Child protection volunteers rescuing children from neglect
A tough start
The Malawi government has developed and adopted policies and enacted laws to protect children. However, thousands of children are still exposed to violence, abuse, and neglect. One such child is 11-year-old Frank (not his real name).
Frank’s life has been tough from the beginning. His father died when he was young and his mother, who is an alcoholic, abandoned him and his four siblings. As a result, Frank left school and stopped taking his life-saving medications. When health workers at the health centre where he was a patient missed him, they contacted the Department of Social Welfare Services to trace him.
Million Nankhonya, a UNICEF-trained and passionate child protection volunteer and case manager was responsible for tracing Franks. He found him and his siblings living in a dilapidated house under the care of an older sibling. There his physical, mental, and health needs were not being met. Food was scares and there was no one to remind him to go to the hospital and school. He fitted into what Million calls a Violence Abuse, Exploitation, and Neglect (VAEN) case management tool. This tool guides child protection workers who are known as case managers in how to conduct manage cases of children in need of child protection services.
With the help of the community, Frank and his siblings were taken to another location where he now lives with his grandmother, who, unfortunately, is already burdened with raising other four grandchildren.
Working together to keep children safe.
Million collaborated with the teachers from the local school to re-enrol Frank back in school. He also works closely with Frank's grandmother and the local health centre to ensure that Frank does not miss his check-ups and continues to take the life-saving medications prescribed to him.
"When Frank came here, he was fragile and depressed. He often expressed a desire to die. I believe it was because he missed his mother. He is a completely different person now. He takes his prescriptions on a regular basis and is back in school. He isn't doing well, but he is having a great time. He loves football. He's back to being a child again," says his grandmother.
Million has lobbied the Member of Parliament for this area to build a house for Frank and his sibling. The house is halfway done and will be completed in 2022.
Back on track and enjoying his childhood
"I like living with my grandmothers, and I like my new school," says Frank. I am one of the oldest pupils in my class but the other kids failed the end of term tests. They advised me to work hard next term. The doctors at the clinic are quite pleasant too. They all know my name. When my regular doctor is not around, other doctors see and give me medications. They also come to check on me at home," continues Frank.
Million is in the process of establishing a children’s corner in Franks village. He says Frank and his siblings will benefit from it because the activities are designed to offer psychosocial support to children who have been through difficulties.
With support from Swedish NatComm, UNICEF Malawi supports the Ministry of Gender Community Development and Social Welfare Services to train Child Protection Workers like Mr Million in Case Management. With these skills, the child protection workers can identify children at risk of violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect. They assess their household needs, then develop an action plan to address their challenges. Where necessary, referrals are made to relevant services providers like Health, Education, Police and even the faith community. Once support has been mobilised, the child protection workers then conduct home visits until they are satisfied that the child is safe and their case can be closed.