The thought of having to report child abuse can be very daunting for a counsellor. It can often be a very overwhelming thought, and I have heard people say that this is one of the main reasons that they don’t want to work with children. It is my hope that this article will answer some of the questions you may have, alleviate some of the fears you may experience and support you through the process of reporting.
1.What is Child Abuse?
In order to know how to report, we need to know what can be considered as child abuse. In South Africa, a child is recognised as a person under the age of 18 years old. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, recognises that every child has the right to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse and degradation. According to the Children’s Act, Act 38 of 2005, child abuse is defined as any harm or ill-treatment deliberately inflicted on a child including:
- Assaulting a child or inflicting any other form of deliberate injury to a child;
- Sexually abusing a child or allowing a child to be sexually abused;
- Bullying by another child;
- A labour practice that exploits the child; or
- Exposing or subjecting a child to behaviour that may harm the child psychologically or emotionally.
These forms of abuse can be further unpacked to fully understand what would be considered as abuse. Corporal punishment is now illegal in South Africa, which includes spanking a child as a form of discipline. This means that children can no longer get hidings from anyone, including their parents, and such behaviour is now considered as abusive according to the law.
The Children’s Act defines child sexual abuse as:
- Sexually molesting or assaulting a child or allowing a child to be sexually molested or assaulted; or
- Encouraging, inducing, or forcing a child to be used for the sexual gratification of another person; or
- Using a child in or deliberately exposing a child to sexual activities or pornography; or
- Procuring or allowing a child to be procured for commercial sexual exploitation or in any way participating or assisting in the commercial exploitation of a child.
The Domestic Violence Amendment Act, Act 14 of 2021, has an extensive definition of what constitutes domestic violence, many of which may directly or indirectly impact children, such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional, verbal [and] or psychological abuse, economic abuse, intimidation and damage to property. Important to acknowledge is that exposing a child to domestic violence is also considered as domestic violence.
2. Who Must Report?
In Section 110 of The Children’s Act there is a list of professionals who are obligated to report child abuse or neglect to authorities, including educators, social workers, doctors, psychologists and social service professionals, amongst others. It further states that if these professionals conclude on reasonable grounds that a child has been abused or neglected, they must report that in the prescribed form to a Designated Child Protection Organisation (DCPO). It also mentions that aside from those professionals, any person who is aware of child abuse may also report abuse in the same way, although it is not a legal duty for them.
Section 54 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, Act 32 of 2007, states that any person who has knowledge that a sexual offence has been committed against a child must immediately report this to a police official.
Section 2B of the Domestic Violence Amendment Act identifies that any adult person, who knows or believes or suspects on reasonable grounds, that an act of domestic violence has been committed against a child, a person with a disability or an older person, must report such knowledge belief or suspicion as soon as possible to a social worker or the South African Police Services (SAPS).
3. Who Do I Report To?
The Children’s Act identifies that a report of child abuse or neglect must be made to a DCPO, the Provincial Department of Social Development or a police official. When reporting to a DCPO it is important to report to an organisation that is operating in the area where the child resides. A DCPO may be referred to using different names, but can include places such as Child Welfare, the Department of Social Development, RATA, Tutela (CMR), or VVF. In terms of the Domestic Violence Act, it stipulates reporting domestic violence to a social worker or to SAPS.
When there is a report of suspected sexual abuse, the Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act states that we are required to report such abuse to a police official for investigation. It is important that we then also reported to a DCPO as well.
4. How Do I Report?
When reporting abuse, we as counsellors need to complete a Form 22, as provided by the General Regulations of the Children’s Act. A Form 22 includes 4 types of abuse, including physical, emotional, sexual abuse as well as neglect. The Form 22 identifies different indicators for the different types of abuse, and where needed one can indicate multiple types of abuse. The Form 22 can be completed either electronically (where we complete the form on our computer) and email it directly to the relevant person, or we can print it and deliver it by hand. The Form 22 is clearly laid out in terms of what information needs to go where. If needed, a covering letter can also be attached if there is additional information you would like to share with the DCPO. You can access a Form 22 online at https://shrturl.app/4bvXra.
Once the Form 22 is completed, keep a copy in your client’s file, and send the original to the person responsible at the relevant DCPO. Sometimes we are able to email the Form 22 to the organisation and other times they need to be hand delivered depending on the organisation. Please try and make sure that the person you have sent it to acknowledges receipt of it so that you can keep a record of this.
There are National Policy Guidelines for Victims of Sexual Offences which guide the SAPS in their processes. When reporting abuse to SAPS we are required to open a case, either at a police station or telephonically. Included in the National Policy Guidelines is the right for the victim to make their report in a private and confidential space, away from the front desk, and often the FCS are available to assist in this regard. It is also possible for a police official to meet you and the client away from the police station and take a statement in a safe location such as your practice, their home or school, and would need to be arranged accordingly. When reporting abuse to SAPS there are instances where an enquiry can be opened first, as opposed to a case, to allow for an investigation to first be conducted, and to then determine the way forward. However, this needs to be done in consultation with the Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit (FCS unit) and relevant authorities to ensure legal compliance and the best interest of our clients.
