Giving a Voice to the Voiceless

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The social impact of Casual Day is felt in 500 organisations all over the country, many of them safe havens and schools for children with disabilities. These organisations provide essential services to children and their families. One of the most important functions of the National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in SA (NCPPDSA) is to provide advocacy and awareness for the most vulnerable members of our society: children with disabilities who have been abused.

“Not only are children with disabilities more vulnerable to abuse, but they are also faced with some severe challenges to access justice in instances where they have been abused,” says Therina Wentzel, National Director of NCPPDSA.

“Many children with various types of disabilities experience great difficulties to give testimony in court and are even under more pressure to withstand the rigours of cross-examination. The inability of children to testify to the satisfaction of the courts means that their testimonies do not support the prosecution’s case with the result that the cases are thrown out of court or not-guilty verdicts are reached with the perpetrators walking free,” she says.

“To mitigate children’s challenges to testify in court, courts should be more amenable to the use of intermediaries and forms of alternative and augmentative communication. Currently there is a case of a child with a disability who had been sexually abused and who has difficulty speaking – and the court is not able to understand the child’s testimony.

“For this reason the court case was postponed many months ago. There is the possibility that this child can be assisted in court with her testimony with alternative and augmentative forms of communication by making use of a computer programme. However, according to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DoJCD) this communication aid is not permissible in court,” she opines.

NCPPDSA applies a substantial proportion of its Casual Day funding to run a Children’s Awareness and Advocacy Campaign, which includes lobbying on behalf of these children. “A highly successful public education and awareness campaign on children with disabilities was run in the media during October and November 2015,” continues Wentzel.

“The awareness campaign focused on the exclusion from a basic education of close to 600 000 children with disabilities. To this end, several meetings with senior officials of various government departments, as well as a meeting with the Deputy Minister for Social Development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, took place. Various written submissions were also made and media releases issued to advocate for the rights of children with disabilities.

“Advocacy topics included the right of children with disabilities (CWD) to a basic education, CWD as victims of abuse being failed by the Justice system and the dire need for assistive devices for CWD with government not providing in this need.”

About the Author

Andrea Vinassa

Andrea Vinassa

For more information, photographs and publicity material call Andrea Vinassa / Media co-ordinator for Casual Day Cell: 079 089 9835 Landline Cape Town: 021 790 6698 \ Landline Edenvale: 011 609 7006 Email address: andrea.flashpoint@gmail.com

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