Community systems and practices to prevent and respond to violence against children in Uganda : children’s perceptions and lived experiences
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Wamimbi, Richard Wotti
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Violence Against Children (VAC) is a growing public health and social development problem recognized globally and specifically in Uganda. The general research objective of this study was to examine how the community formal and non-formal systems and practices are functioning to prevent and respond to Violence against Children in Uganda, based on the lived experiences and perceptions of children. The study adapted a Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology of social inquiry that produced unique, in-depth, multi- faceted investigation of the phenomena and allowed for knowledge integration and personal understanding of individuals and society. The study focused on a general epistemology of the lived experiences of children, most especially girls, that allowed us to learn more about the inward and outward consciousness of children based on memory, image and meaning in understanding children’s perceptions in preventing and responding to violence. The study was conducted in Nabukalu community, Bugiri District in Eastern Uganda. A total of 140 respondents who included children ages 12 to17 years of age and adults (protection committees, civil society agencies engaged in child protection work and local government authorities) participated in the study. Findings indicate that the forms of violence that were predominant in this community include: child marriages, child labour; sexual abuse, defilement, child neglect and child sacrifice/murder for ritual purposes. While girls were found to be at more risk of defilement and child marriages, boys were more at risk of child labour and corporal punishment. Children cited the lack of basic needs such as sanitary pads for girls, food, shoes, clothing, books and decent school uniform as a predisposing factor to sexual abuse, because such needs compelled the girls to accept gifts from potential abusers. Overall, the common impacts of violence against children cutting across different ages and sexes were: emotional distress, poor performance in school, dropping out of school, injury, unwanted teenage pregnancy and child marriages. The most common risk factors identified by the children include: harmful social norms and practices (especially towards girls), domestic violence, lack of parenting and communication skills, leading to poor parenting; household poverty, leading to failure to provide basic necessities for children; child neglect and peer influence. The leading protective factors mentioned by both children and adults include presence of the Child Protection Committee (CPC), positive parenting, positive social norms and beliefs, presence of religious institutions, access to education and children’s self-protection. A majority of the children knew where to report in case of violations of their protection rights but were not satisfied with quality of services they were receiving. There is strong collaboration and coordination of child protection efforts in the community through the child protection committee, but lack of capacities and resources undermined the committees’ efforts. I recommended that capacities and interventions that will lead to positive parenting, transforming social norms, life skills for children and economic empowerment for families, among others, be strengthened to ensure that children are protected and thrive in a safe and secure environment in order for them to fulfil their rights. I contend that to achieve meaningful and sustainable outcomes to violence reduction, agencies will need to adapt integrated and comprehensive interventions in a single community based on a social ecological model as opposed to isolated and stand-alone interventions scattered in many communities with limited or no sustainable outcomes. Key words: Violence against children, Child protection, Risk factors, Protective factors, abuse, Child protection system, referral
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