An op-ed by Ambassador Deborah Malac | December 10, 2019
Today is Human Rights Day and the final day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. It’s a day to remind us that everyone must play a vital role in championing human rights and protecting those in need.
Children are the most vulnerable among us, completely dependent on others for their needs and protection. This makes children the most likely to suffer violence and human rights abuses, often at the hands of those on whom they depend the most.
Uganda has an appallingly high incidence rate of violence against children. The Uganda Violence Against Children Survey (UVAC 2015) found that 75 percent of Ugandan children experience some form of violence during childhood. Research shows that the bulk of this violence is occurring in places that should be safe and committed by people like parents/relatives, teachers, friends, and trusted community leaders who those children should be able to trust most.
The violence occurs in homes, schools, and within the community. According to the UVAC 2015, the most common perpetrators of physical violence toward children were relatives or adult caregivers, and 43.5 percent of girls and 48.5 percent of boys in Uganda experienced this violence. According to a 2012 Uganda Ministry of Education and Sports study, 77.7 percent of children in primary schools in Uganda reported that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault while in school.
In theory, changing this in Uganda and globally should be easy. Don’t physically harm your children. Protect their bodies from sexual violation. Teach them their rights and how to protect themselves. Children, however, only know what they have experienced, and the real struggle lies in the fact that abuse is often a cycle. When this cycle carries on for generations, violence and abuse becomes normalized.
With 75 percent of Ugandan children experiencing violence during childhood and 50 percent of males and females believing it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife (UVAC 2015), one might conclude that violence has become culturally normalized in Uganda. Laws giving children the right to protection, prohibiting the physical punishment of learners, and making sexual abuse and indecent assault against children criminal offences will not change this alone.
As President Museveni recently said: “As a priority our prevention efforts should focus on eliminating traditions and practices that promote HIV transmission such as widow inheritance, polygamy, wife-sharing and others which are high risk factors in HIV transmission.” Ending child marriage and other harmful practices must also be a priority for the elimination of violence and abuse of women and children.
Governments must actively enforce the laws, holding perpetrators of violence accountable and punishing them to the fullest extent of the law. Individuals, community members, parents, and teachers must help the government to do this by reporting and seeking help for all violent acts against any child. Parents need to be examples and stop any and all violence in the home, even when not directed at a child. Women cannot make the changes at home and in society alone. Men must take an active role in this cultural shift by teaching their boys that girls and women hold as much value as boys do, and that the use of violence is never acceptable in any circumstance. Teach children their rights, how to say “no”, how to protect their bodies, how to report and seek help from trusted adults, and, in Uganda, how to use the 116 Uganda Child Help Line.
When violence does happen, health and psychosocial services must be sought and received. Recovery from violence and the ability to move on as a survivor is dependent on receiving support from professionals, as well as friends and family. A victim is never at fault and shaming a victim only increases the damage. We must stand with them, support them, and help them become survivors.
Uganda’s population is among the youngest in the world, with 55 percent of its population under the age of 18. The children of Uganda are this country’s future….value, protect and nourish them!