This topic affects all of us, all over the world. As you know, we are in the midst of the 16 days of activism against women and child abuse. This campaign was started by the United Nations 15 years ago.
I feel desperately sad when I realise that after 15 years, there is still such a need for awareness and for the violence to stop.
This was brought home to me when I attended the presentation to the joint meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Health and the Portfolio Committee on Women, Children and people with Disabilities. Professors Naeemah Abrahams, Shanaaz Mathews and Lorna J Martin presented their findings on the national female and child homicide study.
In 2004 the Medical Research Council released the findings from their first national female homicide study and found that a woman is killed by a partner every six hours in South Africa. The study was replicated so that an accurate comparison between 1999 and 2009 could be made.
The good news is that the number of homicides, while still shocking, have dropped dramatically. There were 1430 less female homicides in 2009 than in 1999. When it came to women who are killed by their intimate partners, the numbers reflected the same trend, with 325 less women dying at the hands of their lovers in 2009 as in 1999. The number of non-intimate femicide cases (the killing of a woman by a stranger, acquaintance or family member) also dropped, by 567 cases.
Sadly, not all the statistics were encouraging. The number of women who were killed during rape increased by 28,5% in 2009.
The researchers found that three women were killed by an intimate partner per day in 2009. Certainly this is an improvement, but they also found that there is no evidence that police investigations have improved. In fact, the number of convictions has decreased.
The statistics on child deaths also makes depressing reading. More than 1000 children, or nearly three a day, died from homicide in 2009. Three distinct problem areas were highlighted in the study: abandoned babies, fatal child abuse and teenage interpersonal violence.
As the researchers said, the murder of children is preventable and we have a responsibility to see that children are protected. They called for a national strategy to be developed and implemented to address child murders in our country.
I am sorry that my topic today is so depressing, but there is nothing to be achieved by hiding our heads in the sand.
We can all take the small steps that are needed to be the change we need. I challenge each of us to be honest about the way we treat those closest to us. What message are we sending to our partners and our children? I would also like to challenge us to each take the time to look around us, and be aware of the symptoms of abuse, neglect or desperation in our friends and neighbours.
It is never easy to have the difficult conversations with the people we are close to, but the consequences of each of us not taking a stand against abuse are far worse.