'It is entirely avoidable, yet leaves lasting scars': Data reveals 'unspeakable damages' caused by violence against children in Africa

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"Violence against children is directly related to poor educational outcomes, school drop-out, ill health and poor future employment prospects."
"Violence against children is directly related to poor educational outcomes, school drop-out, ill health and poor future employment prospects."

There are many complications of the pandemic, including the psychological impact of 'staying at home', the increased unemployment rate, and the escalating statistics of violence against children

In an initiative by the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), The African Partnership to End Violence against Children (APEVAC) released data revealing the "unacceptable scale" of violence against children (VAC) in South Africa. 

While the South African Sexual Offences Act is one of the strongest laws of sexual exploitation due to its comprehensive legislation covering sexual grooming and extradition of sexual offenders, 29% of the sexual offences reported to the police in 2013/2014 involved children under the age of 18 years: approximately 51 cases of child sexual victimisation per day.

Also see: The warning signs of child abuse and how to respond

'We cannot accept such suffering'

Among their many findings, the ACPF report also found a strong correlation between a country with a painful, violent past and the rate of VAC, making South Africa's statistics painfully plausible. 

  • One in three girls is sexually assaulted before they reach the age of 18, mainly in the home, by stepfathers or uncles, but also in schools.
  • End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT) characterises Kenya, Senegal, Morocco, and South Africa as emerging African hotspots for child sex tourism.

Unfortunately, the child abuse statistics for Africa as a whole weren't any more encouraging. 

  • At least 60% of boys and 51% of girls in Africa experience physical abuse. 
  • In some regions, more than eight out of ten children aged 1-14 experience violent discipline every month.
  • Africa has the highest rates of child neglect in the world: 41.8% of girls and 39.1% of boys are neglected by their caregivers.

"Vigorous action must be taken to tackle the unacceptable scourge of VAC in Africa," said Dr. Joan Nyanyuki, ACPF's Executive Director. 

"Thirty years after the African Children's Charter was adopted, African governments are still failing to protect children from violence."

"Of all the unspeakable damages suffered by of our children, violence is surely the worst, simply because it is entirely avoidable, yet leaves lasting scars," said Mrs. Graça Machel, Chair of the ACPF International Board of Trustees. 

"We cannot accept such suffering at any level of African society, as its devastating impacts on our children’s dignity, physical and mental well-being continue to rob them of their future."

"The social and economic impact on society is equally harmful," added Mrs. Machel. "Violence against children is directly related to poor educational outcomes, school drop-out, ill health and poor future employment prospects. These, in turn, reduce productivity and add massively to the cost of health and social care."

'It is the people that are supposed to protect them most'

Parent24 also spoke to Divya Naidoo, spokesperson on behalf of Save the Children South Africa, who says that the correlation between the increase in violence against children and lockdown restrictions is high. 

Naidoo stated that the lockdown, in addition to raising unemployment rates and keeping physical schools closed, caused a spike in anxiety, and frustration, therefore straining many relationships.

Naidoo says reports found that "children were feeling sad and they were feeling afraid", and compared removing a sense of structure from children to putting someone in a dark room, removing all senses of stability, understanding, and direction.

"Schools aren't just places to learn – they can be safe havens for many," says Naidoo.

Naidoo also expressed the significance of being wary of the various kinds of abuse and being critical of corporal punishment, the rate of which is as high as 56% in South Africa, as reported by the ACPF.

"Think about how normalized violence has been – this is the generation that was raised 'by the stick'," says Naidoo.

"When you get stressed quite often the immediate reaction is anger, and quite often parents turned to violence."

Naidoo emphasised the importance of looking out for signs of violence in and around our communities, reporting: "It's a statistical fact, and it continues to be, that in most cases violence against children is perpetrated by people who know them – it is the parents, it is the caregivers, it is educators, it is the people who are known to them and, sadly, it is the people that are supposed to protect them the most."

"Do we want to be a society where we just concern ourselves with ourselves or do we want to be a society that supports and helps each other?"

Also read: 'The results are incredibly detrimental': A look into the widespread issue of grooming and sexual abuse by teachers

'We lay the foundation for who they become'

Dr. Nyanyuki categorsied Africa's advances  as "uneven, fragmented, and too slow", saying: "We need more of Africa's own home-grown solutions which offer children greater protection and help to build stronger communities." 

"We must urgently address the deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes and practices which discriminate against children - especially girls"

Naidoo encourages all to be advocates and pillars of strength and guidance to victims of abuse.

"Children are right-holders and we as adults need to respect and understand that children have rights and that we raise them in awareness of their rights so in whatever we do today, we lay the foundation for who they become in the future. 

"We have a critical role as adults to be the role models. When we are people who hold these big values and demonstrate this behaviour, children should look up to us and say 'I want to be like you'"

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