|Despite the Ministry of Education’s zero tolerance policy towards sexual abuse of children in schools, Linda* was suspended while no action was taken against her teacher.|
By Arild Drivdal
MAPUTO, Mozambique, 19 October 2011 – When Linda*, 16, entered into an agreement with her well respected 40-year-old teacher to exchange sex for good grades, she had no understanding of the inherently exploitive nature of the relationship.
As a result of the repeated sexual abuse, she became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl last year.
Punishing the victim
Despite the Ministry of Education’s zero tolerance policy towards sexual abuse of children in schools, Linda was suspended while no action was taken against her teacher.
Unfortunately, the story is not unique. The quiet acceptance that allows sexual abuse to continue makes it difficult to enforce the policies that are in place. While the abuser continues working as before, it is the victim that has been punished, the opposite of what established legislation and policies intend.
The Mozambican Government and partners have shown a great commitment to improving the protective environment for children and women, but as Linda’s story illustrates, more work needs to be done to ensure that laws and policies are followed up and acted on.
Focus on prevention
UNICEF Mozambique is currently focused on the prevention of sexual abuse and exploitation, promoting a holistic approach to changing prevailing social norms regarding violence against children. Led by the Ministry of Education, with support from UNICEF, prevention efforts have resulted in the development of a comprehensive communication strategy by the Government.
|The quiet acceptance that allows sexual abuse to continue makes it difficult to enforce the policies that are in place.|
Communication for Development (C4D) and advocacy initiatives have been promoted nationally through a range of activities aiming to influence social norms and behaviours and promote a culture of zero tolerance against violence. The interventions focus on the prevention of sexual abuse against girls.
The strategy serves as a framework for the ongoing national media campaign on ‘Zero tolerance of sexual abuse against children’ launched in June by the Ministry of Education. The campaign aims to raise public awareness on the issue and motivate changes in societal norms and behaviors. To achieve this, the strategy advocates a multi-channel, multi-level approach supporting the empowerment of children, young people, families, communities and service providers with the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours required to replace a culture of silence with a culture of zero tolerance.
Breaking the silence
Partnerships with influential personalities to raise awareness of child rights through mass media will be central to the zero tolerance effort. Currently, Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials are being developed to support the campaign. These include Public Services Announcements, TV and radio spots that have been prepared with the involvement of influential public figures such as, former President Joaquim Chissano, former Prime Minister Luisa Diogo and two famous artists, Stewart Sukuma and Mingas.
National outlets are currently broadcasting the campaign spots and messages, particularly the Network of Community Radios, the National Forum of Community Radio (FORCOM) and Radio Mozambique (RM), which typically provide information on social issues and promote healthy behaviors through discussion and engagement with families and children.
The campaign is being implemented in coordination with the Government, civil society, faith based organizations and private sector partners.
*Name was changed to protect her identity