The Sanctioned Emotional, Physical and Sexual Abuse of Children in Tanzania - Part 1 - Papers & Essays



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The Sanctioned Emotional, Physical and Sexual Abuse of Children in Tanzania - Part 1


Recent studies conducted in Tanzania have revealed that sexual, physical and emotional abuses are commonly experienced by large numbers of children growing up in the country. According to UNICEF’s survey report on violence against children in Tanzania (UNICEF Tanzania, 2011), among every ten females, three reported to have experienced sexual violence before they were 18 whereas among every twenty boys, three reported a similar experience before they were 18 as well.

Reports have also indicated that perpetrators of such violence are often very close to the children and known to both the children and the general society. However, there is maintenance of high levels of silence surrounding such acts of violence against children.
This paper uses a selection of cases of sexual, emotional and physical abuses against children from Tanzania to create a deeper understanding of child abuse issues. The paper offers definitions of various child abuse concepts; reviews literature, reported cases and a personal experience of emotional, physical and sexual related abuses that children in Tanzania are facing.

Finally, after analysing how the concept and form of child protection and context of child abuses developed, this paper establishes the presence of rampant abuse of children in Tanzanian society and a continuous high level of silence on this matter. Taboo surrounding sexual subjects, bad traditions and customs in raising children, ignorance on child rights and lack of effective policies are identified as major contributing factors that have led to a society that tolerates these forms of abuse to children.

The Sanctioned Emotional, Physical and Sexual Abuse of Chidren in Tanzania

  • Part1 (This paper)
  • Part2

Ⅰ. Introduction

The post-independence period has seen most African countries including Tanzania putting substantial efforts into programs that target children. Most of these programs have succeeded in promoting child survival, increased access to education and the basic social needs of children. These efforts to address the needs of children, however, have not gone beyond the health and economic challenges that children face to effectively protect them from the emotional, physical and sexual abuse that is rampant in society.

According to the UNICEF survey report on violence against children in Tanzania, for every ten females, three reported having experienced sexual violence before they were 18. For every twenty boys, three reported a similar experience before they were 18 as well (UNICEF Tanzania, 2011). In the preface of this report, Tanzania's Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children states:

"The results of this study which you are about to read indicate that sexual, physical and emotional violence are common among children growing up in Tanzania, and the perpetrators of this violence are often near and known to the children" (UNICEF Tanzania, 2011).

This paper reviews the literature, reported cases and personal experience of emotional, physical and sexual related abuse that children in Tanzania are facing. The study analyses the development of the concept of child protection and studies the form and context of these types of abuse. This paper establishes that there is rampant abuse of children in Tanzanian society and a high level of silence on this matter has been maintained. The taboo surrounding the subject of sex, bad traditions and customs in raising children, ignorance of child rights and the lack of effective policies are identified as major contributing factors that have led to a society that tolerates these forms of abuse to children.

Ⅱ. Child Protection: Development of the Concept

An understanding of what the concept of child protection entails is critical to be able to appropriately engage in further discussion or child protection activity. Thus, in this section a brief historical review of the concept is presented. This paper adopts UNICEF's definition of child protection as stipulated in its Child Protection Manual and which refers to protection of children as averting them from both deliberate and unintended violence:

"A broad term to describe philosophies, policies, standards, guidelines and procedures to protect children from both intentional and unintentional harm" (UNICEF, 2013).

International effort on child protection at a global level shows a varied historical pattern. Myers (2010) looks at child protection in America in three phases. The first phase is a time before formal child protection initiatives were begun in 1875 after the formation of New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC), the first organization in the world to be formed with its entire focus on child protection; the second phase is the period between 1875 and 1962, and the last is the current phase or modern phase that can be traced back to 1962.

"Prior to 1875, many children went without protection, although there was never a time when children were completely bereft of assistance. Criminal prosecution has long been used to punish egregious abuse. In 1809, for example, a New York shopkeeper was convicted for sadistically assaulting his slave and her 3-year-old daughter" (Myers 2010, P.3).

According to Batty (2004) child protection timeline in Britain dates back to 1889 when British parliament passed "children's charter" and marked the beginning of legal intervention in order to protect children.

