Soweto - Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, says more effort should be put into gathering the views of the country's children when designing policies and programmes pertaining to them.
Xingwana on Monday addressed learners from various high schools around Soweto during an interactive dialogue session - held at Meadowlands Welfare Centre - to thrash out the weighty topic of sexual violence and what should young people do to avoid being victims of sexual violence, and how to report perpetrators.
The one-day engagement was convened by the department and civil society organisations, with the express aim of encouraging more openness around sexual violence against adolescents and teens.
The dialogue formed part of Child Protection Week, which officially got underway on Sunday. Xingwana hoped presentations made during the session would partly inform the agenda of the National Council on Gender-Based Violence, and also contribute towards the report on violence against children, which will be launched in August.
"Today is the first step of a participatory process that involves adolescents. We must do our best to create an atmosphere that allows young children to speak freely about these issues ... If we do that, then the objective of making this a truly interactive platform for dialogue shall have been advanced," Xingwana said.
Also speaking at the session was the spokesperson for the Film and Publication Board, Prince Mlimandlela Ndamase.
He underscored the continuing challenge they faced of pre-mature exposure of children to pornography.
"In order to address this problem, we run awareness campaigns online and interact with learners in schools, warning them about [pornography] and how to become responsible when using these [social] networks ... We also give them tips on things to look out for when they are in cyberspace."
Ndamase urged parents to take an interest in what their children did with their cell phones, and to empower them to be responsible when using social media and cyberspace.
Another challenge raised was the lack of knowledge by children, who often committed offences online inadvertently.
"Children don't know that posting a picture of a naked person is an offense, what their responsibilities are and we need to educate them ..." said Ndamase.
The role of parental care programmes and community child protection forums was also highlighted, as these were good port of calls for people needing information on child protection and where to go to report issues affecting children.
Dr Kim Miller, a senior advisor at the Youth Prevention Division of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said only 52% of girls and 31% of boys (ages 13 - 24) who experienced child sexual violence reported it to someone. Of those who reported the sexual violence, only 36% of girls and 28% of boys sought health services. This, she said, was due to stigma, fear and shame.
Xingwana said examples of best practice, key lessons learnt and recommendations for policy, improved service delivery, research, monitoring and evaluation were some of the things the department would take away from the session.