As the eyes of the world focus on South Africa for the World Cup, charities are demanding action over the nation’s record levels of child sex abuse. The country has the world's highest rate of rape. Every three minutes, a child is raped in South Africa. And a girl born there today has a one in three chance of finishing school, and a one in two chance of being raped.The stories of the children behind these statistics were explored in the Channel 4 documentary Dispatches: The Lost Girls of South Africa.
Eleven year-old Ntombi suffered physical and mental wounds worsened by the treatment she got from the police and neighbours in the South African city of Port Elizabeth. Shunned by friends who think she should have kept quiet about her ordeal, Ntombi’s attackers, released on bail, have threatened her with more violence. "I tried to get away, and begged them to leave me alone," she said. "He dragged me to the floor and did dirty things to me. I tried to get away, but I'd started bleeding. I was so scared." "One of them said he's going to murder me. It hurts so much when I see them." Her story is disturbing, but not unusual. One in four men in South Africa admits to raping someone according to a 2009 survey by the country's Medical Research Council, while 62 per cent of boys over 11 believe that forcing someone to have sex is not an act of violence. A third even say they believe that girls enjoy rape.
The government, led by President Jacob Zuma, who himself was tried for rape in 2006, has been criticised for not tackling the problem and police and judicial failings have been singled out. But for many victims, the likelihood that their rapist will go unpunished is the least of their fears considering that theymay have contracted HIV. South Africa has the highest number of people infected with the virus in the world – 5.7 million people have HIV or Aids.
Next month, when more than 350,000 football fans will arrive for the World Cup, South Africa will be in the world spotlight. And the tournament will make children even more vulnerable to sexual violence, many charity workers fear. Unicef has set up a national campaign to try to raise awareness of the issue. Deborah Shipley, the director of the Dispatches documentary, which went out on Sunday night told The Independent newspaper the girls who took part wanted to highlight the issue: "They felt very strongly that it is an outrage which should be stopped, and by talking about it they could help."