"The first act of parliament for the prevention of cruelty to children, commonly known as "children's charter" was passed. This enabled British law to intervene, for the first time, in relations between parents and children. Police could arrest anyone found ill-treating a child and obtain warrant to enter a home if a child was thought to be in danger. The act also included guidelines on the employment of children and outlawed begging" (Batty, 2004).

According to Forgaty (2008), whereas child protection in Australian society can be tracked back to a long history, current child protection conditions have only been there for a couple of decades.

"Child protection has both a short and a long history. With early roots in the animal welfare movement of the 19th century, the modern child protection system has really only developed in the past 30 years" (Forgaty 2008, p.52).

Children's Rights Portal (2013) reports that it was the revulsion of the First World War that triggered the idea that a child needs distinctive safeguards. Consequently Save the Children Fund was formed in London in 1919. This organization, working closely with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) managed to structure itself around International Save the Children Union and developed a draft of a document spelling out child rights. This initial document of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted by the fourth General Assembly in 1923 and later adopted in 1924 by the League of Nations which entitled it "Geneva Declaration."

"In 1924, the League of Nations (LON) adopted the Geneva Declaration, a historic document that recognized and affirmed for the first time the existence of rights specific to children and the responsibility of adults towards children" (Children's Rights Portal, 2013).

Since the Geneva Declaration there has been a continued effort to promote child protection. After the Second World War, the United Nations formed the United Nation's Children Fund (UNICEF) in response to the challenging conditions that children in Europe were facing: "After World War II, European children face famine and disease. UNICEF is created in December 1946 by the United Nations to provide food, clothing and health care to them". (UNICEF 2013 B)

UNICEF later became a permanent body of the United Nations and expanded its work all around the world providing child protection in various ways mainly through health care and education programs.

Over the years there have been many other players in the field of child protection. Among major players are individual countries, international organizations and lately there have been increased local civil society led initiatives. One example of the continued effort to protect children is demonstrated by an international NGO Save the Children. In 2009 Save the Children launched an outstanding child protection initiative.

"The Child Protection Initiative (CPI) constitutes a unique opportunity for Save the Children to make a significant difference in promoting, protecting and fulfilling children's rights to protection from abuse, neglect, exploitation and other forms of violence as expressed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the child. By 2015, the initiative aims at having reached 20-25 million children and adults with its effort to make reality of children's right to protection" (Save the Children, 2013).

Individual countries have also scaled up efforts in child protection year after year. The United States of America for example, has maintained a specific focus and priority on child protection when giving aid to African countries. The US Congress established the Child Survival and Disease Program Fund which was later renamed Child Survival and Health Program Fund (CHS) and more recently replaced by Global Health and Child Survival (Dagne, 2011).

The quality of life of children has certainly improved in response to all these initiatives. In Tanzania, international and local non-governmental organizations, foreign governments and Tanzania government and civil society are active and the difference it has been making is clear. The success of child survival programs can easily be shown by statistical information that is available indicating reduction in maternal deaths, increased numbers of children accessing immunization, reduced malnutrition among children and improved education conditions among others. This success however, is not reflected in the survey on child emotional, physical and sexual abuse that was recently conducted in Tanzania. Child abuse in these areas is high and is calling for attention.

Ⅲ. The Challenge of Raising a Child in Tanzanian Society

Everywhere in the world children are celebrated when they are born, in many communities they are regarded as a blessing. As Kashi (1977) puts it, even within the legal framework this has been the case. "...courts have traditionally regarded life as uniformly constituting a blessing". In his State of Union Address 2013, the US president challenged his own society to take a step beyond just celebrating the conception and birth of a child "...because what makes you a man isn't the ability to conceive a child; it's having the courage to raise one" (Obama, 2013). It is one thing to be able to have a child. It is completely a different thing and a more important thing to manage to bring up children in safe and protected environment. This is a challenge for many parents in Tanzania, it is a challenge however that the society either does not perceive or is unwilling to talk about.

As indicated in previous chapters, traditionally child protection has been viewed from economic and health perspectives.

"Much is known about physical health of young Africans. Rates of malnutrition and diarrhoea are benchmarks for aid. But the mental health of children and teenagers has always been draped in a taboo-ridden silence" (Smith, 2011).

