Everywhere I go there is a palpable sense of anger and sadness at the recent spate of abuse and killing of women and children in our country. The shocking incidents in Reiger Park and Westbury where children were killed have no place in our society. Government is saddened by these deaths and I convey my deepest condolences to the families and friends who lost their loved ones.
But anger is not enough; the time has come to take a stand, society holds the key to eradicating these violent crimes. Simply turning a blind eye or assuming that it is someone else's problem or responsibility is not good enough. No one should stand idly by while innocent women and children are abused and killed.
The re-introduction of sexual offences courts has strengthened the fight against sexual violence in the country, especially against women, children and persons with disability. These courts provide specialised victim-support services and improve prosecution and conviction rates.
The Department of Constitutional Development and Correctional Services has promised to increase the number of dedicated sexual offences courts over the next five years. Minister Michael Masutha recently launched a sexual offences court in Bethlehem, Free State and said that his department would upgrade 57 regional courts into sexual offences courts by the end of 2015/16.
Government applauds our police for swiftly arresting those suspected of committing such heinous crimes. We are confident that our courts will impose stiff sentences on those who are found guilty. However, government cannot fight this scourge alone; and the laws of our country cannot solve all the challenges related to the abuse of women and children.
The actions of every South African can go a long way towards preventing most of the senseless acts in our communities before they even take place. We should follow the example of the courageous and defiant women of 1956 who marched against the unjust laws, regulations and conventions that repressed women in the country. Our march today should be to move our country forward and to work with government towards creating an environment where our children and women enjoy their rights to walk freely without the fear of being attacked, raped or killed.
This can be done if we change our mind-set and recognise that violence against women and children has devastating effects on the individuals, families and communities. Those affected are often temporarily, or in the worst case scenario, permanently unable to contribute to the socioeconomic wellbeing of our society.
We need to deal decisively with this unacceptable state of affairs. It starts in our homes and communities where we put an end to intimidation, stalking, verbal, psychological and emotional abuse, as well as disrespectful and sexist jokes levelled against women. We should, as President Jacob Zuma pointed out, also report all domestic violence to the police and not treat it at arm's length and as something that we are aware of but pretend not to notice.
The next time you hear terrified screams at night there you have a choice; to do what is easy and turn a blind eye, or to do what is right and report it.
I know what I will choose.
Government calls on men to assume a greater and more active role in preventing violence against women and children.
Protecting our women and children is a responsibility that we all share. We must partner with one another to tackle the issues that undermine the fundamental human rights of women and children. Together we can entrench and inculcate a culture of human rights throughout South African society.
By Deputy Minister of Communications Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams