Author: Gillies C. Kasongo, September 30 2015 - The high number of defilements and teen pregnancies in rural Zambia is a cause for concern and requires concerted efforts to resolve.
The Penal Code (Chapter 87 of the Laws of Zambia) defines defilement as unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl-child below the age of 16 years. Sadly, defilement is rampant in Zambia.
For example in Mkushi District, Central Province, statistics from the District Education Board Secretary (DEBS) office and shared by Mkushi Community Radio show that in the first term of schooling, the district recorded 176 pregnancy cases of girls aged below 18 years. The district Victim Support Unit (VSU) records on average three to five defilement cases per week. That would be 72 defilement cases from January to June 2015. According to the authorities and community members, a high number of defilement cases in the area go unreported as most of them are handled within communities.
The difference in reported cases to VSU and documented cases by DEBS office in the district shows that teen pregnancies of children below the age of 16 are sometimes not treated as defilement by schools and the community. If the two offices above were talking, as both VSU and DEBS should, they would not have huge margins of child rights violation cases. It also means that the VSU would have more cases to prosecute where appropriate, for cases below the age of 16 such as defilement and assault on the male child.
The different figures demonstrate fragmentation in the child protection system and the need for advocacy for comprehensive sexual reproductive health (SRH) education among child protection champions.
The gains being recorded in child protection will be lost if the various policies aimed at protecting the welfare of children do not speak to each other, and if perpetrators of defilement are allowed to pay parents and guardians for impregnating their child. By doing so, parents are allowing the defilers to go scot-free and endangering the life and health of their underage children.
This realisation came in the wake of a child protection training recently. At this training, it was learnt that Mkushi district had a rising number of child and teenage pregnancies, making the district rank number 4 out of all the districts in Central Province.
One lesson from a mapping exercise carried out during a training for community action groups recently held in Mkushi by Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) and Save the Children International showed that community mechanisms that deal with child protection issues exist from the grassroots, from where development begins in the district.
These structures include Community Crime Prevention Committees under VSU, Social Welfare’s Community Welfare Assistance Committee by Ministry of Community Development Mother and Child Health (MCDMCH)’s Social Welfare department, Community development’s Area Food Security Committee under Community development department of the MCDMCH, traditional/civic leaders, local court (Judiciary) and District Medical Officer’s Rural Health Centre (RHC) either through the Safe Motherhood Action Groups or Neighbourhood Health Committees.
Below are various challenges affecting child protection in the district as acknowledged by representatives of Kasalamakanga, Milombwe, Mikuku, Kamwendo, Kasansama, Chikabile and Bupensebele communities who were part of the PSAf child protection training:
- Inadequate documentation, reporting and follow up of cases by line departments within Government;
- Fragmentation of line departments’ and partners’ efforts aimed at protecting children. For example, while at district level, there is a District Child Protection Committee, this structure is non-existent at community level;
- Failure of line departments to follow up cases to their appropriate conclusion and implement legal requirements of reporting perpetrators of child rights violations within their ranks, instead of resorting to administratively resolve issues, e.g. by transferring offending-teachers to another location;
- Poor networking and lack of grassroots level coordination, making it difficult for community members to be fully aware of links, referrals and better coordination;
- Competition and limited information sharing amongst different community action structures;
- Lack of awareness of existing stakeholders, their roles and characteristics of service provision;
- Inadequate or lack of professional staff from Government at community level; and
- Community members’ apathy towards Government workers and community volunteers.
PSAf believes strengthening child protection interventions and structures at community level is a function of all Government line departments concerned. However, working in isolation will not move SADC countries forward in upholding child rights and ensuring Southern Africa raises a citizenry that is mature and responsible from our children.
Gillies Kasongo is PSAf Senior Programme Officer for Media Development and ICTs. For feedback, email: firstname.lastname@example.org