By Kambani Phiri - World Vision Communications Officer, Zambia
In Zambia, children experience violence in a wide variety of settings, ranging from home and school to institutions. Being exposed to different types of violence, be it physical, emotional, sexual, or neglect is painful and can be traumatic.
Other child protection concerns currently being faced by children in Zambia include risk of forced or early marriage, teen pregnancy, homelessness, insufficient birth registration, risk of exploitation or abuse, risk of contracting HIV, and the prospect of losing one or both primary caregivers. Children in conflict with the law face many problems in the current application of juvenile justice provision.
Often, children are abused in the country especially in rural settings and the people responsible to protect them fail to do because of the lack of clear child protection laws.
During the World Children's Day commemorations held in Isoka District of Muchinga Province, children presented their demands to the Government through a petition. Likonge (17), a child representative, presented the petition to Muchinga Province Minister, Honourable Sichone Malozo. The child representative requested the law-makers to pass laws to protect children from child marriage and other forms of child abuse.
"Children experience a lot of violence. The sad thing is that child marriage is still rampant, robbing children of their childhood and future. Under such circumstances, it is very difficult for a child to re-imagine his or her future. Please, pass the law that bans child marriage and other forms of child abuse." says Likonge. "Our Traditional Leaders can also pass by-laws to end harmful practices that disadvantage children, especially girls, from attaining their full potential through education."
Likonge further expressed gratitude for the Government's decision to provide sanitary towels to girls in school: "We appreciate the goodwill by the Government to address issues surrounding girls by passing the law to provide sanitary towels to girls in rural areas as a way of keeping girls in school. Allow me, however, to state that not much of this goodwill is happening in our schools. We still see many girls staying away or going away from school due to the unavailability of sanitary towels." she says. "Honourable minister, each day we wake up as children, the story is about children been defiled, impregnated by their own father, uncle, grandfather, brother, cousin. The entire system fails to protect them. We do recognise there are child protection laws in this country, however, we demand enforcement of these laws and strengthening of the referral and reporting systems at the village level."
In response, the Honourable Minister of Muchinga Province Sichone Malozo, assured children that some of the challenges will be attended to before March 2021: "We are aware that COVID-19 has impacted children's lives, and in response to that, the Government of the Republic of Zambia decided to close schools to ensure the protection of children and their families. During that period when children were home, they faced numerous challenges including child abuse and sexual abuse. I would like to assure children that Government endeavours to protect them and end the discrimination they face in their communities." said Hon. Malozo. "I like one part where you have demanded that you want to see action before the commemoration of the 2021 Youth Day on 12th March. I am also committing myself that the petition will be delivered to the office of the President so that the issues presented can be addressed. The petition has tangible and valid points and I am also promising that some of the items in the petition will be addressed before Youth Day celebrations on 12th March 2021 as you demanded in the petition."
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Zambia Country Representative Noala Skinner called for inclusive participation of girls and boys in finding solutions to their problems: "World Children's Day is for every child, no boy, no girl should be left behind. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a global impact severely affecting the lives of children. Impacting their livelihood, their education, social life. We are doing what we can to safeguard the progress scored so far. Indeed we have to re-imagine a future for the children that is bolder and wider to build better programmes for protection. Through this event, children's voices are given prominence for them to present issues like education and unemployment, which affect them. We must take this opportunity to invest in their futures for a better tomorrow and together we can re-imagine a future all children. The United Nations family and UNICEF, aims at ensuring that every child enjoys their rights."
Speaking at the same event, World Vision Zambia Board Chairperson Mr. Malcolm Chabala said: "World Vision is committed to ensuring that children have a transformed life. We drilled 73 boreholes to provide safe clean water, and we have built two maternity wings and a mothers' shelter in one of the health centres to reduce maternal and child mortality rates, as well as training community volunteers on the preparation of nutritious meals for children to end malnutrition. We have constructed VIP latrines in eight schools and also put up classrooms blocks in the catchment areas to keep children, especially girls in school, and also end child marriages. During COVID-19, we've distributed hygiene and sanitation materials to 26 schools and clinics with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to ensure that 4,700 children registered [under World Vision's sponsorship programme] and others are protected from the virus."
The government of the Republic of Zambia, in collaboration with the United Nations in Zambia, UNICEF, World Vision, and other organisations, commemorated World Children's Day in Isoka District of Muchinga Province. The event was attended by over 120 children from schools around Isoka District, Government officials, and representatives from UNICEF Zambia and World Vision, among others.