Children compromised by poverty and ill health face significant hurdles in securing even the most basic standards of survival and development. Even before birth many children in Africa suffer the successive blows of malnutrition, inadequate schooling, poor housing and exposure to danger and harm. Such deprivation has a strong tendency to reproduce itself as the disadvantages faced by chronically poor girls and boys reduces their capacity to provide a better start for their own children when they become parents themselves. KC Chineduari reports.
The Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) has said that child abuse is still “a very real part of life in rural and urban schools and communities in Zambia” after carrying out research on the topic.
The organisation conducted research on the extent of child abuse and child health in six Northern Province districts: Chinsali, Isoka, Kasama, Mbala, Mpika and Nakonde. The research found child labour to be the most widespread form of child abuse in Zambia, yet also the most under recognised.
Unsurprisingly, CAMFED found child labour to be closely linked to poverty as it is more common in poorer households and amongst vulnerable children. Researchers say many children in poverty are being sent to the fields for long hours on empty stomachs at the expense of attending school.
The report finds sexual abuse to be driven by “power, patriarchy and economics” in schools, community and the family. For example, CAMFED found evidence of male teachers forcing girls to have sex with them for better grades or having sex with minors with the belief that it cures HIV and AIDS.
It showed that people living within the Boma (railway line) were not as involved in traditional practices as those in more remote communities in the province. Traditional practices which CAMFED found to be abusive for children include polygamy, elopement, and the preferential education of boys as girls are married off at the tender age of 14. Although there are many organizations raising awareness or conducting sensitization around child protection, this did not translate into action against these forms of abuse, according to the report.
Parent-school involvement was cited as one of the factors contributing to increased reporting of cases. In schools where Parent-Teacher Associations and School Based Committees provide active fora for discussions around child protection it was observed that awareness and action to protect children had improved.
CAMRED found that school health and nutrition programs, which improve facilities such as sanitation, have reduced girls’ vulnerability to sexual abuse as it prevents them from needing to bathe in nearby streams. The report also found that providing vulnerable girls with financial packages of support such as bursaries has meant girls are not forced to be sexually abused for money. This in turn has reduced the number of pregnancies.
Peer support has also encouraged sexual abuse to be reported more. Children in schools where help desks were set up were more confident and aware of where to go to report personal problems.
The report recommends that teachers accused and found guilty of abuse should not be allowed to continue working at a school. Other recommendations included providing young people with information about their rights and their reproductive health and having trusted female adults to whom students can turn to such as a teacher-mentor.
Children are the heart of Zambian society, forefront of national development and the leaders of the future. Whether we focus on poverty reduction, economic development, service delivery or shared objectives, their participation is essential for success in achieving these goals.
All children have a right to develop to the full and to enjoy a safe, healthy and happy childhood. They have the right to live, learn, be healthy, develop physically and emotionally, and be full, respected members of society.
All infants, children and teenagers in Zambia and throughout the world share these rights, which in turn will shape the future of their country and the world itself.