Put children's needs first

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

By Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini

Raising a child is one of the most important jobs.  This role demands physical care, provision of safety and most importantly, unconditional love. It is often assumed these attributes come naturally to humans.  Sadly this is not always the case, as can be attested to by the Department of Social Development.

To remind parents and communities that the needs of a child should come first, government mark Child Protection Week from May 31 to June 7 under the theme: “Working together to protect children”.

This campaign aims to mobilise all sectors of society to care for and protect children. Moreover, it intends to make adults and children aware of the statutory protection a child enjoys under the Constitution, legislation, policies and international instruments. This legislation has been enacted to place the best interests of our children first.

The Children’s Act clearly defines the role of parents. Too often society looks at government when it comes to the care and protection of our children. Our role as government is to support parents and assist them through a number of initiatives. However, parents should never think this implies that they can outsource their parental responsibilities to teachers and government agencies.

There is no substitute for active parenting.   To ensure our children turn into well-balanced, productive adults they need the love, support and attention of their parents. All these have a profound effect on the mental health and behaviour of children.

Harsh, cold and inconsistent parenting increases the risk that children could develop both acting-out behaviour, which includes aggression and psychological problems such as anxiety and depression. These can also have serious, lifelong consequences for the individual, family and society, since they affect survival, ability to succeed at education and employability.

It is important that parents get involved in their children’s schooling. Help them see the bigger picture by talking to them about the importance of education and their future. Also guide them to work towards achieving their dreams by encouraging them to attend school, study hard and be diligent about homework.

Spend more quality time with your children and take an active interest in their lives. Ask them if they are coping and what their aspirations are. It is also the duty of every parent to teach their children about principles, values and morals. No matter how uncomfortable, parents must have open discussion with children about their sexual health.

Too often, parents believe teachers will have these discussions with pupils. This is a misconception, as teachers should just reinforce concepts and ideas that pupils have already learnt at home, such as respect, discipline, kindness and tolerance.  

As parents, we can also never let our guard down when it comes to the safety of our children. As responsible parents, we should always ensure our children are in a safe environment in the presence of a responsible adult.  We should therefore never leave our children, especially toddlers, in the care of another child who is not old enough to provide responsible supervision.

Child Protection Week will come and go, but the job of parenting is for life. Let us work together to create safe, strong families that put the needs of children first.

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