Another means of reporting domestic violence is the application of a Protection Order, completed on behalf of the minor child or in collaboration with the parent of the child, depending on the circumstances, and the child’s best interest. You can access a protection at https://www.saps.gov.za/services/downloads/protection_order_application.pdf. This protection order can be submitted to the clerk of the Domestic Violence Court, where it will be considered by the magistrate. At the discretion of the magistrate, this can then be granted as an Interim Protection Order, and once served on the respondent can be immediately implemented. The complainant and respondent are then required to return to court on the date specified, usually about 6 weeks later, where depending on the evidence provided the magistrate may then confirm the order, and make it a permanent court order.
5. When Do I Report?
Section 110 of the Children’s Act implies that we need to report abuse as soon as possible, to the appropriate authority. The Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act specifies that one must immediately report sexual abuse to a police official.
6. But What About the Legal Implications for Me?
The Children’s Act, Sexual Offences and Related Matters Act, as well as the Domestic Violence Amendment Act do give provision that any person that reports child abuse, neglect and domestic violence in good faith (without malicious intent or not without reasonable grounds) will not be liable to civil action, which means that you won’t be sued. When referring to the term reasonable grounds, the term “grounds” refers to the facts that you have objectively gathered using your five senses, and the term “reasonable” refers to whether another person, given the same set of objective information, would come to the same conclusion as you have. This can then be considered as reasonable grounds.
The ASCHP is a registered professional body, and as such is legally required to comply with the requirements of a professional body. The ASCHP Rules and Guidelines specify best practice as a key aspect of their policies for practice, which includes our human, professional, institutional and legal duties. Legal duties refer to those imposed by the common law and by statute law that governs health professionals, and include the laws of the land, including the Children’s Act and Sexual Offences Act. The ASCHP Rules and Guidelines further mention that you will keep your client’s best interest as your primary professional duty. You are also required to maintain confidential records of your sessions, and to never breach confidentiality without sound reason and without the knowledge of the client. However, your legal obligation to report remains paramount and it is essential that you do this, in the prescribed manner. You therefore have an ethical duty to report in terms of the ASCHP, but it is important to do this in collaboration with your client.
7. What If I Don’t Report?
The Sexual Offences Act, Domestic Violence Amendment Act and the Children’s Act specify that we have a legal duty to report, and the failure to report is considered as an offence. Consequences of not reporting child abuse, neglect and domestic violence include punishment with a fine or imprisonment of up to 5 years, or both, if the person is found guilty. The ASCHP also stipulates the need to be considered a good standing member in order for your renewal as a registered wellness to be approved. This means that you need to have CPD compliance, professional standing and ethical integrity (no complaints from the public or disciplinary measures against you). Therefore, our legal and ethical obligations need to be maintained in order to ensure we are in good standing and eligible for renewal as registered wellness counsellors.
8. Why Should I Report?
In an effort to protect children from abuse, a National Child Protection Register has been established which is kept by the Director General. There is a Part A and Part B of the register. The purpose of Part A register is to have a record of abuse or deliberate neglect inflicted on specific children, the details surrounding it amongst other aspects. Part B is where the names of the people found to be unsuitable to work with children are recorded. This register helps us to be sure that the people who are working with children do not have their names recorded on this register and are therefore deemed as being suitable to work with children. This is one of the very important reasons why we need to report abuse. This helps to keep the register up to date and hold people accountable for abusing children.
When making a decision regarding a child, and what would be the best way to intervene, the Children’s Act emphasises that the best interest of the child is paramount. There is a very clear outline about what can be considered as the best interest of the child, and you can read more about it in Section 7 of the Children’s Act. It includes aspects such as the nature of the relationship between the child and their parents or caregivers; the capacity of the parent or caregiver to provide for the needs of the child; the child’s age, gender and background as well as the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm. However, in terms of whether a child needs to be removed from the care of their parents, only a designated social worker is able to act in this regard. The Children’s Act outlines details in this regard for them to consider. SAPS are also able to assist and facilitate this process when needed. As a counsellor, working hand in hand with the social workers at your local DCPO and SAPS is essential. In this way we can work collaboratively to support our clients and the child in need of protection.
9. Going Forward
Child abuse is everyone’s problem. We have a collective duty and responsibility to work together to give voices to the voiceless and to assist in bringing about change regarding gender based violence and child abuse. The Western Cape Department of Education developed The Abuse No More Protocol, which is an online training regarding managing child abuse, deliberate neglect and sexual offences against children, and is aimed at various role players. It includes modules on completing a Form 22 if you are needing additional clarification. If you are wanting to learn more about child abuse and how to assist a child, ensure you are legally compliant and empowered with accurate knowledge to assist children, parents, educators and others, I highly recommend that you complete the online training. You can access the training at https://sites.google.com/wced.info/abuse-no-more-online-course. When in doubt, consult a supervisor or colleague for support and clarification. Please remember that learning is lifelong, and we need to ensure we act in the best interest of our clients and are accountable professionals.
ASCHP, 2019, Rules and Regulations for Members, 2019.
Children’s Act, Act 38 Of 2005.
Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act, Act 32 of 2007.
Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, 2012, National Policy Framework: Management of Sexual Offence Matters.
Domestic Violence Amendment Act, Act 14 of 2021.
Western Cape Department of Education, Abuse No More Protocol, 2021, accessed at https://sites.google.com/wced.info/abuse-no-more-online-course.
Author: Carryn Hennessy