A friendly voice to children
Early childhood learning centres provide safe spaces for children
Child Protection Denmark Mzanga, has encountered numerous cases of child abuse in Kaphuka village in Dedza district.
A home is supposed to be a place of peace and protection for the child, but Mzanga cites it as one significant sources of abuse.
“One of the abuses children face at home is negligence, and they also face physical abuse. Two days ago, I received a report that a woman had poured hot water on her five-year-old grandchild. Those are the common abuses in the area,” Mzanga says.
Such incidences throw spanners in the works for Mzanga and other child protection officers to eliminate child abuse and create a safe and healthy environment for children, stressing that ensuring a safe environment is essential for their growth.
“I deal with children, and my role is to sensitize communities about the welfare of the child,” he says.
To achieve this, Mzanga conducts community meetings with community structures such as child protection committees and parents to ensure that the child's rights are protected both in the home and in community-based childcare centres (CBCC).
“At CBCCs we engage caregivers with children every day from Monday to Friday, playing with them and telling them what to do. At home, we have meetings with parents. We encourage parents to ensure that their children are protected, and their rights are fulfilled, such as sending them to CBCCs and, after reaching five years, to standard one,” he says.
Ensuring a safe environment for children is essential for their mental and physical growth because their rights cannot be violated if they are protected at home or even at the CBCCs.
“In our community, there are people who abuse children, so we ensure parents know their role in protecting children from abuse. When we talk about child protection, it refers to so many things. It includes access to food and protection from abuse; these things help a child's growth. When these aren't followed, a child's growth is negatively affected,” he says.
Part of Mzanga's job includes ensuring that each CBCC has caregivers and a management committee that takes care of the day-to-day activities. He adds that adequately resourced CBCCs with playing materials are just as important.
“We ensure each CBCC has materials for playing outside and inside. We train parents to make play materials using local resources for use at the CBCC. We also train caregivers to make the materials if the parents fail to make them,” Mzanga says.
Under its Mmela Mpoyamba programme, UNICEF Malawi has been promoting early childhood development (ECD), emphasising the importance of ECD, especially in the first 1,000 days, among parents and caregivers, considering that early childhood is the period most critical for brain development.
The programme observes that investing in early childhood health, nutrition, care, and learning programmes, including parenting support programmes, yields high economic returns and offsets disadvantage and inequality, especially for children from low-income families.
UNICEF Malawi has, among other interventions, been supporting efforts to combat stunting to reduce the condition in Malawi from 37 percent to 30 per cent by 2023, by focusing on children aged zero to 23 months and pregnant women. UNICEF has also been conducting ECD advocacy and communication campaigns to promote positive parenting and responsive caregiving.