Bobbi Bear fights for the rights of abused children

Friday, November 27, 2009

When five-year-old Shanae Muir disappeared from her Warner Beach home in KwaZulu-Natal on 9 July 2005, the nation was gripped with anxiety and sorrow for her family.

Her decomposed body was found three weeks after her disappearance in a dense bush next to the N2 highway near the Winklespruit/Kingsway off-ramp, a few hundred metres from her home, after a massive search by police.

Till today, her family still do not know what happened to their little girl. Her case was officially closed by police in 2007 and her killer never brought to book.

Shanae's case is just one of hundreds of cases Operation Bobbi Bear founder and director, Jackie Branfield, held close to her heart and fought for. Operation Bobbi Bear is a KwaZulu-Natal based organisation founded more than 15-years ago to fight for the rights of sexually abused children, to minimise their risk of HIV infection and help them towards wholeness.

And with the 16 Days of Activism for no Violence against Women and Children campaign already in full swing, organisations like Operation Bobbi Bear are on a mission to have their voices heard about the plight of victims of sexual and physical abuse.

Branfield says the 16 Days campaign should not be used merely to highlight the plight of women and children, but each individual South African should stand up and fight for the rights of abused women and children.

"I believe that the 16 days campaign has been very important and successful from a law making point of view. Government took the activism to the people and told the people what was going on and how they would change the law. The criminal justice system has listened to the people.

"Government has made the law to protect children very specific. The laws are in place, the legislation is in place to protect children, but I think South Africans have to look at themselves and ask: What are we as mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles doing to protect our children?" says Branfield.

She says while the laws are better, the implementation of the laws seems to be a problem. She adds that more capacity is needed in government departments to strengthen government programmes dealing with issues of abuse.

"We can't just keep blaming government, we just can't do that," says Branfield.

Branfield says while the criminal justice system has put in place regulations to protect abused children, the conditions of facilities that abused children are being treated at are still "no where near good enough".

"People have this idea that because a child is abused, or is an orphan or poor, that we must give them second hand things and I don't agree with that. Our abused children should get the best that we as a country can offer to help them get through their trauma," she says.

The economic crisis has not spared organisations like Operation Bobbi Bear, but Branfield says her staff is still committed to providing safe, quality care and services to those who walk through their doors.

"The women who work for Bobbi Bear would work even if they were not paid; their passion would keep them working but like everybody else, we have had to cut down on a quite a number of things, but we are extremely committed.

"We get children and young adults coming into the centre on a daily basis; children who are in difficult situations saying they've got no hope. It's a war on children out there," she says.

Branfield is convinced that if society as a whole rises up to the challenge facing women and children, this war can surely be won.