2008: Protecting Zambia’s children from abuse and violence: One-stop centre where healing comes first
“This is where the child tells her story, what happened and how. Usually they have been sexually assaulted or raped, abused in some terrible way. It could be more child-friendly, but we are working on that,” says Fidus, a social worker whose job is to lead abused children, mostly girls under age 16, through the process of reporting abuse and receiving treatment.
Fidus works at a UNICEF-supported “One-Stop Centre” at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka. The centre opened in June 2006. During a morning hours session at the centre, Joy* brought her daughter Priscilla* for treatment and care.
“I wish I had paid better attention. Now I am aware and I want mothers to be more aware. Be close to your girls, your children, don’t let them be abused,” Joy tells Fidus. Her guilt is palpable, but 12 year-old Priscilla does not seem to blame her mother for what happened. Rather, Priscilla places the blame squarely on the perpetrator, a neighbor who raped her repeatedly over a month’s time while Joy attended a weekly support group for women living with HIV and AIDS.
“We went to a clinic first because Priscilla was in pain. She had sores, and they told us to come here, because they recognized that she had been abused and she was traumatized,” Joy explains. Joy and Priscilla made their first visit to the centre only a week earlier, to report the rapes and get medical treatment. Priscilla, showing a maturity and compassion admirable for someone so young and traumatized, says, “I was scared, but I really like Fidus. Having my mother here helps, too. It is stressful for her. She needs help too.”
Youth like Priscilla are increasingly at risk of abuse in Zambia today, the result of a confluence of factors that make girls particularly vulnerable. Girls can be removed from school to work, while parents spend more time away working longer hours and searching for better jobs. Children can be left alone and unprotected. Some are even forced into prostitution to help support their families or themselves if they are living on the street.
Upon arrival, Fidus led Joy and Priscilla through the process. Priscilla received a full medical exam, during which she was diagnosed with syphilis. Using a rapid HIV test that was administered immediately by the centre’s doctor, Priscilla tested negative for HIV. On the spot, Priscilla was given antibiotics to treat syphilis. She and her mother were also given the opportunity to meet with an onsite police woman from the Lusaka Victim Support Unit.
There is always an officer based here for taking reports and following up with victims for statements and case updates. “We are supporting the replication of centres like the UTH One-Stop Centre all across Zambia,” says Annie Sampa-Kamwendo, UNICEF Project Officer for Child Protection. “Centres like this truly make a difference to children like Priscilla who come in and get direct support and to those who will hopefully be spared abuse and violence thanks to the work of the centre’s advocates and our partners. The goal is to prevent abuse and to create a more protective environment for Zambia’s children and women.”
*Names changed to protect privacy.