By Annemarie Paulin-Campbell
The latest crimes statistics were released on Tuesday. While some types of crime including commercial crime and stock theft have decreased, the murder rate rose by 4.6 percent and contact crimes such as violent robberies and hijackings have also increased significantly. Head of crime and justice at the Institute of Security Studies, Gareth Newham, raised alarm bells saying that the sharp increase in violent crime over the past three years is not simply a spike but “a fundamental surge in crime.”
One of the most disturbing figures reported was that in the Gauteng area children between the ages of ten and seventeen were responsible for forty seven murders. This is an alarming statistic which raises major concerns for the future of our country. The problem is not one that can be solved by better policing alone. We have to address the root causes that allow children to become perpetrators of violence.
Studies in the developmental neurophysiology of children link extreme neglect and abuse with long-term changes in the nervous and endocrine systems. According to the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, research shows that world-wide children with severe trauma histories are at higher risk for behaving violently, and even for committing homicide. Our society is pervaded by trauma which affects all race groups and sectors of society to some degree, but those living in poverty with little access to resources tend to be most affected. Obviously much of that trauma of it has its roots in apartheid and the social inequalities that have been perpetuated. Even for those born post-apartheid, the so-called “born-frees,” research shows there is an intergenerational transfer of trauma. A deep sense of deprivation, helplessness and the resultant anger, combined with low self-esteem may be expressed in violence when there is no sense of how things could be different.
Another factor may be a lack of good role models in the home and in society at large and a consequent failure to internalise values such at the dignity of the human person and the value of life. Parents and care-givers have a primary role to play in teaching children values and in helping them to experience themselves as loved and valued. They teach this by showing them love and also setting appropriate boundaries for their behaviour. Sadly many parents have themselves been exposed to multiple layers of trauma and some may not be in a position to offer that to their children, while many children are orphaned or living on the streets.
That old African saying: “It takes a village to raise a child” may be especially pertinent here. Perhaps all of us have a responsibility to help at least one child in our community. Those of us, who like myself, do not have a child of their own can, if we choose, have some significant and positive influence in the life of a child or teenager at risk. God’s invitation to each of us is surely to do whatever we can to make a difference, and perhaps the nurturing and education of children in our homes and communities is a key place to invest time and energy.