A critical examination of South African legislation pertaining to the abused child.
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The physical and sexual abuse of children is primarily a complex, insidious socio-psychological . problem, and secondly, a legal concern. Accordingly, any attempt to examine the phenomenon from a legal perspective, requires by necessity, an acknowledgement of the multi-dimensional nature of the problem. This thesis attempts to provide the reader with a comprehensive overview of the current state of medical, psychological and social knowledge on child physical and sexual abuse. Following on this, an examination is made of the legislation pertaining to the protection of the abused child within the home and the courtroom. In respect hereto, review is made of the development of the legal response to child abuse, those provisions within the Child Care Act 74 of 1983 pertaining to child protection, the issue of a legal definition of child abuse, corporal punishment and the rules of evidence and procedure impinging upon the child witness. During the course of this thesis, regard is had primarily to current psychological research findings. This is particularly apparent in respect of issues dealing with the alleged inferiority of the child witness in the courtroom. Here, psychological evidence is provided to show that major discrepancies exist between the positive view of the child witness, which is emerging from current experimental studies, and the skeptical approach to such a witness by the legal system. Throughout the thesis, a call is made for the realignment of the law with medical, psychological and social realities. Unless such takes place, the legal response to child abuse will remain an ineffective and harmful experience for any unfortunate child victim.