ZET Blog: Child Abuse and Child Protection in Zimbabwe

Our longest-standing partner, Trinity Project, has recently expanded their work to focus on all aspects of child rights and child protection, beyond just access to legal identity documents. This involves a number of new exciting projects aimed at: improving and increasing children’s services and programmes in Zimbabwe; improving children and their families’ awareness of children’s rights and needs; and supporting children through individual legal, practical or emotional challenges.

This change arose from project officers seeing the need on the ground and being compelled to do more to support children in need. Common challenges for children included a lack of access to healthcare, education or social services – leaving them vulnerable to disease, abuse, malnutrition and often unable to complete education, raise an income or escape the traps of poverty.

A recent study, funded by UNICEF and run by the University of Edinburgh, looked into the prevalence of child abuse in Zimbabwe. The study (Fry, 2016), found that physical, emotional and sexual abuse were extremely common among young people in Zimbabwe and recommended that child protection was put at the forefront of government policy and civil society priorities. Some of the findings are listed below:

• “Physical violence is the most common type of violence experienced during childhood among respondents aged 18-24. About two thirds of females and three quarters of males had experienced physical violence by a parent or adult relative before the age of 18 (63.9 per cent and 76 per cent, respectively). Respondents also reported experiencing different forms of emotional violence as children. A total of 12.6 per cent of females and 26.4 per cent of males had been humiliated in front of others before the age of 18, and 17.3 per cent of females and 17.5 per cent of males had been made to feel unwanted” (Fry, 2016)

• “Sexual violence during childhood was more common among girls than among boys. One in five girls aged 18-24 had experienced unwanted sexual touching before the age of 18 (20.2 per cent) compared to 5.6 per cent of boys. A total of 15 per cent of girls had experienced attempted sex (3.8 per cent for boys), 9 per cent experienced physically forced sex (0.4 per cent for boys) and 7.4 per cent had experienced pressured sex (1.4 per cent for boys)” (Fry, 2016)

• “After controlling for age and socio-economic status in the regression models, the significant risk factors for experiencing violence varied for boys and girls depending on the type of abuse they experienced. One risk factor that was common for both boys and girls across all types of violence was having early childhood experiences (before the age of 13 years old) of abuse, thus highlighting the importance of early intervention” (Fry, 2016)

• “There are very few national studies on emotional, sexual or physical violence against children in sub-Saharan Africa, and there are no empirical studies published in Zimbabwe on emotional violence. Nurturing environments that foster successful development are critical to children’s well-being. Understanding what creates negative interactions within the peer or family context is essential for violence prevention. This secondary analysis provides, for the first time, comparable national population-based estimates that describe the nature and magnitude of violence against children in Zimbabwe” (Fry, 2016)

• “All forms of violence against children place a significant burden on children and young adult’s health and well-being. Emotional abuse is associated with increased suicide attempts for both boys and girls, and sexual violence was associated with reported lifetime experiences of suicide ideation, unwanted pregnancy and alcohol use among both girls and boys and smoking among boys, and other health outcomes” (Fry, 2016)

Unsurprisingly, the study concluded that increased levels of early abuse would hamper a child’s development, causing them mental and emotional harm and often leading them to display unusual behaviours in adulthood – either replicating abusive behaviours or exhibiting deviant beliefs and behaviours towards themselves and others.

Trinity Project now works to provide emotional and practical support for children through weekly workshops, teaching them about child abuse, their rights, and how to get help. It also works directly with parents and communities about types of abuse, how to recognise abuse, and the importance of not practicing abusive behaviours.
By creating early warning systems, safe spaces and awareness, Trinity helps the children of Bulawayo and Matabeleland to identify and protect against child abuse and other child protection issues. This makes us a pioneer of UNICEF’s recommended best practice in Zimbabwe, mainstreaming child protection as a means to empower and support children.

Written by Hannah O’Riordan, ZET Operations Manager

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