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UNICEF child friendly spaces sensitise girls on FGM, child marriage in Karamoja

adolescent girls and boys play at a child friendly space
© UNICEF Uganda
Adolescent girls and boys play games at a Child Frieldly Space in Amudat District.

By Catherine Ntabadde Makumbi

As one approaches Naguliet Child Friendly Space (CFS) in Loroo Sub County in Amudat District, Eastern Uganda you can’t fail to notice girls and boys playing football, netball and other community games. A group of adolescent girls are seen seated under a shade with a mentor.

At the extreme end of the CFS, there is a built classroom acting as an early childhood development centre. Michael Longok, Senior Probation Officer, Amudat District explains that the older children come to the centre because “there is no school here. The nearby school is 20km away but most of the children cannot walk that long distance.” This is why although the CFS targets children from 6 years and above, children below 6 also are found here.

The Naguliet CFS, operated by Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation on behalf of UNICEF is acting as an effective mechanisms to bring communities together. The parents and caregivers utilise this space to interact and discuss issues affecting their children.

In April 2017, the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM/C steering committee visited the child friendly space and interacted with the children including adolescent girls. The team was briefed about the different services offered at the CFS which include playing, life skilling training, , music, dance and drama events, provision of a wide range of information, outreaches for health services, and dialogues for adolescent girls, peer to peer interaction and education for children below 5 years. The senior Probation Officer Longok says that children come in the morning and return to their homes in the afternoon. He adds that the element of ECD has proved useful “because children are able to write their names, they can read, count and identify animals.” UNICEF supports mentors to support the learning of the children in the ECD centre.

In regards to ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Marianna Garofalo, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist explains that the CFS is a platform to sensitise girls about the risks of FGM, child marriage and any other risks adolescent girls can face. “Through the core groups, girls are encouraged to reach out to other girls and boys in the community to pass the messages. This contributes to the change in attitude towards harmful practices,” Garofalo says.

Currently, UNICEF is supporting twelve child friendly spaces in Amudat District, all operated by TPO. Three out of the twelve have been upgraded with permanent structures. In each of the centres, the TPO team works with a core group of adolescents (the peer groups), 25-30 with an aim of empowering them to understand and recognise violence and harmful practices. The hope is that the girls can use the knowledge and skills to protect themselves against violence and the harmful practices like FGM/C.

The CFSs also create surveillance mechanisms in that since the children who attend the spaces are always the same, it is easy for them and the caregivers to spot those that go missing and are able to intervene. In addition, the CFSs are a safe place for children to report cases of VAC.

George Mubiru, TPO programme coordinator in Amudat District says the community value the child friendly spaces and are appreciative of them. “Different age groups come here to assess a wide range of information. Parents have been very supportive,” he explains.

Rebecca Kwagala, Chief UNICEF Moroto Field Office who hosted the Joint Programme on FGM/C Steering Committee said that the space enables the children get information to improve their life skills and knowledge on a number of issues. The skills acquired build their confidence. She adds that the girls who come to the centre are not inclined into FGM/C and as such act as peers to others to denounce the practice.

“The parents both fathers and mothers like the programmes offered here. They benefit many children, many girls and the district is committed to ensuring that more of such spaces are provided,” Kwagala explained.

To demonstrate their support and community ownership of the centre, parents bring food items like milk, maize flour, water and cook breakfast for their children.

Other CFS are Babtian, Lopedot, Ngoripiliamongh, Lobore, Motany, Kanarion, Akoule, Morinyang, Apeikra, Kalakatyo, Asokonion/Cheptapoyo, all in Amudat District.
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