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Strategy against VACiS: A case of government intervention

Violence against children in schools (VACiS) is a serious component of the violence against children in the whole country.

Consequently, the government saw it wise to prepare a five-year National Strategic Plan on Violence Against Children in Schools (2015-2020). The strategy goes with theme: ‘All forms of violence against children in schools are unacceptable; creating safe schools is a shared responsibility’.

Here below, we give a peep into the strategy (NSP VACiS) that is a planning framework intended to guide national action in schools. Being intended as a reflection of government’s commitment to non-tolerance to violence against children, it urges local governments, ministries, departments and agencies to devise appropriate VACiS action plans, as a means to promotion of a safe learning environment for Ugandan children and youth. Such environment would ensure that learners stay in and complete school.

Teenage mothers in northern Uganda. Forced or early marriage is a form of violence against children

With clearly set measures to prevent, protect and respond to VACiS, and definite expected outcomes, the strategy sets itself five objectives:

1. Fostering positive and progressive attitudes and behaviour towards the protection of children against violence in schools.

2. Strengthening the capacity of key institutions to provide appropriate prevention and response services that address the needs and interests of children.

3. Promoting child participation and empowerment to prevent and report cases of violence in school and seek appropriate support for recovery and effective re-integration into the school system.

4. Strengthening research and knowledge management for evidence-based policy advocacy on VACiS in Uganda.

5. Strengthening coordination, collaboration and partnerships among actors in the prevention and response to VACiS.

The envisaged overall expected outcome is reduced prevalence of VACiS by

50% by 2020; to be achieved through the following specific outcomes:

1. Positive and progressive attitudes, perceptions and practices that safeguard children against violence in schools.

2. Effective and child-friendly services in place for prevention and response to VACiS.

3. Increased life skills among children to manage risks, report and seek support services.

4. Amendments to specific laws on mandatory reporting of cases of VACiS proposed to relevant authorities.

5. Effective coordination mechanism in place for the implementation of the NSP VACiS.

INTERVENTIONS

Protecting children from violence, abuse and exploitation forms safeguards for their fundamental human rights.  Whether perpetrated by teachers, non-teaching staff or fellow learners, the objective should be preventing all forms of VACiS.

This requires challenging the attitudes and behaviour which foster VACiS and intervening early to prevent the violence. Such efforts will contribute towards a community /society that believes VACiS is unacceptable and instills a sense of responsibility among children, parents, teachers and the community to take action.

This would lead to an empowered community that can protect children from acts of violence, challenge violent behaviour as well as demand for professionalism among teachers, probation and welfare officers, health workers, police and prosecutors in prevention and response to VACiS.

Strategic interventions in this respect include designing and implementing a national violence-free schools campaign for primary, secondary farms and technical schools to educate the public on children’s rights, VACiS and its impact as well as the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in preventing it; promoting and disseminating emerging good practices in preventing, protecting and responding to VACiS; and engaging with cultural institutions and leaders of communities which carry out harmful practices against children like female genital mutilation, early and forced marriages, child labour, and sexual abuse to advocate the abandonment of these practices.

CAPACITY STRENGTHENING

To achieve effective prevention and response to VACiS, key institutions mandated to address violence against children have to coordinate, cooperate and collaborate with one another in the delivery of appropriate prevention and response services.

This requires continuous capacity building and strengthening collaboration among the Education Sector, Community, Social Welfare Services, the Justice Sector (Police in particular the CFPU, SGBV and child related Offences Units and Prisons Service), Health Sector and Civil Society.

In strategic intervention terms, this will involve designing and implementing a national training programme on VACiS for all the key actors to strengthen their capacity to deliver their roles in the prevention and response to VACiS, especially the development of sector-specific training and reference materials, creation of a core team of trainers, undertaking the training for the sectors and sharing of information and developments on the subject including orienting teachers to violence-free learning methodologies.

Schools have to be equipped with facilities and resources to support the prevention and response to VACiS, and there has to be continuous technical support to the Police, Courts of Law, Health Institutions, Prisons Service, Community Development Services, Schools and Education Institutions on addressing VACiS.

Ministry of Information and other media professionals have to produce guidelines for media practitioners, including journalists in order to encourage positive and progressive media coverage of VACiS.

The National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) and the Teacher Training Colleges will need technical support to incorporate issues on violence against children in the curricula.

WHY GOVT NEEDS TO REVITALIZE PREVENTION AND RESPONSE SYSTEMS 

 

Despite Uganda having a good number of institutions, policies and laws against violence towards children, the Uganda Violence Against Children Survey 2018 report recently released by government presents worrying statistics.

Among the recommendations is reinvigoration of the government prevention and response systems.

Right from the grassroots local councils, to probation and welfare officers and community development officers at sub-county and district levels, there is police, judiciary, health facilities and schools. All these persons and institutions are expected to contribute toward prevention and mitigation of the increasing incidence of violence against children.

If all institutions play their role, a strong preventive and response system will come into place. However, people must be courageous and responsible enough to always report cases of violence, whether they are victims or witnesses.

Government bears the responsibility to create safe environments for children, youth and entire communities. This involves, in the words of the report, “focusing on hotspots where violence frequently occurs and improving the overall built environment in the communities where children live”.

Government bears the responsibility and has capability to boost rapid and guaranteed response, support and referral systems for victims such as social welfare and health facilities, besides administering justice to perpetrators.

Government also has duty to pass legislation against sexual abuse and exploitation of children, alcohol and other substances abuse, and abusive and harmful punishments by parents, guardians, neighbours or teachers. Legislation needs to be relevant to the current circumstances and enforceable. Inspectorate departments and agencies ought to be enabled to do their work, rather than being subverted with corruption.

Existing legislation regarding violence against children ought to be translated into local languages and disseminated widely so that community leaders, police, teachers, families and children are aware of them. These include the Constitution of Uganda, 1995; Domestic Violence Act, 2010; Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2009; Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2010; Children (Amendment) Act, 2016; Succession Act, 1906; Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1973; National Council for Children Act, 1996; and the ministry of Education and Sport’s ban on corporal punishment in schools.

Though the rate of reporting violence incidents is low, government still needs to strengthen referral systems, so that cases are immediately handled by competent professionals like medical doctors, psychologists and counselors, and investigators and prosecutors. 

jmusinguzi@observer.ug  

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