DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (Thomson Reuters Foundation)--Despite the prevailing social stigma, Zainabu was bold enough to lodge a formal complaint of physical and sexual abuse by her employer for whom the teenager worked as a maid.
In a bid to protect children like Zainabu from physical, sexual and emotional abuse, Tanzania in January launched a three-year, $2.4 million initiative to curb violence against children.
Although studies show that most children in Tanzania do not report abuse, Zainabu, with the help of a sympathetic neighbor, reported her problem in January to the Gender and Children’s Desk at the suburban Kimara police station. “He would come home drunk and touch my breasts,” she said of her former employer, adding that “his wife accused me of stealing money and hit me with a club.”
Zainabu, who just turned 17, has since quit her job and asked that her full name not be used. She is staying at a neighbour’s house while waiting for paralegals from the Kimara Gender and Children’s Desk to prepare legal grounds for criminal charges against her former employer.
Zainabu was only 15 when she came to Dar es Salaam to work as a maid. A village girl on her first visit to the city, she knew nothing about what life as a maid might entail.
“The lady who came to pick me up told me that I would be staying with very nice people and that my only job would be to look after the baby, but when we arrived things were different,” she said.
Instead, Zainabu said, throughout the time she worked as a maid she was made to do all domestic chores without pay. “I was the first one to wake up every day and the last to go to bed,” she said.
According to the Tanzania Violence Against Children Study released jointly by the government and UNICEF in 2011, one in three girls and one in seven boys in the country have experienced sexual violence before the age of eighteen.
The study, which contains the most recent data available, indicated that rates of physical violence are high with nearly three out of four boys and girls reporting they were whipped, punched or kicked by an adult in their childhood. A quarter of them said they had been emotionally abused.
The survey also found that of those who had sex before they turned 18, 29.1% of females and 17.5% of males reported that their first encounter was unwilling.
The new initiative, supported the European Union (EU), is aimed at strengthening structures and systems at the local level for the detection, prevention and rehabilitation of children, especially girls, who are at risk of violence.
The project targets 581,163 children and 568,855 parents, caregivers and community members in four Tanzania districts.
During a ceremony to launch the initiative, Tanzania Minister for Health and Social Welfare Seif Rashid said that violence against children is a serious problem which requires resources to prevent and respond to aggression.
"When looking at the rates of violence evidenced here in Tanzania, and if no action is taken, these result in serious social and economic costs for the country due to lost potential," he said, adding that the rates are unacceptably high and the resources to prevent and respond to the cases are limited.
Rashid said the project will help in raising awareness, imparting knowledge and changing attitudes about violence against children, including harmful traditions.
The minister said the government is striving to create better child protection and counseling centres at Police Gender Desks and in courts.
Christine Onyango, the national coordinator of Police Gender Desks, told Thomson Reuters Foundation that her department is already receiving cases of children who have experienced different forms of violence, most of them sexual abuse against girls.
“Our desks are basically dealing with women and children who suffer humiliation in the society. We do our very best to offer counseling and speedy legal help countrywide,” she said.
Run by the Tanzania government in collaboration with Plan Tanzania, Save the Children and UNICEF, the initiative also aims to set up child protection mechanisms and capacity building in schools to create safe learning environments.
According to the Health Minister, district social welfare officers will receive special training to identify violence against children and impart skills and knowledge to teachers and students in public schools through lectures, discussion groups and drama. The officers will routinely visit public schools to raise awareness about the problem.
In an interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation, Onesmo Olengurumwa, a children’s rights activist with Tanzania Human rights Defenders Coalition, said child abuse is a growing human rights violation in Tanzania that need a holistic approach. He observed that such projects must reach a wider audience because the perpetrators are often the ones entrusted to protect children.
“Most people who abuse children are parents themselves and close relatives. We need projects that reach all responsible groups for child protections not just four districts, it won’t help anything,” he said
Speaking at the launching ceremony the EU Head of Cooperation to Tanzania Eric Beaume said the project will support comprehensive and integrated services to curb violence against children.
Steve Thorne, country director for Save the Children International, said,“The state bears the primary responsibility for preventing and responding to violence against children and for upholding the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other treaties, which guarantee girls and boys everywhere the right to live their lives free from violence.”