2001 ZAM: Rapid Assessment of the Incidence of Child Abuse in Zambia
Author: Nkandela, A. S.
Motivated by their concern to eliminate or minimize the incidence of child abuse in Zambia, UNICEF and the Children in Need Network (CHIN) commissioned a rapid assessment to determine the extent of such abuse, some of its related factors, and the extent to which child abuse is under-reported. Child abuse refers to any deliberate treatment, omission or neglect that may be injurious to the mental and physical well being of a child.
Purpose / Objective
The principal objective of the study was to establish the levels of child abuse in Zambia. A subsidiary objective was to investigate the conditions that make children vulnerable to abuse. Specific objectives were: to identify the principal categories of children who are victims of abuse, to determine the major causes of child abuse, to clarify whether being an orphan puts a child at greater risk of abuse, and to ascertain the connections between gender and child abuse.
The survey was conducted as a rapid assessment in twenty districts. Districts were selected on the basis of likely high levels of child participation in various activities, particularly in economic activities that could expose children to abuse. There were two districts from each province and one additional district in each of the Lusaka and Central provinces.
The children were identified, with the aid of local expertise, as being those who had been abused or who seemed vulnerable to the occurrence of abuse. The adults were parents/guardians of children who had been abused or were seen as vulnerable to abuse, and other concerned members of communities. A total of 1,957 children (± 100 in each district) and 208 adults were reached by the assessment. The total sample was almost evenly divided between male and female children.
The study used both quantitative and qualitative methods of data collection and analysis. Two questionnaires were developed and pre-tested: one for use by the children, the other for use by the adults. Focus Group Discussions (FGDs), which followed a common set of guidelines, were held with children and adults separately, in five out of the twenty districts. In addition, case studies were compiled during the data collection and FGDs.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Extent of Abuse and Child Neglect:
More than half of the sampled children (54%) stated that they had never been mistreated, while 42% alleged that they had experienced mistreatment of some kind or other. More than one-third of those who had been mistreated stated that this had taken the form of neglect. This wide-ranging concept covers such areas as lack of proper care of the child; deprivation of food, shelter, or clothing; lack of support for schooling; sending a child out to beg or to undertake sex work; not intervening to prevent a child from joining the ranks of street children. The data suggest that at the national level, it is likely that between 14 and 18 children out of every hundred experience abuse through some form of child neglect.
Slightly more than 60% of the children who experienced neglect were not attending school. Neglect was more predominant among male than female children. The experience of neglect tended to be well correlated with age, with almost no cases below the age of seven but, thereafter, a steady increase with increase in age. The two factors found to make the most salient contribution to child neglect were the death of parents and lack of financial support. The largest group among those who experienced neglect was orphaned children, some of whom experienced other forms of family breakdown. The hypothesis that the lack of support was related to family income was supported by the fact that the parents/guardians of more than half the children who experienced neglect were not working.
While child neglect occurs across the country, it does not appear to be a major problem in centres such as Serenje and Senanga. On the other hand, it is a major problem in areas such as Mpika, Chililabombwe, Kaoma, Nchelenge, and Mwinilunga, in each of which more than 20% of the children reported that they had been neglected (in Mpika, the proportion was 45%).
According to the ILO, child labour includes both paid and unpaid work and activities that are mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children. Almost half of the total sample indicated that they were required to do work that was too difficult for them. In the overwhelming majority of cases, these impositions come from adult figures in the home -- parents and guardians. The fact that guardians appeared to predominate in requiring children to do work that was too difficult for them may suggest that orphans and children who do not live with their parents are especially vulnerable to this form of abuse.
Children recounted that they undertook excessive work for a variety of reasons. In order of frequency of report, the principal reasons were: they were forced; they were helping out; they were carrying out chores; they wanted to earn money for clothes; they wanted to earn money for school.
The abuse of child labour occurs more frequently among those who [do not] attend school than among school-going children. Part of the reason for this difference may be that school-going children meet with fewer opportunities for physical work. A further reason may be that those not in school have been more or less incorporated into the adult world of work, whether as street children or as casual workers, and hence have adult demands placed on them.
As might be expected, the older a child is, the greater the likelihood of abuse through work that is excessive or too heavy. Nevertheless, out of the total sample of almost 2,000 children, there were 430 children (22%) below the age of thirteen who stated that they were required to do work that was too difficult for them. This raises the possibility that one in every five young children may suffer abuse through exploitative labour.
