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When is it appropriate to report another parent’s misconduct?

There are times when it is our obligation to report possible cases of abuse or neglect for the protection of a child.

Are you unsure whether you should notify authorities about another parent’s behaviour? Continue reading for expert help.

Children are occasionally in grave danger, and calls from a neighbour, a family member, or an anonymous caller have undoubtedly saved young lives. However, knowing when to call is not always obvious.

While the national definition of child abuse or neglect is lengthy, it can be summed up as “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker that results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation, or any act or failure to act that poses an imminent risk of serious harm”.

The issue of immediate risk can be difficult to demonstrate at times: A toddler left alone in a hot car with no adult present? Call authorities right away. An eight-year-old, on the other hand, walking home from school alone? This may worry some people, but there is no immediate danger.

When you should report another parent

These situations frequently necessitate the intervention of a police officer or a child welfare expert: 

Physical abuse

A parent (or caregiver) striking a child with sufficient force to hurt him or her. Unexplained black eyes, fractured bones, bruises, bites, or burns, injuries that may suggest a pattern, such as more than one burn or welt on the hand, appearing to be afraid of a specific someone, or flinching when touched, are all signs of physical abuse.

A word on spanking: On 18 September 2019, the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that corporal punishment in the home is illegal. This ruling outlaws any physical punishment a parent may use on their child such as hitting or spanking in the name of discipline. While spanking is not always considered physical abuse if there is no bodily harm, a judge may rule otherwise. A parent may be arrested and prosecuted for assault and if convicted, will have a life-long criminal record for abuse of their children.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse symptoms aren’t always visible. However, understanding the warning signs of child sexual abuse could save a child’s life. Sexual abuse takes many forms, including penetration assault, non-penetrative sexual activities such as touching outside of clothing, rubbing, kissing, and masturbating, watching others perform sexual acts or getting a child to watch such acts, looking at, showing, or sharing sexual images, videos, toys, or other material, forcing or inviting a child to undress for sexual gratification, “flashing” or showing one’s genitals to the child, or encouraging the child to do so.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse can occur when a parent or caregiver constantly criticises, threatens, or rejects a child. Not allowing a child to express their views and opinions, ridiculing what they say, silencing them, frequently shouting at or threatening them, mocking the way they are or how they try to communicate, giving a child the “silent treatment” as a punishment, or preventing normal social interaction with peers and others are all examples of emotional abuse.


Neglect can sometimes be a result of poverty,  making neglect very difficult to establish in South Africa. While neglect can sometimes be hard to prove it is more likely to be occurring if the child begs for or steals food and appears to be unclean and uncared for. Signs of neglect may include not providing appropriate food, clothing, or medical care, locking a child in a room or closet, not providing adequate shelter, including abandoning a child or excluding them from the family home, placing or leaving the child in a situation in which they might experience emotional or physical danger or harm.

Withholding a child from school

The right to a basic education is a constitutionally protected right that is unequivocally guaranteed to all children in South Africa. All school-aged children are entitled to an education. In terms of the South African Schools Act, every parent has the responsibility to ensure that his or her child attends a school and no one should prevent them from attending classes. The Act states that “any other person who, without just cause, prevents a learner who is subject to compulsory attendance from attending a school, is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months”.

Childline National Office

If you are concerned about the safety and wellbeing of another child, contact Childline National Office.

  • Tel: (+27)-(0)31-201 2059 Fax: (+27)-(0)86 511 0032
  • Postal Address: P O Box 51418, Musgrave, 4062
  • Physical Address: 24 Stephen Dlamini Road, Musgrave, Durban, 4000
  • Email: (General Enquiries) Email: (Counselling/Case Enquiries)

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