Johannesburg, 18 July – A regional preparatory consultation on the UN Secretary General’s Study on Violence for Eastern and Southern Africa opened in Johannesburg today with a strong call to end the violence that is afflicting many of the continent’s children.
The meeting highlighted the need for HIV/AIDS to be at the center of all efforts to eradicate violence. The meeting heard that violence against children occurs all the time and in every society in the world but, in eastern and southern Africa, the stakes are higher: many more children are at risk of violence because they’ve lost one or both parents to AIDS and the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS means that sexually abused children are more likely to be infected as a result.
UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa Per Engebak said children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS were more likely to find themselves on the street, in the commercial sex trade, or married to older men. He called for more information and research to ascertain the extent of the problem.
“What we are seeing in eastern and southern Africa is only a tip of the iceberg. The key messages of HIV prevention - Abstain, Be Faithful, Consistently Use a Condom – do nothing to protect children from infection as a result of sexual violence,” he said. “A child who needs to sell her body for food does not have the choice to abstain, it is unlikely that a man who rapes her has been faithful and rarely would he think of using a condom,” he said.
As well as sexual abuse, the meeting highlighted corporal punishment as another form of violence. Most countries in the region have no legislation against the use of corporal punishment in schools and where it is outlawed, it is still widely practiced in homes. The Independent Expert for the UN Study Professor Sergio Pinheiro called for a universal ban on the practice, saying it was having a devastating effect on the development of children.
“Despite progress in civil and political rights, democracy has not made its way into the family and schools,” he said. “There is nothing reasonable about hitting children.”
The conference is also being attended by over 55 young people who urged governments to provide free legal assistance to abused children. They said tougher laws were needed to punish those who abuse children.
The three day consultation will examine issues such as sexual and gender based violence, corporal punishment, HIV/AIDS and its relationship to violence against children, and impact of traditional practices on children.
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