Keeping our children safe

Virtual conference and local engagements touch on the importance of protecting children in Africa and the world.

27 July 2021 | Social Issues

Mariselle Stofberg

Data released by the African Partnership to End Violence Against Children (APEVAC) - an initiative of the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) - revealed an “unacceptable scale” of violence against children (VAC).

The studies show that more than half of all children experience physical abuse, while in some parts of Africa, four in ten girls suffer sexual violence before the age of 15.

APEVAC, supported by ACPF, organised this high-level virtual conference aimed to enhance political commitment to end violence against children in Africa. The event, organised by ACPF, is part of the Together to #ENDViolence solutions summit series led by the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children.

“Of all the unspeakable damages suffered by of our children, violence is surely the worst, simply because it is entirely avoidable, yet leaves lasting scars,” said Graça Machel, the chairperson of the ACPF international board of trustees.

“We cannot accept such suffering at any level of African society, as its devastating impacts on our children’s dignity, physical and mental wellbeing continue to rob them of their future.”

ACPF released three new studies which provide evidence of the rise in VAC in Africa. They found that children caught up in conflict or humanitarian disasters, those with disabilities, victims in child labour, living or working on the streets, and those in residential care are most vulnerable.

It further added that digital technology is driving new forms of VAC, with children now facing increased risks of online sexual abuse. The Covid-19 pandemic has also caused a spike in reports of VAC.

Taking action

“Vigorous action must be taken to tackle the unacceptable scourge of VAC in Africa,” said Dr Joan Nyanyuki, ACPF’s executive director. “Thirty years after the African Children’s Charter was adopted, African governments are still failing to protect children from violence.”

“As a country, we remain committed to protecting our children. The ministry has launched a plan of action to protect and safeguard our children, continues to use inter-ministerial dialogue alongside various policies put in place to protect children, and have become one of the pathfinder countries to implement a social protection policy to protect our children,” said Doreen Nampiye Sioka, the Namibian minister of gender equality and child welfare.

“There have been some advances in the fight against VAC, but they have been uneven, fragmented, and too slow. Most governments lack political will, and the amount of money allocated to tackling VAC is derisory,” said Nyanyuki.

The study did however find ‘home-grown’ initiatives that they can reduce levels of violence, whilst strengthening relationships between parents and their children. “We need more of Africa’s own home-grown solutions which offer children greater protection and help to build stronger communities. We must urgently address the deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes and practices which discriminate against children - especially girls,” Nyanyuki added.

Namibians engage

During a discussion held at the information centre in Windhoek on the same day, Zelnadia de Waal, a counselling manager at lifeline Childline Namibia, Patience Mubita, a chief social worker at the ministry of gender equality, poverty eradication and social welfare (MGEPESW), and deputy inspector Christine Simaho, who is the unit commander of the gender-based violence (GBV) subdivision of the Namibian police, touched on the importance of protecting children and reporting cases of child abuse.

“Children who grow up in houses with abuse tend to become abusers. They see what their parents do, which impacts their actions too,” said Simaho.

“We need to educate our parents and caregivers on how to take care of their children. We need to report cases of abuse and speak up because it is important for us to take care of our little ones and be their voice,” said Mubita.

Infographic elements

What is abuse?

Abuse is when a fellow human being is being treated badly on a regular basis by someone who is purposefully out to harm someone. This can be sexual, physical, economical and emotional.

Child abuse

A child is someone who is under the age of 18, and child abuse is when a child is purposefully handled in a violent or threatening manner by an adult. It also includes neglect and emotional abuse.

According to the World Health Organization, child abuse constitutes all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation against a child.

A person may abuse or neglect a child by inflicting harm, or by failing to act to prevent harm. Children may be abused in a family or in an institutional or community setting; by those known to them, or more rarely, by a stranger.

Types of abuse

1. Physical abuse

May involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating or otherwise causing physical harm to a child, including by fabricating the symptoms of, or deliberately causing, ill health to a child.

2. Emotional abuse

The persistent emotional ill treatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent negative effects on a child’s emotional development.

May involve telling children that they are worthless or unloved; inadequate or valued only when they meet the needs of another person

Unfair or inappropriate expectations of children

Making children feel frightened; or the exploitation or corruption of children.

3. Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse involves forcing or enticing a child to take part in sexual activities, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening.

