|© UNICEF Malawi/2007/Kariuki|
|UNICEF and Ministry of Women and Child Development officers march along with children in Lilongwe, Malawi to call for an end to child abuse in the country.|
By Brenda Kariuki
LILONGWE, Malawi, 20 September 2007 – Many children in Malawi continue to be exploited and abused by the very people who should be protecting them. One year ago, 15-year-old Mary (not her real name) lost both her parents to HIV-related illnesses. She was taken in by an uncle who promised to care for her, but instead was turned into a servant and asked to work on her uncle's farm.
Orphaned and left with nothing, Mary now works for more that 10 hours each day as a domestic servant.
“I wish I could go to school and complete my education,” she said.
In an effort to raise awareness and lobby for laws to protect children, UNICEF and the Ministry of Women and Child Development has launched the national Stop Child Abuse campaign in Malawi.
'We have failed our children'
“The main aim of the Campaign is to break the silence around child abuse,” said UNICEF Representative in Malawi Aida Girma. “Violence against children – especially sexual violence – is often shrouded in secrecy and this makes it hard for any action to be taken to stop it.”
The Campaign will provide opportunities for open discussions on issues such as child labour, sexual abuse, child trafficking, early marriages and harmful cultural practices that continue to deny children their rights to a healthy childhood.
The Minister for Women and Child Development, Ms. Kate Kainja Kaluluma decried the increase in cases of child rape and sexual exploitation in the country.
“We have failed our children, and if we do not act now, we will be failing the next generation as well,” said Ms. Kaluluma. “We must say ‘stop child abuse’ and mean it.”
Mobilizing leadership for policy change
During an event to mark the Day of the African Child in 2007, over 200 children from rural schools in Lilongwe protested against violence and exploitation. At an audience with the Deputy Minister for Women and Child Development Hon Aaron Sangala, the children presented their views and called on the Government to make Malawi a safer place for children.
“How is Malawi going to have educated future leaders if we don’t stop abusing children? How are we, children of Malawi, expected to thrive and excel in school when we continue to experience violence and abuse in the hands of the very same people who should be protecting us?” asked 16-year-old child parliamentarian Charles Kabera.
Existing laws in Malawi address certain aspects of trafficking, such as kidnapping or sexual exploitation, but fall short of punishing perpetrators for the crime of trafficking itself. The Stop Child Abuse campaign aims to mobilize leadership and commitment at a policy level in order to afford greater protection to children.
“The absence of a specific law on child trafficking is a serious loophole that undermines the global effort to stop child trafficking,” says UNICEF’s Ms. Girma. “We are failing these children if we don’t take action now and we are denying them their right to realize their full potential because they are not in school.”