Child-friendly centres encourage sexual abuse reporting
World Vision has made things easier for us as police and the community by providing Child Friendly Centres. More people, especially the children, are now reporting abuse issues including sexual abuse. - Police Sergeant Thandazile Mafu
Mafu, pictured above inside the centre, is a police officer based in Lubulini, Eswatini under the Domestic Violence and Child Protection Unit. This community has been suffering from all forms of abuse, including sexual abuse of children. Reporting was very minimal. Many considered abuse shameful, and families were not ready to face it. Some offences were happening in schools but never reported, and those reported at home were not reported to the police. One of the major barriers to reporting abuse was the very public nature of reporting it to police.
Previously, sexual abuse survivors were forced to report over the counter in the reception area, even if the reception was full of people. According to Mafu, this was incredibly embarrassing, especially since people within the reception would sometimes harass the survivor with inappropriate and abusive comments. She said some of the survivors would have to stay in the reception area with torn or bloodied clothes, creating significant emotional harm. Sometimes even the police officers would mistreat the victims if the survivor’s dress code seemed indecent to them.
“In some cases, the way we were handling the sexual abuse cases in the police stations were so embarrassing to the survivor, and there was no confidentiality. Some survivors ended up withdrawing. Since World Vision came up with this campaign and capacitated police and further provided child-friendly spaces, more people have gained faith. As a result, more cases are being reported now,” Mafu stated.
Providing child friendly centres
World Vision and other partners advocated for the privacy of the survivors, but unfortunately the government did not have the financial means to provide friendly reporting spaces within the police service. It was then that World Vision, through the campaign “It Takes Eswatini to End Sexual Violence,” identified some police stations to provide with these much-needed centres.
Currently 12 centres have been provided in the country, fully fitted with furniture for the Desk Officers and child-friendly furniture. World Vision further provided wall art, colouring books, crayons, and dolls. In some centres, World Vision has also provided clothes that can be given to survivors when they come to report abuse and must leave their clothes with the police to be presented as evidence during the trial.
The partnership between World Vision and Eswatini’s Police Service has also further empowered communities. World Vision mobilizes communities and engages police, to educate them on issues related to abuse, including the provisions of the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence (SODV) Act of 2018 and other related legislation that protects children and adults in the country.
The Lubulini Police have now taken their work a step further, and routinely visit all the churches in the area, educating the congregations about abuse in a drive to reach more people.
The National Commissioner for Police, William Dlamini, when officially opening one of the centres in Nhlangano, applauded World Vision for providing these much-needed centres. According to the Commissioner, their service standard has improved, and now more perpetrators have been arrested and prosecuted since more survivors were reporting on time.
We have more to do
Currently one in three girls will have experienced some form of sexual abuse by the age of 18 in the country of Eswatini, according to a national study on the drivers of violence conducted in 2016. A further 48% of women report having experienced some form of sexual violence during their lives.
World Vision Advocacy and External Engagement Team Leader Sakhile Dlamini stated that as World Vision and its partners began raising awareness on sexual abuse and other sensitive issues, more people started to report, but the service delivery from the police was not satisfactory and people were complaining.
“Through our partnership with police, we discovered that we needed adaptive facilities and trained police officers that would bring back confidence to the survivors. Hence the police were trained on the existing laws and how to handle survivors. As an organization we need the right numbers of abuse, which is informed by the reported cases to influence our programming. These numbers will also inform the government on the magnitude of the problem,” Sakhile said.
Worldwide, up to 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed on girls younger than 16. Almost a quarter of all trafficking victims around the world are girls, and the majority of them are trafficked for sexual exploitation. We provide child survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse with shelter and help them heal and return to family and community life. We also train police personnel to address sexual crimes against children. We work with children, faith actors, media, and the general population to challenge the social norms that condone sexual violence against children and against girls in particular.