In the home, there is a very indistinct boundary between what can be asked of a child as a normal part of household chores and what constitutes excessive child labour. Children themselves acknowledged that they had a responsibility to contribute to the running of their homes. The fact that more than half the total sample did not feel that their labour was being unduly exploited, gave substance to the enumeration of their views and categorization of tasks in the FGDs. A higher proportion of male (55%) than female children (45%) stated that the work they were required to do around the home was too difficult for them. The quantitative and qualitative information lend themselves to the interpretation that female children accept as part of their normal responsibilities what male children see as being too much or too heavy for them.
The abuse of child labour appears to be widespread across the country, with 20% or more of the samples for each of the individual districts reporting this kind of abuse, while in nine of the districts more than half of the respondents stated that they were being imposed upon through the excessive work that was being demanded of them. For each of Mpika, Chinsali and Chililabombwe, this proportion exceeded 70%.
Child Sexual Abuse:
The study took child sexual abuse to mean any act of sexual indulgence with a child or any attempt at or prelude to such an act. Such preludes would include deliberate improper touching of a child, fondling, or touching in a way that the child senses to be offensive and does not like. The evidence from the questionnaire suggests that one in every thirteen to eighteen children is likely to experience some form of sexual abuse. Both the quantitative data and the FGDs brought out that female children are more at risk of sexual abuse, with 72% of female children experiencing this form of abuse compared with 28% of males.
The majority of those who had been sexually abused (60%) reported that they spend much of their time selling on the street or playing around town areas. But more than one quarter of the children who had been sexually abused reported that most of their time was spent around the home. The implication is that a considerable amount of sexual abuse takes place in the vicinity of the home, and sometimes within the home itself. Broadly speaking, the findings suggest that about one in every five cases of sexual abuse is likely to occur around market and trading areas and another fifth in or near to the home.
More cases of sexual abuse occur among children not attending school than among those who attend school. A question about family breakdown was passed over without an answer by the majority of the child respondents. It was remarkable, however, that in every case where this question was answered by a child who had been sexually abused, there had been family breakdown, either because of divorce, separation or some other reason. Case studies also linked family breakdown to the incidence of sexual abuse.
Traditional ceremonies were seen as facilitating the occurrence of child abuse in so far as they prompt those below the age of 18, who are still technically children, to turn their minds to early marriage. Of the girls who acknowledged that they had been sexually abused, 82% also said that they had undergone initiation and had been encouraged to marry soon afterwards.
Ten percent or more of the children interviewed in each of Mpika, Mansa, Chililabombwe, Nchelenge, Chinsali and Kaoma stated that they had been sexually abused. The lowest levels of sexual abuse were recorded in Kafue (0 out of 99 respondents) and Lusaka (1 out of 100 respondents).
The street is taken to mean all places through which a significant number of people pass. Street children are children who are found at such places, making their living (through odd jobs, selling, putting on street shows, begging or stealing), playing, eating and sleeping. Some street children still have family homes to which they return in the evenings. Others do not, and spend their entire time on the street.
One-third of the random sample of abused children and those vulnerable to abuse were street children. The principal everyday occupation was selling, though some 10% beg on a daily basis. There were more male than female street children (in a six-to-four ratio), and every area of street child activity was dominated by male children. The gender gap in street child activity was lowest in the area of selling, with 53% being male and 47% female.
Two-thirds of the street children did not have an opportunity to attend school. The principal reason given for not attending was the inability to pay fees or meet the costs associated with schooling. But about one-fifth of the street children affirmed either that their parents did not want them to bother with school, or that they themselves were not interested. Discussions clarified that the majority of street children would attend school if they had the resources to do so. For most street children, not attending school was a matter of financial difficulty; it was not a matter of not wanting to go to school.
According to the FGDs in Kitwe, Luangwa, Livingstone, Mansa and Lusaka, children perceive orphans as being discriminated against in access to food and education. They also see orphans as running the risk of having to engage in prostitution and stealing if they are to survive.
Females were in the majority among the adults who were interviewed and took part in FGDs (56% were female, 44% were male). Almost all of the adults were either household heads or the spouses of household heads. The discussions with the adults probed the areas of child discipline, initiation ceremonies and pornography.
