Swaziland holds the First National Dialogue on Violence against Children in and around schools
19 October 2011, Matsapha, Swaziland - “Away with teachers who abuse children, away!” A passionate Wilson Ntshangase, Swaziland’s Minister of Education and Training chants in front of a packed hall as he makes his feelings known about child abuse, one of the biggest headaches for children in schools. The ministry of education and training, with support from non-governmental organisations and UNICEF organised a national dialogue on violence against children in and around schools. The dialogue, held in Matsapha, Swaziland’s industrial town, saw teachers, parents, church and community representatives, children and government officials convene, for the first time in, to discuss and commit themselves to ending violence against children and make schools safer places for children.
The national dialogue was preceded by a series of regional and community dialogues involving children, parents, community leaders and teachers where each of the stakeholders undertook to use available resources to contribute to the campaign to end abuse against children.
In a country where cases of child abuse are largely unreported or discussed in hushed voices, due to a prevalent perception that they are family or internal business, the national dialogue seeks to break the culture of silence. This culture prevents victims of violence from getting help. Minister Ntshangase, who made a keynote address, did not mince his words as he denounced teachers who perpetrate acts of violence against pupils in their care. He implored teachers to isolate and report those who abuse children. He said his ministry had taken a hard line position on violence against children in schools. “This is wrong, and it must come to an end!” emphasised Minister Ntshangase.
Reverend Absalom Dlamini, who represented the religious organisations, who, late last year, signed a pledge committing to end violence in their sphere of influence, said they fully associated themselves with the call to end violence against children. “As faith-based organisations, we are also saying, wherever you come together to worship, there must be no violence against children. We note the commitment by our colleagues in the education sector and communities. Nearly three in ten females experience some form of abuse. Violence is committed by people whom they know, and trust, he said. “Home and school are the two most common places where violence against children takes place.” Violence against children is everybody’s business, Dlamini said, adding that religious leaders were at an advantage to tackle the scourge in their spheres of influence. “We have the trust and influence of the people that we lead. We should be driven by the moral responsibility entrusted upon us and ensure that mosques, churches and temples are safe places for children".
Child representative, Andile Kunene (9 years) mentioned several places that are unsafe to them, at school, home and in the community. Andile Kunene said bushes, hills and valleys, which they cross on their way to school exposed them to danger. “You are assaulted, robbed or raped,” he said. He said even in schools, certain areas were a danger to them, including toilets, science laboratories and other isolated structures. He pleaded with teachers and parents to make sure that school, homes and communities were safe. For their part, the children, through a pledge, committed themselves to fighting abuse through the responsible use of technology such as the internet to protect themselves against cyber-based violence and abuse. They further pledged to unite and stand together, report abuse and violence and end bullying.
Douglas Simelane, a community child protector said as key stakeholders in communities they pledged to work closely with schools to monitor cases of abuse against children. “We pledge to assist schools follow up reported cases until they are resolved,” said Simelane. They would also set up prevention mechanism in communities to prevent violence, he said. Teacher representative, Mbokodvo Tsabedze said they were also concerned about the violence in schools, and would also join in on the national efforts to end violence. He said they would be more vigilant about the abuse that took place in their schools. “We will promote positive discipline instead of corporal punishment,” he said. Teachers who are found guilty of abusing learners should not be allowed to teach. “It is not enough that they appear before the teaching service commission or transferred to other schools.” Teachers also called for the hiring of full-time guidance and counselling specialists to provide pyscho-social support to children who have been abused. Cebisile Nxumalo, who represented the Ministry of Education and Training, said as a ministry, they would revise and update all policies related to violence against children to align them to the Education Sector Policy. Nxumalo said they would also lobby for the passing of all bills that address violence against children.
Children representative Zwelihle Hadebe (16 years) said he was excited at the commitments made by all stakeholders, and challenged them to work hard to realise them.
The UNICEF representative, Jama Gulaid, commended the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders which were involved in the dialogues. He also promised continued UNICEF support for this initiative.