Joan van Niekerk
SEXUAL crimes against children, involving both assaults and possession of child pornography, have been no stranger to KwaZulu-Natal courts in the past months.

A Port Shepstone father, whose child pornography case involves images of his own 5-year-old daughter, was sentenced to 10 years last month.

His case was one of a number that involve links to other countries.

Three people were arrested in Durban following online discoveries of activities by the US Homeland Security agency. When police swooped on a Bluff home to arrest Wayne Parkes, they learnt that one of the images was of a child in the area and they promptly arrested him, both for sexually assaulting her and producing the images. He has been found guilty but is yet to be sentenced.

The latest arrest has led to a 39-year-old man from Bellair being whisked to Krugersdorp to join others allegedly in a child pornography ring.

KZN has also seen a Newcastle man sentenced to 30 years in jail, half the time suspended, for having sex with a minor, grooming children and possessing child pornography.

A source said he had a relationship with a teen from a local children’s home and got her to take photos of younger children performing sexual acts.

“The images were sadistic, including babies tied up with ropes. This was the most horrific case I have ever witnessed,” said the source, adding that the accused felt he had done nothing wrong.

As the wheels of justice roll in the courts, the SA Law Reform Commission is investigating laws relating to child pornography in order to improve them, according to Joan van Niekerk who is chairing a committee. She is a Durban-based consultant in child rights and child protection and past president of the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

“We are having workshops on the draft in every province,” she said.

Asked whether there was a higher incidence of it today than in the past, or whether there was simply more exposure to incidents, Van Niekerk said it could be a combination of both.

“But I have worked in the field for about 35 years and I am seeing a greater degree of violence against children.

“The numbers are actually overwhelming for social workers and others who work in the field. Case loads are impossibly high and so very few children receive appropriate therapy – which does not augur well for the future of the child.

“One hidden element of sexual abuse of children is the abuse of boys, which according to the country’s first prevalence study, is equal to that of girls. The problem is that few boys report. There are a number of reasons for this.”

Commenting on what prompts adults to sexually abuse, Van Niekerk said: “There have been a number of studies in South Africa which associate aggressive sexual behaviour, rape and sexual assault with severe corporal punishment in childhood, absent father figures; exposure to domestic violence; sexual victimisation during childhood, especially where there has been no safe adult to disclose to or adult responses to disclosure have been in appropriate; and exposure to pornography.”

“The pathways to offending are complex. One does come across adults who have experienced some or all of these but do not offend.

“The mediating factor here appears to be the presence of at least one caring adult who responds to the child with care, love and concern.”

She added that it was of concern that a lot of sexual acting out – abuse reactive behaviour – was happening in institutional care.

“At the moment I am engaged with an organisation and planning a programme design for those who care for children who are abuse reactive.”

Van Niekerk added that the problem of child pornography was not confined to offending adults.

“Viewing pornography on the internet affects a child’s sexual behaviour but we cannot blame the internet only. We need to look at adults who should be managing a child’s access to the internet, which is possible even where a child has a cellphone and can access the web independently.

“Phones are handed to children with no contractual arrangement or discussion, or checking, or kiddie control.”

She added that what added fuel to the fire in South Africa was that it is such a violent society.

“We burn and loot if we are not happy with service delivery, poverty, and unemployment and alcohol and drug abuse drive high levels of crime, including rape.

“I think we have a complex set of associated factors – and so often the politicians throw money at single factor interventions that are really ineffectual.”