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Support centres protect children from violence and abuse in Mozambique

UNICEF and leading musicians promote child rights

© UNICEF Mozambique/2010/Delvigne-Jean
Maria Supinho, Director of the Alta Mae Support Centre in Maputo, Mozambique, manages a team of 20 staff who work around the clock to assist women and children facing violence and abuse.

By Shantha Bloemen

MAPUTO, Mozambique, 15 June 2010 – The girl was only 12 years old when her father took her to a guest house and raped her. She told her mother, but her mother did not believe her. Unable to deal with the trauma, the girl reached out for help at the Alta Mae Support Centre in a crowded neighbourhood of Maputo, Mozambique’s capital city.

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Headed by Maria Supinho – a grandmother of eight and a policewoman for 33 years – the centre provides 24-hour assistance to victims of domestic violence, abuse and trafficking. A staff of 20 police officers (all but three of whom are women) provide counselling, legal advice and shelter to the victims. When needed, the staff also takes victims to a nearby hospital for medical care.

In the case cited above, the girl’s decision to go to the Alta Mae Support Centre saved her from further harm. Her father is now in jail, and she is no longer living in fear.

© UNICEF Mozambique/2010/Delvigne-Jean

Cases go unreported

Run by the Ministry of Interior with support from UNICEF and non-governmental partners, the Alto Mae Support Centre is one of 200 such centres located in hospitals and police stations across the country. Last year, they helped more than 3,500 children.

And Alto Mae is among 15 ‘model centres’ that have a stand-alone facility equipped with a special counselling room for children, a call centre and a dormitory for victims who need short-term shelter.

The need for this kind of support is clear, as domestic violence is one of the biggest issues faced by girls and women in Mozambique. Unfortunately, most of the cases go unreported.

“There is a perception that issues like assault and abuse within the family are a matter that need to be solved within the family,” says Ms. Supinho.

© UNICEF Mozambique/2010/Delvigne-Jean
In the run-up to the Day of the African Child, observed on 16 June, a concert promoting child protection and featuring some of the country's most popular artists took place on 5 June on the outskirts of Maputo, Mozambique.

Breaking the silence

Earlier this year, Mozambique achieved an important milestone in the protection of women’s rights with a new law against domestic violence. Ms. Supinho notes that her support centre has seen an increase in the number of cases reported.

“This does not necessarily mean the cases of violence is increasing but that the victims are increasingly seeking help and coming to the centre,” she explains.

However, the legislation is only the first step towards changing perceptions.

“Whatever we do at the level of policy and at the level of enforcement, it is only as strong as our ability to break the culture of silence around this issue and create a culture of zero tolerance in communities, in schools [and] peer to peer,” says UNICEF Mozambique’s Chief of Communication, Advocacy, Participation and Partnership, Naysan Sahba.

© UNICEF Mozambique/2010/Delvigne-Jean
UNICEF Denmark Ambassador Caroline Henderson sings at a concert on the outskirts of Maputo dedicated to children's rights and child protection, as part of celebrations leading up to the Day of the African Child.

Music for change

In an effort to help promote zero tolerance for violence and abuse, UNICEF recently joined forces with the International Festival of Music and the Association for Artists to host a concert with some of Mozambique’s top musicians – including Dilon Djindji, Jose Mucavele, Elvira Viegas and Valdemiro Jose, among others.

Held on 5 June in Maputo, the concert was dedicated to spreading the word and changing attitudes against child abuse, domestic violence and trafficking. It was one of a series of child-focused events organized here in the run-up to Day of the African Child, which will be observed tomorrow, 16 June.

“Children should never have to experience violence and abuse. It is our responsibility to put an end to it,’ says Stewart Sukuma, one of Mozambique’s most popular musicians. 

“As artists, we are natural communicators, so it is very important for us to speak out,” adds Mr. Sukuma, who has been a children’s rights advocate for more than 15 years.  “People see us as role models – and especially children, when they look at us, they want to be like us. It is not just about being famous but being an artist who delivers the right message.”




5 June 2010: UNICEF's Shantha Bloemen reports on a concert for child rights in commemoration of the Day of the African Child in Mozambique.
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