Rustenburg - Government needs to introduce tougher legislation to protect children from all forms of abuse, the minister responsible for children said on Saturday.
The Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, was speaking to scores of people who attended this year's Children's Day celebrations in Rustenburg.
The first Saturday of November is declared National Children's Day in South Africa and participants at the weekend's celebration included youngsters who shared their experiences with abuse through drama and poetry.
Xingwana said in response to the growing abuse against children, the ministry was now working with various non-governmental organisations to introduce several campaigns aimed at combating child abuse both at home and community level.
The Department of Justice had also recently introduced the Child Justice Act which will ensure the establishment of separate criminal justice system for children in conflict with the law. According to the Act, children in conflict with the law must appear before a preliminary inquiry within 48 hours after an arrest has been made and cannot be detained with hardened criminals.
Xingwana said the laws needed not to punish children but provide measures to correct undesired behavior.
"As a nation, we have an obligation to ensure that children grow up in a safe environment, the family...should be afforded the necessary assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibility within the community," she said.
The department will also be using this year's 16 Days of Activism Against Women and Child Abuse to mount events aimed at raising awareness and influencing behavior. The campaign, which is endorsed by the United Nations, takes place from 25 November - which is the international day of no violence against women - to 10 December - international human rights day.
According to Child Welfare South Africa, child trafficking is rife and child abuse is on the increase in South Africa with dozens of children going missing every year.
The organisation said it was now exploring ways to partner with the religious bodies to ensure the protection of children. This has led to the development of its Prayer for and Protection of Children, 365 days a year (PX2X365) campaign.
"We are speaking to Religious Leaders but want to kick start the campaign with Individuals. The gist of the campaign is to involve every one - no matter your religion - to pray for children and to play his or her role in the protection of children," said Campaign head Ashley Theron.
Research shows that although South Africa is the most developed nation on the African continent, it also has one of the largest number of orphans and neglected children as a result of the high prevalence of HIV Aids.
The Department of Social Development estimates that 19 percent of the child population in the country has lost one or both parents.
But Xingwana said government had put in place a number of measures to assist underprivileged children with over 10 million children across the country receiving child support grants. There is also a foster grant for children placed in other families and care dependency grants for those with disability.
The majority of schools in poor areas have been declared no-fee schools while health care remained free for children under the age of five.
From January this year, the age limit for children who are eligible for this grant had increased from 14 to 15 years.
It will be extended to 16-year olds from next year and will rise to the 17-year-olds on 1 January 2012.
"These are all programmes that government has put in place to improve the well-being of children ...in ensuring that (they) are protected and developed."