“You are stupid! Why do you keep failing, yet, your friends are performing well in the class,” shouted a furious Athieno at her eight-year-old son, Opio.
Athieno, a single mother of two, was angry because her son had failed the recently concluded school second term final examinations.
“Is there porridge inside your brain?” she yelled louder while pushing Opio’s head against the wall.
The frightened youngster retreated to a corner and wept quietly.
Opio is not alone. There are many children like him who are continuously subjected to emotional abuse while others face physcial and sexual violence.
Emotional violence is a form of abuse that damages a child’s psychological or mental health. On the other hand, physical violence involves using “physical” force, including beating, kicking and slapping to inflict harm on a child while sexual violence involves the use of children for sex.
The shocking statistics
The Uganda violence against children survey report released on August 9 shows that three in four children in Uganda have experienced some form of violence. Among the three primary forms of violence surveyed sexual, physical and emotional. One in three children have experienced at least two of these.
According to the report, the most frequent perpetrators of sexual violence among 13 to 17 year olds girls were neighbours, strangers and friends. On the other hand, boys aged 13 to 24 years reported friends, classmates, and neighbours as the most frequent perpetrators of sexual violence.
Both sexes frequently experienced sexual violence during evening hours on a road, in their respective homes or at school.
Meanwhile, for 13 to 17 year old Ugandans, adults in the community were the most common perpetrators of physical violence in 2017, with male teachers being by far the most frequent offenders of physical violence against both boys and girls.
Then, for emotional violence, the most common perpetrators against 13 to 17 year olds were biological and stepparents.
Effects of violence against children
These violent actions directed towards children affect them in one way or another.
In some cases, the vice creates a continuous vicious cycle of violence, where childhood survivors turn into adult perpetrators of the vice.
“These children end up growing with a fixated mentality that it is okay to commit violence. They repeat the same offences that were inflicted on them during their childhood,” says Mr Peter Mugabi, a psychologist.
No wonder, the survey reveals that half of all 18 to 24 year olds believe it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife. Still, among 18 to 24 year olds, six in 10 believe a wife should tolerate violence in order to keep the family together.
Mr Mugabi adds that violence against children causes other effects, including loss of esteem or confidence, isolation, poor performance in school, among others. And in worst case scenarios, some of these children run away from their respective homes to seek shelter on the streets.
“Some of these children you see begging and seeking shelter on the streets deserted their homes due to violence,” he says.
The sad bit is that even on the streets, these children are continuously mistreated by different parties.
A 2014 Human Rights Watch report revealed violations against street children by police and local government officials, as well as abuses by members of the community and older homeless children and adults.
According to the report, there is a widespread belief that street children are all criminals and are often the first suspects, for instance, when theft is committed. In the end, they expressed fear of the authorities and a total lack of protection on the streets.
What can be done to curb the vice?
During a panel discussion during the launch of the Uganda violence against children survey in Kampala on August 9, Ms Harriet Akullu, a child protection specialist at United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), noted that just because an intervention has worked in other countries, it does not necessarily mean that it is also going to work in Uganda.
However, she noted that if Uganda can consistently implement its resources, laws, and policies, alongside engaging members of its communities by pronouncing violence against children as a shameful act, then, there is a huge potential of reducing the vice.
“If we address the very core problem and invest in a systems approach, we will be moving towards a sustainable way of ending violence against children in our country,” Ms Akullu said.
Mr Timothy Opodo, a child protection manager at ChildFund International, said the reality on ground is that the foot soldiers, who are supposed to be at the forefront of addressing child-related issues are inadequately funded.
“We are not going to be able to see meaningful change without resource allocation to address these issues,” Mr Opodo said.
In 2014, Unicef in partnership with Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, launched SAUTI 116, a toll free helpline that members of the public can use to report forms of violence and abuse against children.