In the final part of the series on child protection, Voice of America explores family violence. Margie Demonchy is UNICEF’s regional adviser for child protection for eastern and southern Africa. She spoke with Voice of America English to Africa reporter Angel Tabe about the most common forms of violence against children and how and why the children suffer, even within the family and community environment.
“In the home, school and community, corporal punishment, with many debates saying it’s the discipline that’s needed; sexual abuse, increasing with HIV/AIDS, armed conflict, and fragmentation of families, in the form of incest, rape. A lot of young people believe that forced sex with someone who’s familiar is not rape. Children having to take on adult responsibilities, where they are exploited and abused; child labor out of necessity, when survival becomes a critical issue. And then child soldiers, both boys and girls, children are very affected by violence against women in the home.”
Demonchy says although they are not interpreted as violent acts, child marriages and the spread of HIV/AIDS further aggravate the situation. “12% of pregnant women fifteen to nineteen years old, are HIV positive. You have that many in that age category because of child marriages, and children in the streets are a symptom of what’s happening at home and in the communities. In countries badly affected by HIV/AIDS, the number of orphans and child-headed households are huge and the need for survival forces them into transactional sex; girls selling themselves for the equivalent of US 40 cents, meaning they have to have a number of these transactions in order to have a meal or feed their siblings.”
Demonchy says local traditions set up to protect children have become fragmented due to societal breakdown, leaving rituals a health hazard. “Female genital mutilation is a very harmful practice, and circumcision of boys, done in a primitive way.” She says comprehensive legislation will help child protection, but that other steps need to be taken.
“There’s quite a large effort to establish social protection mechanisms and build capacities. But we have to be careful. Many young girls are fleeing their villages to avoid child marriages then finding themselves in very vulnerable situations in the streets of cities. So it takes multiple interventions to make sure there’s protection at all stages.”
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