Walking into a bathroom at the Dros restaurant in Silverton‚ Pretoria‚ it was difficult to imagine that this could have been the crime scene where a 20-year-old patron allegedly abused a seven-year-old girl at the weekend.
TimesLIVE visited the restaurant on Wednesday‚ and observed a sophisticated setting that gave the impression of being a family-friendly environment.
The toilets were just a few metres away from a colourful children’s play area where the little girl was reportedly playing before going to the bathroom and being attacked.
The restaurant offers two seating areas – inside and an outdoor smoking area. Seated outside‚ it would be difficult for a parent to keep close watch over a child in the play area or bathrooms.
From the tables inside‚ close to the entrance of the play area‚ one could keep watch easily.
Some restaurants offer CCTV cameras that broadcast images from inside a play area to patrons‚ but this was not the case when we visited.
Media reports said that the young man arrested for the incident had allegedly followed the girl to the bathroom and yanked her into the male section. There is one main door to the toilets for men and women in the restaurant. Once through that door‚ a turn to the left leads to the male toilets and a turn to the right‚ the female toilets.
The main door was kept open on Wednesday.
While music played softly in the restaurant during our visit‚ if a similar scenario had played out on a busy afternoon‚ amongst the chatter of patrons and clinking of plates and glasses‚ it could have been difficult to hear a commotion in the bathrooms.
It was when the mother of the child headed to the play area to enquire about her daughter’s whereabouts that she was apparently told she had left. The attacker was arrested after allegedly being caught by the mother.
The National Prosecuting Authority said the suspect was charged with rape‚ possession of drugs‚ intimidation and assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm. It was not immediately clear whether he was under the influence at the time of the attack.
Women and Men Against Child Abuse said there were limitations to how much security child-friendly facilities‚ such as restaurants‚ could offer children.
“Some parents are under the wrongful assumption that their children are safe in closed‚ seemingly child-friendly places but we hear of incidents happening in school and churches as well‚” said the organisation’s Vincentia Dlamini.
“We need to sensitize parents to be more vigilant and not be under the assumption that there is no risk in such places‚” said Dlamini.
“We should approach it from a point of saying that this is a business and then question‚ what are you offering me? Just a meal‚ or that and a peace of mind?“
Dlamini said there were several ways to try and prevent such incidents from happening. She suggested separate bathrooms for children. Having dedicated child minders who could escort children to their parents or the bathroom could also prove effective.
Dlamini added that while cameras were a good option‚ they were usually useful in the aftermath of unfortunate situations.
“The discussion that we need to open is to make places safer. Our children are just not safe‚” Dlamini added.
“But the burden lies on parents to be more vigilant. They [children] are still your responsibility‚” she added.
In a statement Dros head office said: “We have been in contact with the parents of the child to convey our sympathy and offered our assistance in any form that would (or could) reasonably be required in a matter of this nature.”