Author: PSAf’s Gillies C. Kasongo, November 12 2015 - The fact that there are still community and media reports of children being abused through child neglect, defilement, exploitation and forced labour imply that more needs to be done to strengthen child protection systems at both the family and community level.
Sadly most of these child abuse cases go unreported to authorities, and the perpetrators therefore go unpunished. This leaves the children involved with an added burden of bearing the trauma of the abuse alone, and with a permanent scar that affects their overall growth and interaction with society.
A Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) team, together with Radio Mano, recently conducted a community sensitisation on child protection in the villages of Selu, Nkolemfumu, Chitamba and Chisanga in Kasama, Northern Province. During these sensitisation meetings, community members shared stories of how children have been abused and violated at the hands of adults in positions of trust, such as relatives and neighbours. Stories emerged, of girls as young as ten (10) being forced into child marriages and how most of them dropped out of school in primary school at the height of caterpillar collection season (locally known as ifishimu or munada).
These communities confessed that this kind of child abuse was rife among communities and families that have had no opportunity to learn alternative non-violent ways of raising children in these modern times.
According to the Community-level Child Protection Coordinating Committee 2015 Report on Child Neglect, Child Abuse and Defilement, some heartrending experiences that children go through as a result of weak systems were recorded in Chitamba and Chisanga communities. The report shows that two children were burnt to death while their parents were out. Another child was reportedly seen sucking from a dog after being left alone by the mother who had spent the night drinking at a nearby pub. Another woman reportedly dumped a child and eloped to Malawi leaving the child under the care of its ailing grandmother, who died later on. Unfortunately, this child dropped out of school in Grade 9 after getting pregnant. Many of the children have resorted to alcohol and substance abuse, prostitution and crime, among others for solace. There are also many cases of children who have been forced to drop out of school. In some cases, the weak child protection systems have resulted in the death of innocent children.
Addressing this problem at community level requires concerted efforts of different stakeholders. This is why PSAf is facilitating the creation of platforms for stakeholders to work together to strengthen community-led and -based child protection systems. Through working with community-based structures at the grassroots level, like radio listening clubs (RLCs), Safe Action Motherhood Action Groups (SMAGs), Community Social Welfare Committees and Community Crime Prevention Committees, PSAf is seeing different stakeholders coming together not only to discuss child protection but to come up with practical measures to create a better environment for children.
For child-rights-based interventions to succeed, there is need for sensitisation of community members and other stakeholders to increase their knowledge levels on child protection issues and the key roles that they can play in upholding child rights in their homes and at community level. Such sensitisation stimulates coordinated community action by mobilising a critical mass of right holders to put pressure on duty bearers and monitor their service delivery on child protection.
The media can, and needs to, play a leading role in highlighting the harmful customs and cultural practices that negate child protection efforts. The media can also lead awareness creation on the need for family members to report child abuse, defilement and exploitation to the Victim Support Unit and the Child Protection Unit.
When community members and other stakeholders come together and share ideas, they can speak with one voice and collaborate to counter the culture of child abuse and exploitation, and promote a culture of protecting children and their development.
Gillies Kasongo is PSAf Senior Programme Officer for Media Development and ICTs. For feedback, email: email@example.com. This article was first published in the Zambia Daily Mail