smaller, weaker] women and children);
 The legacy of an appalling and inhumane human rights record, dating back to the Dutch arriving in our country in 1652; and
 Corruption on an industrial scale that has virtually brought the country to its knees.

How do we tackle this?

I have some ideas:
1. Recoup as many of those corruptly-gained assets and as much of the money as we can
2. Rigorously pursue the corrupt; investigate, charge and prosecute them, and
3. Use the money to make sure that:

a. Every pregnant woman who is carrying to term gets the nutrition, emotional calm and rest that she needs, and which is vital for the optimal development of her developing child;
b. All new parents have easy access to pre- and post-natal care which encourages the development of nurturing, protective, affirming and loving relationships between new parents and their babies
c. The families of all children under the age of two receive regular visits from community workers trained in child development, parenting skills, nutrition and nurturing
d. Communities are educated about and involved in making sure that children are safe in their communities
e. ALL children aged two to six can easily access quality early childhood development services (far more important than “free” tertiary education)
f. Social service delivery, includes ongoing services to parents of children of different ages, focused on loving and nurturing parenting skills
g. Social service delivery (and that of NGOs) includes confronting gender issues and gender-based violence. Civil society organisations doing this work should be adequately funded by the fiscus, to the full cost of the delivery of a quality service; and
h. There are classes in schools (from Grades R to 12) to raise awareness and change behaviour with regard to power relations (between genders, and between generations), and promote the practice and protection of the human rights of all.

If we change childhood, we can change the world.

First published in the Daily Maverick.

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