By Byron Mutingwende
Eight-year-old Tambudzai Mashereni (not real name) struggled to carry a 20-litre bucket of water that her stepmother put on her head. The borehole is a kilometre away. She just found herself in that painful situation and knew from the treatment that the woman who made her do back-breaking work was not her real mother.
“Charlene is at school. Auntie told me to help her with the work at home. We are in the same class with Charlene. I am the only one who goes to school barefooted but Charlene has many pairs of school-shoes. If I ask to wear some of her shoes, auntie beats me up,” Tambudzai narrates as she struggles to balance the bucket on her head.
Tambudzai’s mother succumbed to AIDS when she was two years old. The mother had divorced her father and had turned into prostitution, leaving her daughter to stay with the father who later married another wife.
A neighbour revealed that Tambudzai and her elder sister were forced to work the fields long hours that their age mates could not fathom. Their father was a long-distance truck driver who plied the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)-Durban route. As a result, he spent most of his time away from home. In his absence, the auntie would subject the two siblings to verbal and physical abuse.
“At one time, Tambudzai was falsely accused of stealing $10 by her aunt. She was tied to a guava tree and larruped severely using some cans. She had lacerations all over her body. She was later saved by neighbours who restrained the agitated stepmother,” said a man identified as John, the Masherenis’ neighbour.
On 1 November 2017, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report revealed that some staggering numbers of children – some as young as 12 months old – were experiencing violence, often by those entrusted to take care of them.
“The harm inflicted on children around the world is truly worrying,” said UNICEF Chief of Child Protection Cornelius Williams. “Babies slapped in the face; girls and boys forced into sexual acts; adolescents murdered in their communities – violence against children spares no one and knows no boundaries.”
The A Familiar Face: Violence in the lives of children and adolescents Report uses the very latest data to show that children experience violence across all stages of childhood and in all settings
At an event held at UNICEF in Harare today, Government, partners and donors called upon all members of society to pay an active role in protecting children against violence, especially within the homes.
The Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Acting Director, Mr. Sneddon Soko applauded the Government’s partnership with UNICEF in fighting Violence Against Children.
“Zimbabwe has taken great strides in the fight against Violence Against Children by carrying out key research to understand the root causes and manifestations of Violence Aganst Children and identifying elements on how to tackle these issues especially in the homes,” Soko said.
Chief Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe of the Judicial Services Commission lamented the rise of sexual abuse cases around the country.
“The worrisome thing is that according to our statistics, 60% of these cases are being perpetrated by people known to the survivors. Most of these incidents are happening in our homes which have always been perceived to be safe havens for our children,” he said.
Childline Zimbabwe called upon parents and care givers to play a more active role in raising their children, as most cases of child abuse go undetected due to lack of time spent with their children.
“In this age of technology, parents need not be replaced by gadgets,” said Stella Motsi, National Director of Childline. “Parents need to pay close attention, listen actively and believe their children, because abuse may be hidden behind a familiar face.”
The Governments of Sweden the United Kingdom and Switzerland are supporting the Government of Zimbabwe through the Child Protection Fund, a multi-donor pooled fund that ensures access to child protection services including victims of violence.
“Child Rights is at the heart of everything we do,” said Maria Selin, Deputy Ambassador, and Head of Development at the Embassy of Sweden. “It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure our children are protected through evidence based interventions.
“When we read in the report that 15 million girls in the world are being abused, that is the equivalent of the entire population of Zimbabwe. That is a staggering amount,” said UNICEF Deputy Representative, Dr. Jane Muita. “It is the responsibility of you, me, and everyone here to end Violence Against Children.
Young children below the age of 12, are reported to be engaging in commercial sex work in areas like Mabvuku and Epworth in Harare. Some blame the economic hardships for such behaviour but sociologist Claudious Mararike said the development was symptomatic of a society whose moral fabric had been broken.
“Children are everyone’s responsibility. When we were growing up, adults made sure that any children found in compromising position were counselled or reprimanded. It’s wrong to blame economic hardships for allowing social evils like child commercial sex work. The Constitution is clear on the age of sexual consent and on marriage. The long arm of the law should descent on all child rights offenders and abusers,” Mararike said.
The UNICEF Report revealed that three-quarters of the world’s 2- to 4-year-old children – around 300 million – experience psychological aggression and/or physical punishment by their caregivers at home. It adds that round 6 in 10 one year olds in 30 countries with available data are subjected to violent discipline on a regular basis. Nearly a quarter of one-year-olds are physically shaken as punishment and nearly 1 in 10 are hit or slapped on the face, head or ears. Worldwide, 1 in 4 children under age five – 176 million – are living with a mother who is a victim of intimate partner violence.
On sexual violence against girls and boys the report says worldwide, around 15 million adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts in their lifetime.
“Only 1 per cent of adolescent girls who had experienced sexual violence said they reached out for professional help. In the 28 countries with data, 90 per cent of adolescent girls who had experienced forced sex, on average, said the perpetrator of the first incident was known to them. Data from six countries reveals friends, classmates and partners were among the most frequently cited perpetrators of sexual violence against adolescent boys.”