By Libuseng Nyaka
QWAQWA – The Deputy Minister of Social Development Bogopane Zulu, on Saturday launched a social and behavioral change programme named ‘ChommY’, which targets children aged 10-14 in QwaQwa, at Boiketlong Primary School in Phuthaditjhaba.
Zulu was accompanied by Free State MEC for Social Development Mamiki Qabathe, Morena Moremoholo Mopeli and Maluti-a-Phofung local municipality mayor Masetjhaba Lakaje-Mosia.
‘ChommY’ is a colloquial term meaning ‘friend’, and the programme aims to build positive friendship among 10 -14 year olds by encouraging boys and girls in that age group to motivate one another to minimise being involved in risky behaviours.
The programme is hosted against the backdrop of recent reports that 934 babies were delivered by girls between the ages of 10 and 14 in South Africa. This prevalence of adolescent pregnancies suggest that children engage in unprotected sex and are exposed to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Zulu said ChommY aims to generate knowledge, develop skills and empower children to make informed choices to reduce HIV infections, substance abuse and prevent teenage pregnancy.
During the launch, Zulu adopted a user-friendly platform to engage the children and, as a result, they freely divulged some of the challenges they are faced with such as how they have been exposed to alcohol and drug abuse, either by being sent to purchase alcohol or watch their elder siblings using drugs especially dagga.
Some children, who may not be named because of their age, confessed to the minister that they have had sex at least once.
“We were playing house and there was a father, mother and children; that was when I ended up having sex,” said one.
Another one brought the house close to tears as she related how her close relative continually raped her.
Even though she received counselling and perpetrator has been imprisoned, it was evident that the emotional damage was still persisting as she broke down in tears.
All in all, Zulu described the launch as a success that will enable them to monitor whether their intervention reaches children and how best they can change the situation.
“We want to build a better South Africa. We are going to extend this programme to the wards level where this debate and discussion will be taken further to address challenges in different communities,” said Zulu in an interview with The Guard News.
For her part, Qabathe said such programmes are very important especially during this time when statistics show that children as young as 10 years old fall pregnant.
On behalf of his subjects, the senior chief of Bakoena Morena Moremoholo Mopeli described the newly launched programme as a mixture of pain and joy.
“This is a very important programme of sharing of information. It will equip our children with enough information to protect themselves and make informed decisions.
“However, I am worried about the safety of children who have revealed that they have been sexually abused. I do not know how I can assist in protecting them. I hope perpetrators will be brought to book; justice must be served for these children.”
Mopeli also thanked the authorities for their unwavering support at all times.
Meanwhile, Lakaje-Mosia thanked both Zulu and Qabathe for choosing to launch the programme in her municipality.
“The launch came at the right time when we have just experienced high rates of teenage pregnancy. We need programmes like this that aim at equipping our children with enough information.”
Psychologists say the traumatic effects of an incident sometimes remain for ever and sometimes it is not easy for victims to cope. Some do cope during counselling but some do not forget at all. The second part that affects them is the emotional part, they became angry and fearful. They start blaming people for incidents that happen to them.
Police say investigating cases where children are complainants also has its own challenges.
“It is very difficult to investigate case where a child is a victim because it means you have to double your efforts, compared to an adult victim.”