Adjumani a model district in curbing violence against children
Sensitizing communities on the rights of children
Since the onset of the refugee influx into the district from South Sudan in 2013, Adjumani has had one of the highest school dropout rates, teenage pregnancies and early childhood marriages in the country.
According to the District Senior Education Officer Phillip Akuku, Adjumani had a school dropout rate of 71 per cent meaning that only 39 per cent of pupils who started Primary One sat for the Primary Leaving Examinations seven years later. To put this into perspective, a total of 7,118 pupils dropped out in 2006 alone. This according to Akuku is equivalent to the population of an entire sub-county in the district.
Having worked at the district for 17 years, Akuku’s office has been monitoring school enrolment rates, completion rates, dropout rates and progression into secondary school since 2006.
From the data, he concluded that the district’s poor performance and the high dropout among adolescents was, among other factors, a result of violence against children both in and out of school.
“The violence orchestrated by teachers, parents, fellow learners and the community made it impossible for adolescents, especially girls to finish school," Akuku said.
"Very often, pupils as young as 14 dropped out school to start families while others would be sexually harassed and forcefully married off by their parents for financial gain,”
But with UNICEF support and funding from the David Beckham Foundation, Adjumani has turned its misfortunes into monumental successes. Since 2018, UNICEF has been supporting the district’s efforts to empower adolescents to start, stay and finish school.
In partnership with the District Local Government and the Ministry of Education and Sports, UNICEF supported the training of teachers, school management committees, district leaders, community leaders and opinion leaders on best practices to eliminate violence against children.
According to Dr Sammy Poro, the UNICEF Adolescent Development Specialist, the trainings enhanced capacity and increased community awareness on the rights of children targeting mostly child marriage, sexual harassment, teenage pregnancies and corporal punishment both in school and at home.
“Our objectives were to make the school environment safe for adolescent girls, to train teachers and school management and the community that girls have equal opportunities as boys and to overturn the cultural beliefs that condoned child marriages,”
The journey so far gone
From the bottom, Adjumani District contributed two teachers to the top 20 best in the country that were awarded with medals by President Yoweri Museveni in 2019. Akuku retorts that such feet were achieved thanks to UNICEF’s teacher training interventions in the district that subsequently increased the district’s academic performance in the national examinations.
Adjumani is also the only district in Northern Uganda that has designed a reporting pathway for violence against children and increased apprehensions of perpetrators that include teachers, parents and members of the community that orchestrate violence- sexual, physical, emotional and psychological against children.
The pathway dubbed Reporting, Tracking, Referral and Responses (RTRR) has helped increase vigilance in the community and put the respondents circle; health workers, parents, and district authorities on high alert.
The project has so far directly benefitted 66 schools, 284 teachers; four per school, and 14,000 students organised under several student clubs. An additional 150 teachers were trained alongside 70 adolescent volunteers and several leaders in the district and the in communities.
In addition, 40 health workers, 50 parish chiefs, 10 community development officers and parents have also been trained. According to Akuku, 185 people in the “circle of respondents” were trained in conflict and disaster management, counselling and early identification of children susceptible to violence.
As a result, Adjumani has since 2018 posted an increase in school enrolment of 94 per cent representing 85,450 students out of a possible 90,676 that are of school going age in the district. Student attendance has risen to 85 per cent from 37 per cent while teacher attendance has increased to 87 per cent.
Adolescents in Adjumani who had already dropped out of school, some even married or pregnant have been returned to school. Since 2018, 40 school dropouts have resumed school and 90 per cent of them have already completed primary education through accelerated learning.
Schools have adopted new methods to curb bullying and harassment by sensitising students through music, dance, drama about their rights, responsibilities and trained teachers on alternative ways of discipline.
Akuku is now confident that Adjumani will be a model district for the country but concedes that corruption among some district authorities and collusion with some of the victim’s parents are undermining their efforts.
“We have referred several cases to the police and 4 teachers who defiled their students have been convicted. However, there is a defilement case where a perpetrator reportedly bribed the state prosecutor with Shs 600,000 to bury the case. Some parents even go behind our backs and stealthily negotiate payments with the perpetrators while their children suffer,” he said.