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Educating communities, protecting children from violence in Madagascar

© UNICEF Madagascar/2006/ Sheikh
Haingo and her mother have sought help through the Commission for the Rights of the Child, an organization that protects children from abuse in Mahajanga, Madagascar.

By Misbah M. Sheikh

The UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children is a landmark effort to provide a detailed global picture of the nature, extent and causes of such violence and act to prevent it. The final report will be presented to the General Assembly on 11 October. Here is the first in a series of related stories.

MAHAJANGA, Madagascar, 6 October 2006 – Haingo (not her real name) is 16 years old. A few months ago, while her mother was at the market selling handicrafts and her younger brother was at school, she was raped in her own home.

“I knew instinctively that there was something wrong about the way he forced me,” she recalled. “When my mother came home, I told her. She was very upset and worried. My mother was afraid that my future would be ruined.”

Now Haingo is one of 306 survivors of rape who have brought their cases before the Commission for the Rights of the Child (CRC) here in Mahajanga.

They are not alone

“I really didn’t know what to do,” said Haingo’s mother. “But I couldn’t sit there and not do anything, so I went and found the community volunteer who had recently visited our village and told us about the CRC. I thought maybe they could do something to help me get justice for my daughter.”

The CRC, established in March 2000 as a collaborative effort between UNICEF and the non-governmental organization Enfants du Monde, pays for medical exams for those in the area who are too poor to afford them. The Commission also provides trained counsellors who accompany families to doctors’ offices, police stations and the courts, letting them know that they are not alone.

“I was scared to talk about this, to even think about prosecution, but in the end I decided that it was the right thing to do,” recalled Haingo’s mother.

Protection through education

The CRC places its main focus on education, reaching out to inform communities about children’s rights so that cases such as Haingo’s can be addressed.

The results so far speak for themselves. The number of families willing to report abuses has increased by 50 per cent, according to the Commission’s director.

Initially, the CRC provided informal counselling to families dealing with trauma. However, there were so many cases of abuse that the Commission could not address them alone. Thus, the organization expanded its work to sensitize communities about the risks of abuse and violence against children.

Partnerships with local NGOs, schools, judges, hospitals and government ministries raise awareness about the measures that communities themselves can take to protect their young people.

More assistance needed

With assistance from UNICEF, the CRC hired and trained five social workers to help educate doctors, jurists, police officials and village chiefs, and set up a system providing support to children and families affected by violence.

To strengthen these education programmes, UNICEF provides technical and financial assistance, trains volunteers and assists in the production of awareness-raising materials.

But further aid is needed to recruit and train child psychologists and create a resource library, as well as develop peer-to-peer education methods to inform young people about the CRC and its services – and ultimately, help more youths like Haingo.

“I am relieved that my mother decided to take this case to the courts,” said Haingo. “I am glad that we have social workers who come and talk to me from time to time. But most of all, I will be happy to know that other boys know that rape is wrong.”



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