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UNICEF: End the Abuse in Zimbabwe

UNICEF “greatly disturbed” about increasing numbers of reported child sexual abuse cases. Urges communities to be more vigilant and break the culture of silence

HARARE 23 January 2006 - In the wake of a worsening orphan crisis and accusations this week against a headmaster who allegedly raped six primary school pupils, the United Nations Children’s Fund today repeated its call for communities to speak out against all forms of child abuse.

UNICEF said it was horrified at the continued sexual abuse of children, most of them primary school pupils, and by those in trusted positions. Anecdotal evidence from local NGOs and clinics around Harare show child sexual abuse is rampant. Last year alone, a local NGO recorded 4146 cases of sexual abuse against children in its area of operation alone.

“This is an utterly intolerable violation of children's rights,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr Festo Kavishe. “At a time when Zimbabweans are making phenomenal efforts to absorb more than one million orphans, there appears a small number who prey on the most vulnerable of children. It seems that every day there are fresh reports in the local media about children being abused, sometimes at their schools, other times by family members, but mostly by figures of authority, trusted figures. Community leaders need to be explicit in their condemnation of such abuse.”

Despite growing public concern against child sexual abuse, together with a child friendly judiciary system in Zimbabwe, reported cases continue to rise.  Recently, school staff members were charged with abusing 52 girls from one boarding primary school near Marondera (just outside the capital), while in Harare 14 primary school girls were also allegedly abused by staff members.

UNICEF, in partnership with Government ministries and several NGOs supports a national campaign on ‘Zero Tolerance Against Child Abuse’. “Zero tolerance means ending all forms of abuse against children,” said Dr Kavishe. "It means stamping out every horrible facet of child abuse and exploitation.”

As part of the campaign, UNICEF supports the training of trainers' workshops and community-based education. Participants include government officials, NGOs, journalists, police and teachers.  The children's agency says it is currently stepping up its work with communities, seeking to further educate them to spot the signs of child abuse and to tenaciously protect their children by establishing and supporting functional child protection committees, where children themselves are represented.

“Community leaders, teachers, mums and dads – these people are the front line in the fight against child abuse,” said UNICEF’s head of child protection, Jose Bergua. “If perpetrators are going to be stopped, if children are going to have the confidence to speak out against these evils, then authority figures need to make it patently clear that child abuse in their communities will not be stomached. Silence on this issue shelters the perpetrators and is a crime against children.”

UNICEF says it remains necessary in Zimbabwe to create a culture of prevention of child abuse, to mobilise public opinion and action, to continue to disseminate prevention programs, and to encourage the denunciation of abuse.
UNICEF also says that children who are raped are the most vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS and the organisation called on all Zimbabweans to vigorously protect these “invisible children”.

“For those children who suffer abuse, the impact can last a lifetime,” added Dr Kavishe.

For further information, please contact:

James Elder, UNICEF Zimbabwe Communication Officer, Tel +263 (0)91 276120, jelder@unicef.org




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