Violence against children takes many forms. It can be physical, emotional, or sexual. It happens in any setting – in a child’s home, community, school, and online.
For many girls and boys, violence occurs at the hands of the people they trust – their parents or caregivers, teachers, peers, and neighbours.
The most devastating types of violence are often hidden from public view. A number of stakeholders are committed to protecting children from harm so that every child has the essential foundations for life in all its fullness.
According to recent studies, child protection is critical to achieving the fulfillment of child rights, which is the sustained well-being of children within their families and communities, especially the most vulnerable.
To achieve this, different stakeholders such as the government, civil society, cultural and religious institutions have partnered to fight against all forms of violence in schools, ending child marriage and child sacrifice.
According to the Violence Against Children (VAC) Survey Report 2018, violence against children in Uganda happens at all levels of society; in homes, schools and communities.
The survey also indicated that 35.3 per cent of girls and 16.5 per cent of boys have experienced sexual violence. At least 25 per cent of girls and 25.3 per cent of boys experience sexual abuse in childhood, with the first incident of sexual abuse occurring at or before the age of 13.
Almost half of all girls and 8.5 per cent of boys are married by 18, and there is a 24 per cent rate of teenage pregnancy rate. The survey also notes that 44.2 per cent of girls and 58.6 per cent of boys between 13 and 17 experience physical violence, while 16.3 per cent of children aged five to 14 years are engaged in child labour.
For instance, in Buikwe District, through the efforts of religious leaders changing mindsets of the community against child sacrifice, out of 15, nine children were saved from their abductors.
Some of these survived with deep body cuts and some will live with permanent disabilities. Due to this kind of partnership where all stakeholders are involved, the cases have drastically reduced and with continued effort, they will be completely wiped out.
No matter what form of violence a child is exposed to, the experience may lead to serious and lifelong consequences. Violence can result in physical injury, sexually transmitted infections, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, unplanned pregnancy, and even death.
According to a United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report released on September 24, 2020, toxic stress associated with violence in early childhood can permanently impair brain development and damage other parts of the nervous system.
Long-term behavioral impacts on children include aggressive and anti-social behaviour, substance abuse, risky sexual behaviour, and criminal behaviour. Despite these grave physical and mental health consequences, majority of victimised children never seek or receive help to recover.
What is more unfortunate is that children, who grow up with violence are more likely to re-enact it as young adults and caregivers themselves, creating a new generation of victims.
Everyone has a role to play in ending this vice because no violence against children is justifiable. All violence is preventable. If we all play a role in being intentional about issues that affect the wellbeing of a child such as child marriage, child sacrifice and violence in schools, we shall work towards eradicating child abuse of all forms and enable children enjoy life in all its fullness.
Let us not keep silent and report child abuse incidents to the nearest police station. If we get out of our comfort zones, we shall save lives and give opportunity to children to reach their full potential.
Mr Obed Byamugisha is the technical programme manager-Child Protection at World Vision Uganda