Talking Much, Saying Little

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Nerissa Naidoo
Member since April 30, 2016
  • 4 Posts
  • Age 22

From cellphones to laptops to cellphones that are also laptops, we’re more connected than any generation ever has been. At any given moment, I have 50 friends in the piece of metal in my back pocket – 40 of them I’ve never met before, and 20 live entire oceans away from me. Since the exchange of ideas is rapid, restraint takes a back seat, and young people are at the forefront of an era when talking about everything (cat videos on YouTube, the degeneration of society, Beyoncé’s new haircut) is never worse than not talking about it. But while we claim to be the pioneers who dare to have the difficult discussions our parents wouldn’t, it strikes me as peculiar that violence against children has yet to graduate from mere whispers in our community.

I live in a community of proud people who believe that conservativism is the hallmark of an advanced society, where “conservatism” just means we should pretend our problems don’t exist. But even so, while the dinner table conversations in my neighbourhood sometimes stray to rampant unemployment, or the fact that our local youth centre will host a drug abuse awareness program – it rarely comprehensively tackles the topic of violence against children in any of its forms: bullying, sexual abuse, or even corporal punishment. Trying to understand why we don’t speak about violence against children, involves speaking about violence against children, and from the dismissive, sometimes indifferent responses I’ve received, the answer might just be that we don’t consider violence against children a problem at all.

As much as the normalisation of the dialogue surrounding traditionally ‘delicate’ issues (for example, racism, abortion or gay rights) is fairly new, the normalisation of violence against children isn’t. Children are the only group against whom physical harm is not only acceptable, but sometimes even encouraged. “Children need to be hit to be taught a lesson” or “Everyone gets bullied in school” are common utterances in our communities, and while they may seem trifling, they describe violence against children as necessary for character development – they make it okay. A lot of us are brought up with this sentiment, and it desensitises us to a very real crisis.

While there are people who don’t care to talk about violence against children, there are also those who don’t want to – violence against children is too much of a problem. The stigma surrounding child abuse often reduces it to a ‘family issue’. We can spend 12 years in school with someone, go to our Matric dance together, edit the yearbook together, study Physics 15 minutes before the exam together, and never know of the trauma they face at home. As ridiculous as it sounds, it’s the norm rather than the exception. In South Africa, approximately 12 abused children will be sitting in any given classroom, and 20 on an average school bus.

Finally, in a time when our online presence has become an integral part of who we are, we curate it in a way that’s beneficial to us. Talking about violence against children tacitly admits our own failures: if hurting kids is bad, and we’re supposed to be protecting kids, then someone in the equation isn’t doing their job properly – and it’s us. When we do share, like or retweet, it’s often rhetoric that borders on lazy activism, which does more harm than good. A rousing status update that “real men don’t abuse children” furthers the idea that abusers are supernatural monsters who lurk in the shadows outside our reach. When in reality, it’s real people like you and I with pulses, with faces, with hobbies, with 9 – 5 jobs who go on holidays to the coast, who perpetrate violence against children. They are our neighbours, families and friends, and we can stop them if we’d just look up and speak out – but we don’t.

Child abuse is a closely guarded secret that no one wants to share, because they want to protect themselves, or the perpetrator, or the family, or the community – but never the child. Even in a country as vigorous in its dialogue about most social justice issues as South Africa is, violence against children seems to be beyond the realm of robust debate. Sure, we remember it exists once a year at rallies and conferences, but violence against children is neither public nor seasonal – and the response cannot be either.

We have the world in the palm of our hands, but we let empowerment slip through our fingers. If we truly want to be the generation that isn’t afraid to carve out a world of peace and equality, we need to start with the kids who will grow up to live it in it. Simply, we must do better. We must have the difficult conversations about it both online and at home. We must reject language that normalises violence. We must ensure children are the priority in every sector that claims to work for them. We must take responsibility for ourselves and hold others accountable. We must make it clear that no community pride, social standing or warped idea of adolescent education is worth a child going to bed unhappy, scared or sore – again. And if there’s anything we can learn from the evolution of technology, it’s that our social practices can change – the world will change with us.

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