Children's perspectives on ending violence against children in Tanzania
“Tanzania has 897,913 children living under difficult conditions and exposed to various forms of violence… some of the children don’t have access to quality education, balanced diet and good parental care. The presence of HIV/AIDS, poverty, social conflicts and various forms of violence contributes to the increased number of children living under difficult condition in the country,” said the Vice President of United Republic of Tanzania H.E. Dr. Mohammed Gharib Bilal at the officiating of the first National Most Vulnerable Children (MVC) Conference, held February 18-19, 2015.
The National MVC Conference was preceded by the Child Protection Week that aimed to raise awareness to different stakeholders and community on issues related to Child Protection. The Child Protection week was led by the theme “Stop violence against children, it’s your turn to make a difference, commit to prevent all forms of child abuse.” During the week, children from different regions gave their opinion on child violence cases that happen in their communities. The opinions were then compiled and presented by a children’s representative at the National MVC Conference.
The USAID ASSIST Project supported Child Protection Week activities in Mkuranga District where the project is supporting the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW), MVC implementing partners and local structures to strengthen quality of care, support and protection to vulnerable children through improvement approaches. Apart from the dialogues, the district conducted awareness meetings to discuss issues related to strengthening child protection systems in preventing and responding to abuse, violence, neglect, exploitation and provision of quality services to vulnerable children.
At Kiparang’anda and Mkuranga Primary Schools, a total of 185 children participated in the dialogues on violence against children that were facilitated by the district Social Welfare Officers (SWOs). Several stakeholders implementing MVC programs also participated.
“Who is a child?” The district SWO asked the children as we started the dialogue session.
“A child is any person who is under eighteen (18) years of age,” several children responded.
“You are right,” he said and asked, “Do you know anything about child rights?”
“All children have rights to education, food, shelter, health care, protection, respect, freedom from discrimination, to love and to be loved,” they replied.
He continued, “What do you know about child abuse, and please tell us of any child abuse cases that happen in your family, school or village,” asked the social worker.
“Child abuse happen when children are denied their rights,” said John*, a standard seven pupil. However; rape, early marriage and early pregnancy were reported to be the most common child abuse cases happening in their communities. When asked what sex or group of children are more affected by child abuse, most children, especially boys, said girls are more affected by child abuse because they are considered weaker than boys and because most parents think girls have no other benefit than getting married and bearing children.
“I have seen most girls getting married. You find that most girls have passed exams to go to secondary schools but their parents refuse to pay for their education,” said Asha*, a standard seven pupil.
“A girl is told by the parent that you don’t deserve to go to school because you will get pregnant…it is wastage of my money to pay for your education,” said Baraka* a standard six pupil. He added that, some parents benefit from the bride prices paid by men who marry their children.
Parents entertain child abuse because they don’t report people who got their children pregnant. The perpetrators corrupt parents and promise to take care of expenses when the baby is born. The same thing is done when girls are raped. “… It is difficult to stop these abuses, because parents are collaborating with these people,” added John.
Apart from girls, children with disabilities also experience a different type of child abuse. “For example, most of them are not sent to school because their parents think that disabled children are not brilliant and have no benefit… so sending them to school is wasting money. I think they are just like other children… disability is not a reason for them to be denied the right to education. They deserve to go to school like other children,” said Grace, a standard six pupil.
When asked if the children affected by these incidents get support, they said yes. For example, children who are raped are taken to hospitals for treatment. “But the effect they get could never be healed and this could make them evil when they become adults,” added Ahsante*, a standard seven pupil.
Children think child abuse happens due to situations that make them vulnerable. Poverty is one of these situations. Because of poverty, children miss their basic rights and needs; hence they are forced to find alternatives like working in industries or selling small things in streets to meet their needs.
Alcoholism among some parents also leads to child abuse, especially when the parents fail to control their behaviors. “When they come from bars they start beating their children and quarrel with their wives… they could end in separation, and then the children become the victims,” added Baraka.
“It is important to find ways to stop child abuse so that children will grow healthy and happily. This will help them to perform well in their studies and prepare for their future. If children are well nurtured, they will nurture their children well. Child abuse will be stopped if the authorities will take active measures against parents who force their children to get married and if the children will collaborate to save children who are abused,” added John.
At the end of the dialogue at Kiparang’anda Primary School, an SWO officer asked the children if they had any questions for the facilitators. John raised his hand and asked, “If I am a parent and my child has been abused, for example, if she got pregnant and I report to the village offices and they don’t take any action, could I report to the Social Welfare Officer?”
This was a very touching question. Reflecting on it, I think John is fed up by the child abuse cases, especially when he sees children abused and nothing is being done. John believes that reporting direct to the SWO is the only way justice could be served.
Sometimes we think that children don’t know what is happening in our communities. We tend to take them as young people, and we even don’t think of involving them in matters that concern them in one way or another. But children know more than we think; their contributions in the dialogues were crucial to stop child abuse in their communities. It is important to involve children in forums and conferences that seek to address child protection issues so that they can also give their contribution on addressing these issues. It is also important to raise awareness among children to help them to understand child protection systems in their communities as well as how to help children who are abused to get the support they deserve.
* Not their real names to protect their identities