26 April 2014

Tanzania: More Should Be Done to Deal With Child Violence

Photo: Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN
Child abuse on the rise in Tanzania (file photo).

WHEN Juma Mbarawa walked scot free, his neighbours were shocked, others cursed, while some wailed in disbelief. Majority of the people knew for a fact that he was going to spend some considerable time behind bars, after the heinous crime he committed against his only child.

When neighbours intervened and dragged him to the nearest police station, they knew that the law will take its course, and that justice will be meted.

For months, Juma had been subjecting his son, 12- year old Salim, to physical and mental torture. Beating the boy had become the norm, and screams from the unfortunate boy finally proved too much for the neighbours, who decided to take matters into their own hands.

When they broke the door, they found the boy cowering in a corner, with his father towering over him, an evil looking knife in his hands, ready to strike what would have probably be the final blow.

All violence against children and especially child maltreatment occurring in the first decade of life is both a problem in itself and a major risk factor for other forms of violence and health problems through a person's life.

Tanzania was the first country in Africa to undertake a comprehensive survey on prevalence levels of sexual, physical and emotional violence against girls and boys.

The Tanzania Violence Against Children Study, released by the Government and UNICEF in 2011, reveals that one in three girls and one in seven boys in Tanzania experiences sexual violence before the age of eighteen.

In addition, rates of physical violence are alarmingly high, nearly three out of four boys and girls experience being punched, whipped or kicked during their childhood, while one quarter of all children are emotionally abused. The majority of children do not report their experience, few seek services, and even fewer actually receive any care, treatment or support.

A lot has already been done to prevent and respond to certain forms of violence against children. States have ratified international agreements to protect children and ensure their rights and, on the basis of these, have amended laws and developed national plans of action.

Few countries, though, have thoroughly reviewed their legal framework to address violence against children more effectively. Putting laws into practice also remains a challenge. Advocacy, awareness-raising and training have helped increase understanding of violence against children.

There have been important initiatives in areas such as eliminating the worst forms of child labour, addressing female genital mutilation/cutting and providing services to children on the streets.

In efforts to make sure that cases of violence against children are minimised and eventually eradicated, Plan International Tanzania have come up with plans to build their long term presence and partnerships in child protection to establish child protection.

In a case study conducted in Kisarawe district, Coast region, Plan estimates comprehensive child protection systems operational in the district, capacitated Departments of social Welfare to implement their mandate on child protection and well linked up with the department at national level for continued support.

"The main activities of this project is to develop child protection structures at local level to prevent and respond to violence against children, and at the same time push for capacity building of social welfare officers, frontline workers and justice actors to prevent and support infrastructural improvement," says Wilbert Muchunguzi, the Plan International Coordinator of the project.

He says that emphasis is on general awareness-raising for the whole community in the selected villages, while at the same time focus on key target groups that can significantly contribute to prevention of violence against children through increasing reporting and follow through of specific cases.

Muchunguzi further says that a strong emphasis will also be given to actively engage children, parents and the communities in establishing a safe environment for children and to advocate and build confidence in the formal government structures responsible for preventing and responding to all forms of violence against children.

The project, according to Muchunguzi, will support national authorities to build district-based child protection systems to prevent and respond to all forms of violence against children, particularly girls.

"It will focus on children and their families, promoting a protective community environment and safe schooling while building the capacity of frontline duty bearers," he says.

The two-year project which will benefit from 300,000 Euros donated by the European Union through UNICEF and Plan International Germany will strengthen structures and systems at the local level for the detection, prevention, response and rehabilitation of children, especially girls, who are victims or at risk of violence.

"Building a child protection system means investing in a range of inter-related services, laws and policies, mobilising public commitment, investing in skilled workforces and other entities so that together they combine effectively to prevent and respond to harm against children," says Muchunguzi.

Earlier this year, the Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Doctor Seif Rashid said there is need for the government to improve on the availability of social workers, and said that most local government authorities lack the services of this vital group.

The minister was launching a joint Child Protection Initiative to end Violence against Children in Tanzania by the European Union (EU), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), Save the Children International (SCI) and Plan International. Dr Rashid said that the project had come at an opportune time when the government and child rights stakeholders were working on establishing strong and effective child protection systems.

"The government as partners is committed to harmonising child protection sector guidelines in the country, undertake joint planning with local governments, engage in national level consultation on child protection systems and contribute to learning and documenting of good practices," the minister said.

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