Lenasia community demands protection of children

Lenasia community demands protection of children
Lenasia community demands protection of children

Over 600 members of the Lenasia community gathered at the Lenasia Cricket Stadium, in the South of Johannesburg, on 02 June to support National Child Protection Week, which runs from 29 May to 05 June. As part of the event, a memorandum demanding the protection of children in the community, was handed over to the local police station and municipality.

“Our children need to be protected and shielded from abuse. We stand with parents and early learning practitioners of the Lenasia community in calling for authorities to address the neglect, violence, and exploitation of children. We also support the provision of quality early learning, which is critical to forming the foundations of success,” says Naomi Koatla, Gauteng Branch Manager at early learning non-profit SmartStart, who hosted the event.

The memorandum, which was delivered by children from Lenasia and signed by early learning practitioners in the community, called for action from officials to stop abuse of any type. It also reiterated the rights of children in South Africa, including the right to education and learning – which a significant number of children are currently deprived of.

Of the 5.7 million children under the age of five years, more than 3.2-million do not have access to any form of early learning, according to the Thrive by Five Index, South Africa’s first nationally representative survey of preschool children. Of the 2.5-million children who do have access to early learning, only 626 574 of them receive government subsidies, which allow low-income neighbourhoods to sustain these programmes at a decent level of quality. The knock-on effect is that 65% of children are falling behind when it comes to reaching developmental milestones.

“Where quality early learning programmes do exist, they often provide a safe space for children to spend their time, while their parents are out at work. In many cases, these programmes also ensure children receive at least one meal a day,” says Koatla.

Research shows that adverse childhood experiences, like stress caused by poverty, abuse, and violence, can lead to physical and chemical disruptions in the brain, that can last a lifetime. “Preventing the abuse and neglect of children and young people is not only our legal and moral obligation, but also critical to improving the health and safety of current and future generations. That’s why SmartStart is committed to establishing and supporting programmes that are nurturing, and create safe spaces for children,” CEO of SmartStart, Grace Matlhape said.

Operating as a social franchise, SmartStart’s early learning model is focused on overcoming structural barriers that prevent access to not only early learning, but to quality early learning. The NPO operates in all nine provinces and has built a network of over 90 000 parents and caregivers, whose children are enrolled and active in one of SmartStart’s programme formats. By 2030, SmartStart aims to reach 1-million children between the ages of three and five annually.

“Early learning and stimulation, either at home or in a quality early learning programme, can address these deficits and ensure the next generation of students is better prepared. Child Protection Week is about making sure children have everything they need in order to become successful adults, and early learning is an essential aspect of this,” says Matlhape.

For more information, visit www.smartstart.org.za.