11/04/2018 09:07 SAST | Updated 11/04/2018 09:07 SAST

We Need To Create Safe Spaces For Children

We can only weigh our functionality as a community based on how we protect and empower the most vulnerable.

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This article is written in protest to increase awareness of the plight facing South African children in schools, especially in the townshipS.

The headlines read:

"Benoni - String of sexual assaults reported from school."

"Soweto - 87 learners sexually assaulted by a 54-year-old staff member."

"Tzaneen - 14-year-old raped by a school teacher."

"Kimberly - Teachers implicated in 30 pregnancies at school."

And these are just a handful of the hundreds of true stories just like them.

We fail our children, and I am of the opinion that we fail them because we also fail our women.

Women are always in plain view in the township; they are seen going house to house in church uniform throughout the week, visiting small business leaders, consoling widows, checking in on widowers, and guiding orphans. Township economies are built by women, who run corner stores, sew curtains and often run the tea and coffee sections after church.

Women would naturally protect the children as an utmost priority, but they themselves are unsafe in the township, and find the task impossible. Meanwhile men often allow other men to get away with terrible behaviour.

Our unsafest communities, according to the SAPS, are the townships. We can only determine the value of our communities when we analyse just how well we protect and empower the most vulnerable. For many reasons, not all within our control, we are not doing well.

We need to ask ourselves what it is about our communities that makes criminals safer than children in them.

We are struggling to turn around the legacies of our townships. The majority of South Africa's key townships were created for the purpose of control and exclusion. It is our responsibility as a community to use what was created to break us to build ourselves up.

If we continue to give up the responsibility of rebuilding our communities to the government, we will never be able to reclaim our economy, and it will forever remain in the hands of a select politically connected few.

The 2015 General Household Survey revealed to us all that the classroom is the primary site for school violence – including 54 percent of sexual assaults. 13.2 percent occur on the playground and 12.5 percent of sexual assaults take place in school toilets.

The numbers are terrible.

South Africa's educational system was ranked 75th out of 76 in a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2015 that assessed 580,000 learners across the world.

Our educational system is in as much need of reform as our township economy and safety systems are. Education, economy and safety – these are our priorities as a nation.

I say the responsibility to create change is with the people. We have waited more than 20 years for our government to sweep up our streets, and that is a long enough wait.

We need to ask ourselves what it is about our communities that makes criminals safer than children. We need to ask ourselves what role we play in allowing this to continue to be our reality – a reality we can accept as if our children didn't come first.

Can we create the change?