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Child protection is paramount, says Durban North crisis mom

Jo Teunissen of The Baby Home Durban North urged the community to speak up if they suspect or know that a child is being wronged. She also urged the community to get involved by volunteering at NPOs that assist and care for vulnerable children.

THE last week of May, going into the beginning of June, is designated Child Protection Week (May 29 to June 5) every year in South Africa, however, Jo Teunissen of The Baby Home Durban North said that every week should be Child Protection Week.

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The theme for 2024 is: ‘Every conversation matters’. Every child in every community needs a fair go with the aim being to raise awareness of the need to protect children against abuse, exploitation, neglect and all forms of violence by ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society do not suffer abuse.

The Baby Home serves an important role in providing care and shelter to not only abandoned children but also acts as a temporary place of safety for children who may need shelter or protection pending police investigation into domestic issues.

“There are many things we do for these babies as a home, but the most important one by far is to love and protect them until a permanent family is found for them. This doesn’t necessarily mean all children get adopted as some are reunited with biological family once they have been screened and found suitable and stable. Others are adopted by families, both locally and internationally,” she said.

“If we suspect something is wrong with a child, as a neighbour, we can’t be of the mentality that it is not our place to get involved. If you have concerns about the safety or well-being of a child, you should speak up. Child protection is everyone’s business. We, as adults, must be the voice for the voiceless. Parents and teachers play a vital role in teaching children what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and they should give the child a safe space to express themselves if they do not feel safe,” she said.

Serious situation

When it comes to child abandonment and neglect in South Africa, speaking on the cases The Baby Home sees yearly, Teunissen says the situation is serious, and while it’s easy for people to pass judgement on a mother who gave up her baby, she has come across very few cases where the mother really did not love or want the best for her child.

“From family dynamics to poverty and mental health issues, the circumstances and situations differ from mom to mom as to why she chose to give her baby up. I can count on one hand the number of moms who really did not want their children – most want to give them the best opportunity at a better life. Absent fathers play a major role in child abandonment. Unfortunately, many men do not take responsibility or accountability, and the moms are left to fend for themselves,” she said.

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Coming from a teaching background and having worked with children from all walks of life for most of her life, Teunissen says teachers and the community play an important role in protecting children.

The home also launched the Babyline a few years ago where moms and moms-to-be can get free advice on how to ensure that their babies make it into the world safely. The main aim of Babyline is to give moms a safe space to ask questions and to try to get them the help they need before they get to the point where they think abandonment is their only option. The line also provides guidance on how the adoption process works.

“We get a lot of calls from rape victims who have fallen pregnant. To date, we have helped hundreds of women, subsequently preventing more child abandonment cases in South Africa,” she added.

“So, you see, there are various aspects for us in ensuring that children are protected, and sometimes, it has to start with taking care of the mom so she can take proper care of her baby,” said Teunissen.

Her advice to the community is to speak up if they suspect or know that a child is being wronged.

“If you see something wrong but don’t want to be direct, contact SAPS, Child Welfare or Childline to report cases. Rather speak out and be wrong than be sorry that you never did anything. Teachers and parents must also look for the signs, such as changes in behaviour, and act on them. The child abandonment cases that are reported in the media are only the tip of the iceberg,” she added.

Teunissen also advised locals to become volunteers at NPOs that work with children, starting this Child Protection Week.

“If you have a heart for children, find an organisation and volunteer. We in the NPO space would love to think that we have the capacity to do everything, but we don’t. You can donate your time, skills, knowledge or expertise – helping and supporting does not always have to mean a financial contribution. Children need time and attention,” she added.

Important numbers:
Child Welfare Durban and District: 031 312 9313
Babyline: 082 7730781
Childline: 031 201 2059 or 0800 055 555/116
SAPS: 08600 10111

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