Project counters domestic violence in South Africa

The UNODC Regional Office for Southern Africa and the South African Department of Social Development designed a project to create one-stop centres for victims of domestic violence, particularly violence against women and children.

The project successfully integrated government and community-based services to assist victims and carry out preventive activities. From 1998 to 2005, three centres were established in Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Northern Cape, the regions with the highest incidence of gender-based violence. The last centre to be handed over to the government was the facility known as Bopanang ("supporting each other"), located in Upington, Northern Cape province.

The Manager of the Bopanang Centre, Ms. Valerie Syster, indicates that the facility has assisted 311 victims of gender-based violence, including rape, in the past 18 months. Upon arrival at the Centre, each woman receives shelter and counselling. "We then look for alternative accommodation for her and her children, if she cannot go back home", says Ms. Syster. "If the perpetrator is her partner or husband, we also try to have separate counselling with him at some other, neutral venue."

Although most victims are adult women, Ms. Syster notes her concern about the growing number of cases involving minors: "Usually the victims are girls, but we have also seen an increase in sexual assault on boys. Mostly, the children are under the age of 10, and the perpetrator is someone they know, such as a relative or family friend."

The Bopanang Centre carries out outreach programmes, including talk shows on the local radio station, to increase the general public's awareness of the problem. Training sessions on gender-based violence and gender sensitivity are also conducted in local schools to prevent violence among the younger generations.

Additionally, Bopanang is involved in ongoing work at a local male prison and at the juvenile correctional facility. Working with juveniles is especially rewarding, says Ms. Bernadette Ntoba, Counsellor at the Centre: "With the juvenile offenders, we concentrate on violence and how to handle conflict."

Facilities such as the Bopanang Centre are making a difference in the lives of victimized women and children and are contributing to the prevention of gender-based violence.

With its vast experience in activities related to violence against women and children, the UNODC Regional Office for Southern Africa is well placed to provide assistance to governments in the region. The Regional Office has already developed programmes to respond to requests made by several governments.