May involve physical contact, including penetrative (e.g. rape or buggery) or non-penetrative acts.

They may include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at or in the production of pornographic material or encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.

4. Neglect

Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical or physiological needs,

likely to result in the serious impairment of the child’s health or development, such as

failing to provide adequate food, shelter and clothing, or neglect of, or failure to

respond to a child’s basic emotional needs.

Effect of abuse on children

Actual or potential harm to the child's health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.

Post-traumatic stress

Affects development stages of children, which can be delayed due to abuse

Lower performance at school

Withdrawal symptoms where children tend to isolate themselves from the world

Children stop participating in activities they used to enjoy

Behaviour changes

Services available for children in Namibia

LifeLine/ChildLine hotlines

Psycho social support by the ministry, social workers

Social workers who can engage with children, families

Reporting abuse

Abuse can be reported through:

Police station

Churches

Hospitals

Schools (especially through life skills teachers)

If a child is brought in, social workers are immediately made available to assist

Medical examination of child is done to determine the extent of their injuries

Investigation is started to see if evidence is available to convict accuser

When abuse is expected or identified, either the offender is removed from the environment where the child is staying, or the child is removed (depending on the situation)

Legal actions can be taken to protect the child and possibly convict the offender

Alternative care options whilst the abuse is being investigated – Either kinship care where child lives with a relative, or residential child accommodation services

Namibian statistics provided by APEVAC

Namibia adopted the comprehensive Child Care and Protection Act 2015 which incorporates provisions of the international and regional instruments to which Namibia is a party. The act also repeals and consolidates previous child protection laws (Children’s Status Act, Maintenance Act). Provisions include, inter alia, protecting children from harmful social, cultural, and religious practices; corporal punishment; child labour and exploitation of children; and the unlawful removal and detention of children. Namibia has also prepared child care and protection regulations which provide detailed guidance for implementing the Act.

With an approximate ratio of one social worker to every 11 000 Namibians, staffing is inadequate.

According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), 29.8% of social worker positions in the ministry of gender were vacant in 2017.

Social workers are further stretched by competing priorities, high caseloads, high turnover rates and vacant positions. High staff turnover was mainly attributed to poor pay, with highly trained and experienced employees leaving government service to seek employment elsewhere, thus further weakening staff numbers and expertise. Studies done by APEVAC showed that most people working in the child protection sector in the country have not yet been trained in the provision of the new laws.

VAC in Africa

At least 60 percent of boys and 51 percent of girls in Africa experience physical abuse.

In some regions, more than eight out of ten children aged 1-14 experience violent discipline every month.

More than half of all children aged 13–15 in West and Central Africa are bullied in school.

Africa has the highest rates of child neglect in the world: 41.8 percent of girls and 39.1 percent of boys are neglected by their caregivers.

Sexual violence against children with disabilities is high in many countries in Africa

INSPIRE strategies to end violence against children

INSPIRE is an evidence-based resource for everyone committed to preventing and responding to violence against children and adolescents – from government to grassroots, and from civil society to the private sector. INSPIRE is a collaboration between organizations initiated by the World Health Organisation. The collaborating organizations are: the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), End Violence Against Children: The Global Partnership, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Together for Girls, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Bank.

Implementation and enforcement of laws:

• Laws banning violent punishment of children by parents, teachers or other

caregivers

• Laws criminalizing sexual abuse and exploitation of children

• Laws that prevent alcohol misuse

• Laws limiting youth access to firearms and other weapons

Norms and values

• Changing adherence to restrictive and harmful gender and social norms

• Community mobilization programmes

• Bystander interventions

Safe environments

•Reducing violence by addressing “hotspots”

• Interrupting the spread of violence

• Improving the built environment

Parent and caregiver support

•Delivered through home visits

• Delivered in groups in community settings

• Delivered through comprehensive programmes

Income and economic strengthening

• Cash transfers

• Group saving and loans combined with gender equity training

• Microfinance combined with gender norm training

Response and support services

• Counselling and therapeutic approaches

• Screening combined with interventions

• Treatment programmes for juvenile offenders in the criminal justice system

• Foster care interventions involving social welfare services

Education and life skills

• Increase enrolment in pre-school, primary and secondary schools

• Establish a safe and enabling school environment

• Improve children’s knowledge about sexual abuse and how to protect themselves against it

• Life and social skills training

• Adolescent intimate partner violence prevention programmes

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