The form of discipline most commonly employed by adults was corporal punishment. Almost equal proportions of male and female respondents preferred this form of discipline. The disturbingly large proportion of 33% of the adults indicated that in order to discipline a child, they would send him/her away from home. Again, roughly equal proportions of men and women said so. It was not clarified where they would send the child, but unless adequate precautions were taken, it is clear that action of this nature could expose the child to great suffering and substantially enhance vulnerability to abuse. The preference for corporal punishment was more marked among parents with tertiary education than among those with primary or secondary. On the other hand, recourse to sending the child away from home was very much less favoured by those with tertiary education.
Four-fifths of the adult respondents noted that children underwent initiation ceremonies. They understood this as a legitimate requirement, necessitated by cultural norms, the need to inculturate children, or the need to sustain beliefs. Children of a Bemba or Lunda father or mother were more likely than others to have undergone initiation ceremonies, and hence to have experienced some pressure to marry at an early age.
The overwhelming majority of adults were of the opinion that children should not know about pornography. Only a small handful thought that there could be moral, educative or other value in children knowing about this area.
Child Abuse Causal Factors:
The study clearly indicates that the Research results clearly indicate that categories of children who are victims of child abuse include children who do not have opportunities to attend school; children who are disabled due to their inability to defend themselves, defenseless status against environments that render vulnerability to abuse; children whose parents are disabled; orphaned children with respect to all types of abuse; and female children with special respect to child sexual abuse.
Various factors are related to child abuse. Some have a causal relationship. Others enhance the potential of other factors to cause abuse. Still others increase the vulnerability of children to further abuse. These different factors include:
- Negative family situations -- manifest family breakdown through divorce or separation, polygamous unions, regular disagreements among parents, and over-crowding in houses.
- Low educational level of parents or guardians.
- Non-participation of children in school.
- Lack of clarity on the part of parents and guardians as to where the boundary lies between their legitimate responsibility to form and rear a child, and actions that constitute forms of child abuse. This haziness manifests itself especially in the areas of the household and other work demanded of children, and of disciplinary actions.
- Shame, leading to silence, failure to take action, and failure to protect the child when forms of incest occur in households.
- Fear of departing from traditional norms, practices and expectations, even where these increase the vulnerability of a child to abuse.
All of these are of great importance and need to be addressed. But, in the current circumstances of Zambia, three fundamental pervasive issues run through all of them. These are poverty, unemployment, and sickness. These three, whether taken singly or in combination, reduce the potential of a family to provide for the basic food and shelter needs of a child, to ensure the child's education, to protect the child's health status. In numerous cases, they virtually "force" the family to demand work that is too heavy for a child, to send the child out to undertake such work, to turn a blind eye when the child engages in sexual activity for economic purposes, to allow or encourage the child to make a living honestly or dishonestly on the streets.
At the level of children, all of this works its way out in increased sickness and malnutrition, lower levels of education, strong inducements to enter into petty criminal activities, and a powerful urge to ignore the issue of abuse and throw themselves into sexual activities, excessive and underpaid work, and street activities. The great tragedy for many children is that they never experience a proper childhood of happiness, joy, exploration and learning. They are so focused on doing what is necessary to stay alive that they simply do not have the opportunity, time nor resources to experience and enjoy life in the way that is proper to children.
Research: The Reference Group on Child Abuse should draw up a comprehensive research programme, with wide geographical coverage, that would enhance the knowledge and understanding of child abuse and related factors, and thereby contribute to action to reduce the incidence of abuse.
Reporting: The silence that attends child abuse must be broken. To this end, every relevant authority should be encouraged and, where appropriate, required to listen carefully and sympathetically to complaints brought by children. Likewise, every reported case of child abuse should be followed up. To facilitate reporting and follow-up, medical fees for minors who have experienced sexual abuse or assault should be waived.
Networking and Linkages: Close networking of support programmes and organizations is recommended. This can be initiated through carefully designed workshops to solicit exchange of experiences among organizations that support children and establishing joint programmes.
Policy Issues: (1) Financial and material requirements should not block the school participation of any child. Hence, no child should be required to make payments of any kind for attending and learning in a primary school. (2) Improvement in the situation of children and in the lessening of the abuse of neglect requires that health services be improved, even at the cost of better-remunerated health workers and improved medical infrastructure and supplies. (3) There is need for laws that prohibit the sale of alcohol, tobacco and other harmful substances to children, and for the enforcement of such laws. (4) More concerted and aggressive action is needed to prevent the access of children to pornographic publications, films and videos.
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