Pretoria, SA -- Eighty-two children are charged in courts across the country every day for raping or indecently assaulting other children. A Pretoria News investigation has found that processing by the state of child-committed sexual offences has nearly doubled in the past year.
Police, prosecutors, social workers and child rights activists estimate that between 25 percent and 43 percent of the perpetrators of sex and violent crimes against children are children themselves - some as young as six.
Approaching school holidays - which are peak periods for child-committed offences - now threaten to increase the 130 059 child sex offenders processed by the state between 1999 and March this year. Of these, 146 have been sentenced to prison terms and 161 are awaiting trial.
The problem has become so bad that several state-supported rehabilitation organisations have - in the absence of any concrete laws to deal with children accused of crime - recently launched diversion programmes aimed specifically at child sex offenders. And, if ground-breaking research by a Gauteng academic and child abuse counsellor is to be believed, a "huge" proportion of these children claim their sexual abuse of other children was inspired by acts they witnessed on television.
Meanwhile, we have seven reports from angry parents who were turned away from police stations in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Gauteng when they tried to lay sexual abuse charges on behalf of their children against other children.
"I was told these are children; we can't do anything," a woman from KwaZulu-Natal said. She claims her seven-year-old daughter was forced to perform oral sex on three boys aged between nine and 11. She said she had decided to move to her mother's home in the Western Cape to shield her daughter from further abuse.
Senior Superintendent Anneke Pienaar, national co-ordinator of the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit, denied that police could not do anything to address sexual abuse claims made by children against other children. She said police were given specific instructions on how to process all reports of child-perpetrated crime and had to accept such charges.
But Pienaar admitted police had noticed a "definite increase" in the number of sexual abuse allegations made against children. And, she said, the alleged perpetrators of this abuse were "getting younger and younger".
Studies in KwaZulu-Natal last year showed that a staggering 90 percent of all male child sex offenders between the ages of 13 and 18 had been exposed to violent pornography and "believed that this had an impact on the development of their abusive behaviour".
Shaheda Omar, therapeutic manager at the Teddy Bear Clinic in Johannesburg, has interviewed 100 child sex offenders and their mothers "from across the social spectrum" for her doctoral research project.
"What surprised me was that most of these children had not been sexually abused themselves, although they may have witnessed sexual or physical abuse. What united them was the influence of media on their behaviour," she said.
While some children claimed they wanted to emulate love scenes in soap operas like The Bold And The Beautiful, others admitted they had been inspired by late-night pornography on e.tv. Soweto Protea Court prosecutors Nadine Nel and Louise Smit confirmed both Childline's research and Omar's preliminary findings.
"Usually, when you first ask a child why they did certain sexual things to another child, they shrug their soldiers and say they don't know. But later they will tell you they saw things on The Bold And The Beautiful and they wanted to try it," said Smit.
She said that, following the 2001 airing of the infamous Yizo Yizo prison rape scene, the Soweto Protea Court was hit with a spate of "little boys indecently assaulting other little boys".
The child victims of sexual abuse by other children were usually "much younger" than their abusers, Nel and Smit said, with some victims as young as two. This made it very difficult for prosecutors to discover exactly what had happened, because the child did not have the ability to describe his or her abuse and medical evidence was usually inconclusive.
Childline director Joan van Niekerk believes cases of sexual abuse by children are dramatically under-reported. "We know police seldom open such dockets, so it is difficult to quantify the extent of the problem," she said. "Police at station level prefer to tell the parents it is a 'domestic matter' which must be sorted out at home."
Source: Pretoria News