By Hadija Mwanje
The lockdown is here with us again; children are out of school for 42 days and potentially more. Children are living with adults undergoing stressful situations and are, therefore, prone to abuse. A report released by the Uganda Police in the first five months of the previous lockdown (March to July 2020), indicated that 21,000 cases of violence against children - majority of which were sexual and physical in nature - had been registered, most of which happened at home. Today, more than 15 million learners are home after government imposed another lockdown that left all schools and institutions of learning closed due to Covid-19.
Given the past lockdown experience that saw cases of violence against children increase in homes and in the communities, how do we ensure children’s safety and support them continue to learn during this lockdown period? As a country, here are a few practical things we can do to ensure safety of our children during this period.
Government should adopt a child centered approach to support children during this pandemic. Government through the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development should establish a taskforce whose role is to monitor the well-being of children at home and is formally mandated to collect data and produce regular reports to Parliament.
The Ministry of Education should be clear on how children will continue learning in case the lockdown is extended. The ministry has already highlighted that schools might reopen on July 19 with certain classes returning to school, but it did not spell out a fallback plan in case there is an extension of the lockdown. This causes panic as schools rush to cover the gaps leaving other children uncatered for.
Parents should also adopt nonviolent ways of disciplining children. They should embrace positive discipline as opposed to punishment. In hard times like these, some children may exhibit certain behaviours of anxiety, aggressiveness, anger, fear, or stubbornness. This is normal during such difficult times but be sure to support them to pull through, to calm them down if you sense trauma and avoid being harsh. Let us be more patient with children and listen more.
There is need to ensure expeditious reporting, tracking, referral, and response (RTRR) of all VAC cases. If you sense danger or abuse for any child in your community, report to the authorities or call 116 toll free number of the Ministry of Gender Labor and Social development to report the case. We all need to create awareness around preventing Violence against Children (VAC). Civil society, government and all leaders should reach out to the public with messages on VAC prevention to avoid a recurrence of what happened during the past lockdown.
It is a tough time for everyone including children, The Ministry of Health in a statement released at the end of Month of May indicated that more than 800 children had tested positive. This all drives us to the need to adopt the Child-Centered approach in battling Covid-19 with urgency. There is no doubt whatsoever that there is need for support at all levels and this comes from the decisions we take as stakeholders.