The role child survivors of violence play in ending abuse

Friday October 5 2018

Standing tall.  Ms Aisha Nabukeera (right)

Standing tall. Ms Aisha Nabukeera (right) receives the Special Courageous Achievement award from Diva Awards in 2015. She has used her troubled childhood to create awareness about child abuse in Uganda. FILE PHOTOS 

By Esther Oluka

When Aisha Nabukeera’s ordeal first came to light in 2006, it gathered massive public interest and outcry.
The 12-year-old girl at the time was nursing serious burns that had been inflicted upon her by the stepmother.

Earlier, Nabukeera had been forced to wear a dress that smelt of paraffin. Then, her stepmother instructed her to light a lamp. In so doing, the dress caught fire, leaving her with serious injuries.
It’s been 13 years since the incident. Nabukeera now uses her story for condemning acts of violence against children.

“I have been sharing my story for the previous years as a way of inspiring other children who have also suffered abuse. It’s a way of telling them that the incurred scars from abuse should not define them. There is always a bright future ahead,” Nabukeera says.
In addition, Nabukeera says by often sharing her story, she is showing how perpetrators destroy lives of children.

“It’s a way of frequently reminding them that abusing children is wrong and therefore, they should stop it,” she says.
Despite the abuse she was subjected to, Nabukeera persevered and went back to school. In fact, she graduated this year from Uganda Christian University (UCU) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work and Social Administration.

Why stories of survivors are important?
Peter Bahemuka, a senior programme officer at Raising Voices, a non-profit organisation that prevents violence against children and women in Kampala says there is no problem with children opening up and sharing their stories of abuse.

“These stories can inspire actions and reactions from duty bearers and other people concerned,” Bahemuka says.
However, Bahemuka emphasises that while doing so, these children’s dignity and identity should be protected.

“Too much exposure may affect how they eventually relate in society. We need to be careful how we package stories of children who have suffered abuse,” he says.
Among other reasons on why stories of survivors are important, Helen Grace Namulwana, the executive director at Amora Africa Ltd, a non-profit organisation in Bukoto- Kamwokya that advocates for children’s rights, says such stories easily grip people’s attention and pass on lessons to other members in society.

“By the time a child who has survived abuse comes out to share their story, they speak out from an informed point of view because they are speaking from experience. Because such children know what they are talking about, their narratives are more appealing and credible. Their stories easily grip people’s attention,” Namulwana says.
In the long run, people easily pay close attention to what these children are saying and will draw lessons from their experiences.
On the same note, Dr Eddy Walakira, an associate professor in child studies at Makerere University, department of social work and social administration, says the rate of reporting cases of abuse is very low in the country.

However, when child survivors start coming out to talk about their abuse, it increases chances of more cases being reported.
“The more these children come out to share their ordeals, the more action is taken. The perpetrators will be exposed and different parties including police, child activists, media and even governments may pick interest in the case,” says Dr Walakira.

Also, by survivors coming out to share their stories, they open doors for others to also share their ordeals.
“They break fear and sort of pave way for others to talk,” he adds.
It is not a recommendable practice for children to keep quiet with their problems.

“When children talk about their issues or troubles, it becomes less haunting for them. It is a way of releasing their anger and emotions. In the end, they begin to heal from the abuse they encountered,” Dr Walakira notes.
He empahises the fact that a problem shared is a problem half-solved.
According to a 2012 United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) article titled, ‘Caring for child survivors of sexual abuse: Guidelines for health and psychosocial providers in humanitarian settings’, children may need care arrangements, legal (justice) needs, protection interventions as well as the need to understand their feelings about abuse and how to cope with post-traumatic stress symptoms including flashbacks of abuse and obsessive thoughts of abuse.

Similarly, Dr Walakira says if there are no effective rehabilitation services for children who have suffered abuse, there are always tendencies of them processing what they went through and later reproducing a related abuse during their adult years.
“If a child is subjected to any form of abuse and is not accorded help, they get affected in one way or another,” he says.
Dr Walakira notes that it is therefore important that parents, care-takers and other members of the community create an environment geared towards providing healing for the victims of abuse.

The statistics
Three in four young adults in Uganda have experienced some form of violence during their childhood, according to Uganda violence against children survey report released on August 9. Among the three primary forms of violence surveyed; sexual, physical and emotional, one in three children have experienced at least two of these.

Reporting this feature was supported by Unicef