National Conference on Violence Against Children
3 October 2011 - Rwanda’s First Lady, Jeannette Kagame, opened the country’s first national conference and campaign on Violence against Children with a strong message: the protection of children from violence and neglect is not a choice nor a luxury, but a national necessity. The first lady pointed out that we cannot keep saying that children are the leaders of tomorrow and at the same time not give them adequate protection from violence. Her message was echoed by the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, who noted the importance of continued protection of children from violence and abuse. The UN SRSG, Marta Santos Pais, congratulated the country for placing the protection of children from violence at the centre of the policy agenda. UNICEF Global Ambassador and renowned singer, Nana Mouskouri, also sent a personal message to conference participants recounting a personal tale on the impact of violence, while UNICEF’s Representative to Rwanda, Noala Skinner, presented global statistics on the extent of violence against children. A chorale of children rounded off the opening ceremony with a soulful rendition of the campaign jingle to end violence against children.
Following the opening ceremony, Rwanda’s Police presented an overview of violence in the country, which showed that girls are the majority of survivors of sexual violence and that many cases of violence still go unreported. This presentation was followed by much discussion and recommendations to collect more disaggregated data and improve coordination and planning around the response to violence.
The conference’s next presentation gave participants an overview of the types of violence children are subjected to in east and southern Africa with specific data from Tanzania, Swaziland and South Africa. She also gave examples of specific measures to address violence in the region, for instance like in Tanzania where each ministry has made a declaration on how they will respond to violence and the usage of common reporting format for police, schools and health practitioners in Swaziland.
In the afternoon, participants learned how social norms impact both on the roots and the response to violence. The recommendations that followed asked that more be done in terms of understanding these in the Rwandan context.
Following this theoretical overview, participants were able to appreciate exactly how an understanding of social norms can be used in a multi-media campaign to end violence against children in Uganda. This interesting presentation showed how a variety of methods, based on sound research and evidence on social norms had actually created a dialogue and discussion around violence. One of the main messages of this presentation in the afternoon, was that fear is not a good way of instigating change, instead people should feel that non-violence is the better choice and the choice that they want to make.
Rwanda had an opportunity, following this presentation, to highlight some of the views of elders, who had gathered together a few weeks before the conference, during a café philosophique, to undercover why violence against children continued to be accepted in Rwandan society.
The final presentation of the day shed an uncomfortable light on some of the harmful traditional practices Rwandan children, many under the age of five, are subjected to, including forceful removing of their milk teeth and tonsils.
In all, participants felt that if violence against children in Rwanda was going to be comprehensively tackled, then much more needed to be done in terms of research, coordination and advocacy.