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Free the children

Christmas is just around the corner. For most people, Christmas is a time for fun and rest. It is a time for families to be together. But for many young children in South Africa, this Christmas will just be another day in jail.

The government may not care too much about the children of this country — but some people still do. The Black Sash, Detainees’ Parents Support Committee (DPSC) and many other organisations are trying to get children out of jail before Christmas.

The DPSC says that over 8000 children have been detained since the start of the State of Emergency in June this year. They say that more than 250 children are detained every week. Some of these children are only 10 or 11 years old.

“No-one really knows how many children are in jail. No-one knows who these children are. Or where they are. No-one knows how many children are detained each day. No-one knows how many are released every day. No-one knows how long each child has been in jail,” says the Black Sash.

“We DO know that children are in jail. We DO know that parents are often not told that their children have been detained or where they are held. We DO know that the government does not print lists of all the children in jail.”

A “Free the Children” meeting was called by the Black Sash and other organisations in Johannesburg in early December. At the meeting Sheena Duncan of the Black Sash said: “At this time of the year, you hear many advertisements on the radio reminding people to think about their pets when going on holiday. But nothing is said about children in jail.”

A parent said: “We are worried about our children. We do not know if they get enough food. We do not know if they are treated well. I am worried about my daughter. She is 13 years old.

“One young girl who was detained with my daughter was released from Diepkloof prison just outside Soweto last week. The policemen just told her that she was free to go home. They did not give her any money to get home. But she had a few cents on her and she took a bus to Baragwanath Hospital. From there she started walking home to Kagiso — about 30 kilometres away.

“But it was now already half past 7 in the evening. She had to sleep at a garage because it was too late to get home. The police take the children from our homes — but don’t even bring them back when they are finished.”

The Rev Peter Storey asked all people to join in the struggle to free the children. He said we must see this as a struggle to be won in the near future. And when we have won this struggle, we must fight of all detainees to be free.

He told the meeting that a country is judged by how it treats its weak people — like its old people, sick people and the children. What more can we say?



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