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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


BUYS, Lize-Mari  and  WESSELS, Cornelia. External factors preventing the sexually abused child to testify effectively in a South African court: A rapid review. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2022, vol.62, n.2, pp.311-329. ISSN 2224-7912.

Child sexual abuse is an epidemic that adversely affects the whole of society. The conviction rate of sexual offenders is exceptionally low in South Africa (SAPS, 2019). There are several factors in the court process that prevent children from testifying effectively in court. These factors were researched in this article by means of a rapid review. The purpose of the research is to examine the legal system in South Africa regarding the court procedures in which children are involved and to identify the factors that influence children's testimony. We focused on external factors related to court proceedings. Various databases were searched, namely SA Publications, Sabinet, EBSCO-Host, LexisNexis, and Juta. The PRISMA guidelines were used for the quality appraisal of the articles. Both the title and summary of an article were examined to determine the relevance of the data. There were two researchers involved in the study: the first researcher launched the study and the second researcher ensured quality. From the eventual eight articles selected, factors were identified and thematically analysed to identify the external factors as outlined in this article. Eight factors were identified that prevent children from testifying effectively in court. In more than 60% of the articles, it was shown that inadequate court preparation causes children to testify less effectively; so proper court preparation is of great value in obtaining more effective evidence. A quarter of the articles show that contact with the alleged offender or the possibility of contact during the court proceedings provokes excessive tension in the child as a witness. The tension and anxiety cause children to testify less effectively. In 37,5% of the articles, it was shown that the delay in court proceedings is directly related to poor evidence given by children and that this is a common problem in the South African legal system. More than 85% of the articles have shown that there is a reason for insufficient child participation in the South African courts, due to a lack of sufficient resources. The law requires that specific services must be rendered to child witnesses, but due to a lack of resources or misuse of resources, these services are not provided sufficiently. It emerged in 25% of the articles that a lack of adequate support for the family and the child influenced the effectiveness of the evidence provided. Parents of child witnesses cannot provide sufficient support to their child alone, as they themselves do not necessarily have all the answers about court proceedings and in many cases, one of them is the perpetrator. Due to anxiety and stress, highlighted in 75% of the articles, the quality of evidence is affected, because stress levels of the witnessing process affect children's recall of events and memory. It is extremely important to reduce the stress to as little as possible. In 50% ofthe articles, reference is made to secondary victimisation, and it has been shown that it has a tremendous impact on the child's ability to participate meaningfully in court proceedings. What is needed is that staff working in and around the court should receive thorough training and have the necessary awareness to be able to adequately address the issues mentioned above. It is crucial to consider that the factors are not independent of the socio-economic factors that already affect the daily lives of underprivileged children. The article is concluded by providing a list of factors that influence children's participation in the court process in the South African courts. Although the findings and recommendations have been formulated in the form of an article, more empirical research is needed to investigate the factors thoroughly in future studies.

Keywords : child witnesses; courts; court proceedings; court preparation; cross-examination; external effective factors; forensic social work; rapid review; sexual abuse; South Africa; testifying.

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