[notice]A monthly column by Marcel van der Watt, lecturer in the Department of Police Practice at UNISA, former police detective, and current member of the Gauteng Rapid Response Task Team for Human Trafficking.[/notice]
The issue of child protection and the wellbeing of South African youth have recently been on the agendas of most NGOs, activists, policy makers and government departments working on matters that affect the child. National Child Protection Week (CPW) was commemorated from May 31 to June 7, 2015 and South Africans were once again reminded that each and every member of our village has a significant role to play in raising our children. The SA Government fittingly positioned the CPW commemorations as follows:
“Children in South Africa live in a society with a Constitution that has the highest regard for their rights and for the equality and dignity of everyone. Protecting children from violence, exploitation and abuse is not only a basic value, but also an obligation clearly set out in Article 28 of the South African Constitution. The aim of child protection is to ensure the safety, wellbeing, care and protection of children through an integrated multi-disciplinary approach. Despite the best efforts of the South African Government and civil society to protect children from child abuse, neglect and exploitation, many children still remain vulnerable[i]”
Vulnerability, as a common denominator that fuels most social ills in our society, can be found on the proverbial ‘doorstep’ of every South African citizen. We do not have to travel far and wide to witness enormous levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment. Those who choose insulation behind sheltered walls or turn an insensitive blind eye to the otherness of others, will eventually be confronted by the reality that the issues we face in South Africa cannot be ignored or wished away. Sadly, millions of South African children are left to fend for themselves whilst able men empathise from the armchair. Angie Motaung of Bana Ba Kae in Pretoria West is quoted as stating that “there could be as many as 1 000 children missing from homes across the city…” and makes a sobering assertion that “some parents have too much else to worry about to run to the police to report missing children, in particular those in their teens[ii]”.
It goes without saying that our children are the teachers, nurses, entrepreneurs, policemen and social workers of tomorrow. Their lived experiences, here and now, will be part of their narrative. These experiences, no matter how dire, may remind them where they came from, but do not have to dictate where they are going. It’s quite amazing to think that you and I can influence the trajectory. That said, the ‘integrated multi-disciplinary approach’ emphasised by government is laudable, but will fall short in the absence of collective compassion. Being involved in the broader field of social justice, I am encouraged by the work of the James 1:27 Trust and the significant contribution they make to the lives of our children and the social transformation agenda.
James 1:27 Trust
The Trust, located at the Innovation Hub in Pretoria, South Africa, is a Social Enterprise mandated to care for children at risk. I have had the absolute privilege and pleasure to be a witness to the innovative and life-changing work conducted by the James 1:27 Trust, and to observe how CEO Robert Botha and his team endeavour to personify their scriptural calling:
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” James 1:27 (NIV)
The Trust is focussed on responding to the proliferation of orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV and AIDS and remains committed to working within a child-rights framework in which holistic child development within a community based approach is promoted. As such the Trust believes that children should be cared for within home-based care units and families within their own local communities. At a technical level The James 1:27 Trust is a pioneer. The Trust’s inclusion of SAP Business One as an “enterprise resource planning tool” was the first in Africa for a not for profit organisation, while reliance on PTC Windchill as a “life cycle management system” is, within the children at risk sector, probably the first migration of its kind in the world. The use of this technology thus makes for an historic contribution to the promotion of social justice.
Journey to the Dream
The ‘Journey to the Dream’ music and arts festival was hosted by the Trust on 27-28 March 2015. The event was attended by approximately 270 guests and consisted of seven exhibiting artists, 10 speakers, 15 musical events, 4 poets and 4 dancing items. The purpose of the event was to celebrate 10 years of service by the James 1:27 Trust whilst also reminding young and old that our Lord has a dream for their lives. The Trust maintains that “our youth need a connection with justice and social action as part of their Christian witness. They are hungry for social impact and want a practical response to the presence of evil in our times”. Having attended the breakfast session for business and the youth evening, I was rejuvenated by powerful testimonies, poetry, music and a divine message of hope for our country and its people – reminded that each and every one of us is mandated to embrace and act upon the dream. I was encouraged by the ‘hunger-for-justice’ attitude of those who attended the youth evening and realised that parents and adults in general, have a fundamental responsibility to infuse awareness, through word and deed, of social justice and the relentless pursuit thereof in every area of our existence.
A follow-up breakfast session was held on Saturday, June 6 which served as a reflection on the Journey to the Dream event during which participants networked and discussed how to build a community dedicated to social transformation. The James 1:27 Trust invites all South Africans to come together and unite in the belief that social change and social transformation in South Africa is possible. We are part of the solution and the solution requires collaboration. Finally, in pondering the wellbeing of our children, the state of our South African village and the social transformation agenda, let’s consider the sentiments of Martin Luther King Jr:
“In a real sense all life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
For more information on the activities of the James 1:27 Trust:
Tel: +27 12 844 0489
Journey to the dream video
James 1:27 Trust Video
[ii] Makhubu, N. 2015. Missing Kids Tragedy: Poverty, human trafficking behind children disappearing without trace. Pretoria News, page 1.