SA’s killer kids ‘don’t always come from bad homes’
Experts grapple with exactly why youngsters commit murder, but agree that many are from stable homes
There have been 11 incidents in which young people have committed murder over the past nine months in SA, and experts say it is difficult to ascertain why this is happening, or how to deal with it.
Clinical psychologist Bronwynn Stollarz said children committing violent crimes may come from abusive homes, but there are also many examples of deviant behaviour among children who come from stable homes.
“Children who commit serious violent and sexually violent offences may have a history of exhibiting a cluster of severely problematic behaviour, such as lying, stealing, threatening others, engaging in aggressive altercations with others.
“They may have come from homes in which there was abuse in some form, an absent parent, lack of parental supervision or poverty, or in homes where they have poor emotional attachments to their parents or others,” she told Times Select.
But she pointed out that “the large majority of children who come from these types of backgrounds, or come from difficult upbringings, never harm anyone or commit any serious offences”.
“Likewise, in SA, we have had cases of children committing serious offences who have come from loving and stable familial backgrounds where there were no indications of abuse, no familial stressors, and where there were no previous behavioural problems on the part of the child that were of concern. Therefore it is very difficult to say ‘why’ children might commit these types of offences in general.”
Stollarz said children have always been capable of committing the most horrendous acts of violence, but the public was always shocked by it because children were perceived to be inherently innocent.
“Children internationally and in South Africa have been known to commit very serious violent and sexually violent offences. In my experience, the large majority of these children appear generally to be 12 years and older.
“It is therefore, in my experience with such cases, more unusual to have children of much younger ages committing murder or sexually violent acts, as has been alleged in one particular case recently involving two young boys and a toddler.”
The portfolio committee on justice and correctional services adopted the Child Justice Amendment Bill last November, increasing the age of criminal capacity in children from 10 to 12 years. Children who commit serious crimes are sent to detention centres, but experts say SA child centres are often under-equipped to rehabilitate young offenders.
Prof Ann Skelton, director at the Centre for Child Law at Pretoria University, said there were very few 10- and 11-year-olds in the correctional system because most were found to lack criminal capacity.
“SA’s minimum age, at 10, is rather low if compared with other countries, even other African countries. The Committee on the Rights of the Child prefers 14 as a minimum age.
“[According to the amendment bill] children between 10 and 14 must be proved to have criminal capacity as there is a legal presumption that they lack criminal capacity, so the state must prove they do.
“[Today] no child below the age of 14 may be imprisoned. A child of that age may be held in a child and youth care centre, but according to our constitution any form of detention should be a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”
Venessa Padayachee, of the National Institute for Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Offenders (Nicro), said prisons were no place for children.
“We ran a campaign in the early 90s that ‘no child should be caged’, which started the lobby for a separate system of justice for children, now the Child Justice Act.”
But she said there was a need for more suitable facilities for children. She said children currently in detention had committed all kinds of violent offences, including murder.
“We need more suitable facilities for children. The present child and youth care facilities have their challenges. The environment closely resembles a prison.
“Staff are not always trained to handle children who are violent and have behavioural problems. We need to re-think facilities for children. We also need an ombudsman for children,” said Padayachee.
Child attacks timeline: February 26 2019: A 13-year-old girl at Mateane Primary School in North West is stabbed to death at the school. A fellow pupil is arrested;
February 23 2019: Thoriso Themane, 28, is stabbed and beaten to death in Polokwane. Seven suspects, all pupils at Capricorn High School, have been arrested;
January 17 2019: A 15-year-old is stabbed to death during a sports day at Mpekweni School in Peddie, Eastern Cape. A 16-year-old schoolmate is arrested;
November 26 2018: A teenage boy is stabbed to death after finishing a matric exam paper in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal. A fellow pupil is arrested for the incident, which occurred near the school;
November 22 2018: A Grade 1 pupil is stabbed to death at Dikeledi Makapan Primary School in Makapanstad, North West. A 17-year-old boy from another school is arrested;
October 17 2018: A Grade 9 pupil is stabbed to death by a fellow pupil during break at Sinako Secondary School in Khayelitsha, Cape Town;
September 30 2018: A 24-year-old teacher is stabbed to death at Ramotshere Secondary School in Zeerust, North West. A 17-year-old pupil is charged with the murder;
September 27 2018: A Grade 8 pupil at Richmond High School in the Northern Cape is stabbed to death while attending catch-up classes. A 15-year-old pupil is arrested;
September 14 2018: An 18-year-old pupil is stabbed to death in class at Nathaniel Pamla Secondary School outside Peddie in the Eastern Cape. An 18-year-old fellow pupil is arrested;
August 24 2018: An 18-year-old is arrested after allegedly stabbing to death a fellow pupil at Nkatini High School in Shigalo village near Malamulele, Limpopo;
April 12 2018: Four teenagers are arrested by police at C-Section in Ezakheni, Ladysmith after allegedly stabbing a 20-year-old at a local school. The victim survived.