Empowerment: In our seventh series dedicated towards curbing violence against children, Esther Oluka looks at how agents of change can empower children.
“Stop beating me,” shouted 12-year-old Nabatanzi to her teacher.
This was after the youngster had arrived 50 minutes late to school. Lessons start at 8am.
Although Nabatanzi, who is a day scholar, tried explaining to her teacher that an earlier morning downpour had delayed her journey, the teacher could hear none of it.
Out of the blue, she grabbed the nearest long stick and started hitting Nabatanzi all over her body.
She told the teacher to stop hitting her when the pain became unbearable. The surprised teacher could not believe that the pupil had stood up for herself. She felt guilty and let the child be.
There are not many children, such as Nabatanzi, who can stand up for themselves. Many children fear confronting adults. They see it as a sign of disrespect. So, they would rather endure the abuse that is inflicted upon them, whether physical, emotional or psychological.
The agents of change
So, who will fight for the rights of these silent voices?
“Everyone in society should be involved in advocating for children’s rights. The responsibility cuts across from parents, teachers, decision makers, community leaders, among other stakeholders. It is our collective responsibility to take care of children,” says Benjamin Okurut, a community leader and child rights advocate based in Kumi District.
Okurut says parents, for instance, need to continuously remind children of their rights as well as offer them alternative solutions in circumstances where their rights are violated.
“For example, as a way of curbing sexual violence, parents need to find a way of talking to their children about sex. They should mostly educate their daughters on how to protect themselves from abuse or molestation,” Okurut says.
As much as teachers are agents of change in curbing violence, Okurut says the problem with most of them is they continue to abuse children’s rights.
“A very good example is that of corporal punishment. This mode of punishment was banned by the Ministry of Education years back but teachers continue to defy the directive. If you go to many schools today, they are still beating children and nothing is being done to make the perpetrators answer for their crime,” says Okurut.
Meanwhile, Okurut adds that community leaders such as village chairpersons can help curb the vice by occasionally holding community talks geared towards advocating for children’s rights and condemning violence.
The Uganda violence against children survey report launched in August 2018 shows that for 13 to 17 year-old-Ugandans, adults in the community were the most common committers of physical violence in 2017, with male teachers being by far the most frequent agents of physical violence against both boys and girls.
Without a doubt, the church can also play a vital role in ending this vice, says Joseph Okurut, a child welfare officer.
“They can incorporate messages of ending abuse against children in their sermons. Sometimes what they do is introduce occasional themes rotating around the rights of children. By doing so, the message of ending violence against children would have reached out to thousands of people,” Okurut says.
But also, churches can take advantage of the children themed programmes, including Sunday school services, to remind children about their rights.
“This is one of the best ways to put the message across to these young ones. Sunday school teachers can use this platform to tell children what they are entitled to and how to protect themselves from abuse,” says Okurut.
Helping street children
A 2014 Human Rights Watch article Uganda: Homeless Children Face Violence, Exploitation documented human rights violations against street children by police, local government officials, as well as abuses by members of the community and older homeless children and adults.
The security and other officials beat and detain street children after targeted roundups.
Rather than inflicting these acts of violence against children, Maria Burnett, a senior African researcher was quoted in this article saying that Ugandan authorities should instead be protecting and helping homeless children, not beating them up or throwing them in police jails with adults.
Also, the article called out national and local government officials to put an end to organised roundups of street children, hold police and others accountable for beating as well as provide improved access for these children to education and healthcare.
What are some of the children’s rights?
• The right to stay with parents. A child has the right to stay with their parents, or guardians, unless it is not in their best interests.
• The right to education and guidance, immunisation, adequate diet, clothing, shelter and medical attention.
• The right to leisure, cultural and artistic activities, for instance participate in sports.
• The right to provision in situations of armed conflict or disaster. Children in situations of armed conflict or disaster must be provided with the necessary services and resources that ensure their survival.
• They should be protected from harmful practices like witchcraft and other kinds of rituals.
• They should be protected from harmful employment like forced labour.
Extracted from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) simplified handbook on international and national laws and policies on children).