12 August 2011: Survey shows need for action on violence against children
By Joanna Martin
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, 12 August 2011 – Violence against children is a serious human rights, social and public health issue in Tanzania, as in many other parts of the world. Violence erodes the strong foundation that children need to lead healthy and productive lives.
The results of a pioneering survey led by the Government of Tanzania, released today, reveal an urgent need to address violence against children across all sectors and in settings where children spend most of their time – including their homes, communities and schools.
The global prevalence of this problem was exposed in 2006 by the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children. The newly released national report, Violence Against Children in Tanzania, is based on a 2009 national survey conducted here with UNICEF’s support. It explores the full extent of sexual, physical and emotional abuse against both boys and girls in Tanzania, and the consequences of that abuse.
A National Multi-Sector Task Force, chaired by the Ministry of Community Development, Gender and Children, is collectively steering the research findings into action.
Sexual, physical and emotional abuse
As a member of the task force, Dr. Gideon Kwesigabo was part of the research team that has provided Tanzania with its first official national statistics capturing the true extent of violence against children, including sexual violence.
“Over 28 percent of girls reported to have experienced sexual violence before they turned age 18,” he said. “The corresponding figure for males is 13 percent.”
The figures for physical violence “are even more alarming,” said Dr. Kwesigabo. According to the survey, 74 percent of girls and 72 percent of boys reported experiencing physical violence before they turned 18.
In addition, almost 24 percent of girls and 28 percent of boys said they had experienced emotional violence during childhood – “indicating that this particular problem is prevalent in our society, although it hasn’t been investigated before,” noted Dr. Kwesigabo.
Procedures to address violence
Tanzania has a new legal framework to respond to the needs of children at risk of violence and abuse. Its implementation is extremely timely in light of the survey results.
“Procedures need to be put in place and carefully followed, whether it is a child coming into school, a child coming into the health centre, a child visiting their social welfare officer, a child coming into contact with the police,” said UNICEF Tanzania Chief of Child Protection Andrew Brooks.
“Currently, there are no procedures for those sectors to know what to do if a child’s been abused,” he added. The new legal framework defines such procedures.
Child protection teams
Zawadi (not her real name) was sexually abused at the age of 12 by her stepfather after her mother died. It was her teacher who raised the alarm and accompanied her to the police station.
With the assistance of a functioning child protection team, the case was handled quickly and successfully. The perpetrator is serving a 30-year prison sentence, and Zawadi lives safely with her foster mother.
Now 15, Zawadi has been supported by a strengthened child protection system in Hai District.
Call to action by all sectors
“A distinctive and commendable characteristic of this survey is that even before it was officially launched, government and other stakeholders took steps to move from research into action,” said UNICEF Representative in Tanzania Dorothy Rozga.
“With the support of all sectors,” she added, “including local government, mass media, faith-based organizations and civil society, there is a very real possibility that Tanzania will successfully address sexual, physical and emotional violence against its children.”
There is also a good chance that the ground-breaking survey on violence against children in Tanzania will influence what other countries on the African continent can do for their children.
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