• Child Witness Foundation

    Fighting for the rights and dignity of our children

    Children need protection and deserve justice. Far too often we fail them. Instead of restoring trust and dignity, our justice system delivers further trauma. Through legislation, research, education and direct intervention The Child Witness Institute brings about real reforms

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Who we are

It is estimated that 1 out of every 3 children are victims of violence, abuse, exploitation, neglect and discrimination in every community, cultural, social or economic group in South Africa. These violations are under-recognised and under-reported barriers to child rights, and undermine the child victim’s survival, development and participation. Both the physical and psychological effects of child abuse are far-reaching, leading to lifelong consequences and profound difficulties for victims.

Dr Karen Muller and Ms Karen Hollely of the Institute for Child Witness Research and Training have for the past 20 years dedicated their lives to institutional and individual child victim support (prevention, response, protection and increasing the conviction rates in cases of child abuse).

The Institute is a registered service provider for the South African Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (now Department of Justice and Correctional Services). It has undertaken research, developed and participated in the development of national policies for sexual offences, including the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act of 2007.

They are a training provider for government departments on matters relating to sexual violence against vulnerable groups, including women and children – having already trained over 5000 social workers, magistrates, prosecutors, police, court interpreters, intermediaries and NGOs throughout South Africa. They were similarly contracted by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development in 2013 to compile a report on the re-establishment of Sexual Offences Courts, on behalf of the Ministerial Advisory Task Team on the Adjudication of Sexual Offence Matters. Twenty-two of these courts have now been established across South Africa, with a further 57 ear-marked for upgrading in the 2014/2015 financial period.

The Institute is now also a preferred training provider for the Forensic Social Workers of the South African Police Service. It is contracted by UNICEF South Africa to provide technical assistance on numerous government projects aimed at responding to and preventing sexual abuse of children. It is also a member of a national consortium of organisations working with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund to address sexual violence against girls in schools (SEVISSA Project).

The Institute has also delivered research, training and consulting services to Governments and International Agencies (UNICEF, UNESCO, ANPPCAN) in Zambia, Swaziland, Namibia, Ethiopia, India, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom and United States of America.

It has developed 10 discipline specific training courses on child witnesses, written six textbooks on the topic of child witnesses and published over 50 accredited journal articles.

victims of violence



We need your help to fight the rights of our children

What we do / Increase Impact

The Institute and the Foundation on Justice for Child Witnesses are spearheading an initiative to mobilise local, regional and international support to increase awareness of this pandemic, to support victims of abuse, increase conviction rates of perpetrators and significantly increase its research and trainer capacity to address the challenges of child abuse and the protection of child witnesses – similarly becoming the national and global voice on justice for child witnesses in Africa. Child abuse can only be prevented and reduced if efforts are coordinated and local, regional and international support obtained to address the problem.

Dr Muller, Director of the Institute and International Expert on Child Witnesses, believes the challenges facing South Africa and Africa can only be resolved if a co-ordinated, multi- disciplinary approach is taken by governments, government departments, as well as local and international institutions supporting and having a role to play in child abuse.

Child abuse is an under-recognised and under-reported barrier to child rights. It undermines the child victim’s survival and development. At present role players do not follow a holistic approach to dealing with child abuse and services are fragmented. It is essential that role-players in the system become specialised to deal with these cases and to provide effective services to victims. Focussed research is lacking in this area and contributes to the difficulties experienced by children accessing the criminal justice system. To address these concerns, the Institute must produce ongoing credible research and provide accredited training and qualifications to ensure that the secondary traumatisation of children in the criminal justice system is reduced and conviction rates are increased. A Foundation on Justice for Child Witnesses has just been established to support the Institute and victims of abuse.


support of victims

increase conviction rates

Child Witness Foundation Objectives

  • To create international awareness of the child abuse pandemic and be a voice for abused children
  • To mobilise international support (funding, partnerships, capacity, etc.) for the Institute for Child Witness Research (Child Witness Institute) and Training/Institute on Justice for Child Witnesses to increase its capacity, as well as research and training output to impact significantly on the reduction of child abuse and to increase the conviction rate of offenders.

  • Donations received
    Child Witnesses Assisted
    Justice Officials Trained
    Round Tables Linked


    If, as a society, we allow our children to be destroyed through crime and other maladies, our nation is poisoned at its source – that is why The Child Witness Institute must be commended for their exemplary act of not moaning in the darkness, electing to take initiative to light a candle instead. So said Advocate Thuli Madonsela at the launch of the institute’s supporting arm, the Child Witness Foundation, in Sandton on 6 September, where she delivered the keynote address.

    “Straight-jacketing children into a criminal-justice system designed for grownups simply fails our children,” said Madonsela, relating a case that the Public Protector’s office became involved in, where a child who had been raped was subjected to 48 postponements of her case over nine years, before the perpetrators were finally brought to book. The life of the child, now a young woman, had been destroyed in the process. “It is imperative that the judiciary and all the role players who come into contact with child witnesses in the justice system be trained in social-context awareness to be able to approach cases involving minors in a responsive way.”

    The moving testimony of another survivor of child rape at the launch highlighted the difference the intervention of the Institute can make in the long-term recovery of children affected by sexual violence. Lucretia’s emotional story of recovery touched everyone in the audience, and Madonsela lauded her for her bravery in speaking out. An urgent need for stepped-up research into prevention programmes, and expanded training resources for officials who deal with these traumatised children, is what spurred on the launch of the new Foundation. Says CEO of the Child Witness Institute Dr Karen Müller, “We have achieved significant milestones over the years, but it has become evident that we have to scale the work to have a broader reach, to address this scourge.”

    That is why the funding of a comprehensive research project into cause and effect will be the first priority for the Foundation. “Currently, the majority of victims have no access to therapy and trauma counselling, and we will focus on establishing what kind of simple, sustainable and affordable therapy we can introduce,” says Müller.

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    Board Members

    Prof Kingston Nyamapfene


    Mr Timothy Scholtz

    Executive Director (formerly COO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation)

    Mr Francois Baird

    Chairperson Bairds CMC

    Gerhard van Graan

    PKF Chartered Accountants & Business Advisers

    Dr Karen Muller

    Chief Executive Officer of Child Witness Institute

    Danie Kok

    Development Head
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