Within the traditional approaches, not been much emphasis was put on understanding the emotional, physical and sexual challenges that children face when growing up in a society like Tanzania. Consequently there has been an appalling silence surrounding child emotional, physical and sexual abuse in Tanzanian communities. Two years ago the government of Tanzania however, finally succeeded in bringing attention to this matter through the first ever survey of its kind that looked at emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children. This study is unique because according to UNICEF Tanzania (2011), no other African country has ever made a similar effort to challenge this emotional, physical and sexual violence.

"In Africa, only one other country, Swaziland has carried out a similar household survey but only girls were interviewed. It is very clear that, by any measure, the Tanzanian figures are quite alarming" (Smith, 2011).

Lack of initiatives to study these forms of child abuse cannot be attributed to insignificance of the matter, rather evidence from this paper indicates the opposite. The magnitude of the problem cannot be underestimated and hence it becomes important to open the lid and see under as to what constitutes this prevailing silence.

A Tanzanian woman who has three children of her own describes her distress and fears when it comes to protecting her children. This distress and fear comes as a product of her childhood experiences.

"When I was six or seven I witnessed a lot of sexual abuse, I was a victim of this as's all connected to living in extended families *1. There were so many of us in the house, those who were older than me included four girls and about five boys. You can imagine the situation at the time when passing through is then that sexual abuse happened, but I never told anyone" (WAVUTI, 2012).

The fact that this woman "never told anyone" when she was being abused as a child can help us to understand the prevailing silence on matters of emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children. Why did she not tell anyone? Who stopped her from telling anyone? Who sanctioned this abuse in the first place? Who else knew that she was abused? What is the nature of the environment in which the abuse took place? Who was supposed to protect her from the abuse? Where was this person when the abuse occurred? Is the abuser the same as the supposed protector? All these questions are raised here because if they could all be effectively answered one could develop a much clearer understanding of the prevailing silence behind children in Tanzania. As Lalor (2004) explains, there is limited study and knowledge of the existence of this state of affairs.

One of many typical cases demonstrating silence that follows abuse is the sexual abuse of a 10-year old third-grade student in Arusha who was raped by a 40-year old neighbour. According to the statement from Fatuma Zuberi who is introduced as the aunt of the victim, on the day of the event, the victim was left with her grandmother when the rest of the family members went to a party. Upon return, the victim was laying on a bed, the aunt noticed that the victim was not wearing underwear and asked the reason. The victim said she did not wear any underwear because it was too tight for her, a reason that raised suspicion. It is then that deeper interrogation followed. According to the report, not only did the child receive all kind of threats to get her to explain what had happened, but she was also beaten until she gave the name of the neighbour who had attacked and raped her, leaving her bleeding and in such pain that she could not put on her underwear (WAVUTI, 2012A).

Abuse may be happening in Tanzania because the society is ignorant of the fact that actions that are directed to children are abusive. It may also be possible that the society quietly accepts child abuse because such practices have been happening since the beginning of history and are part of the culture. In order to attempt to establish reasons for silent sanctioning of abuse in Tanzania we need to find out the common forms of abuse in this society and the circumstances under which they often happen.

  • *1 "Extended families," "extended family support system," and "extended family care arrangement" are used interchangeably and all refer to the same concept. They describe circumstances where people are living with or supporting family members who do not come from same nuclear family and may consist of parents, children of distant relatives and even simply close friends who are not necessarily related by blood.

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Jacob_Kahemele.jpg Jacob William Kahemele

Jacob is from Tanzania; currently the Chief Executive Officer of Holistic Enterprise for Advancing Rural Tanzania (HEART), a small charity organization he and Theodora, his wife founded in 2007. He originally went to Australia in 2007 to join his wife who was admitted in a law doctoral study program at Bond University. While in Australia Jacob engaged in activities promoting rural development in his native country through HEART. Jacob’s background is in in Theology and Community Development. Back in Tanzania he spent ten years working in areas of community development and HIV/AIDS while serving with the Anglican Church of Tanzania, Family Health International and Christian Council of Tanzania. Jacob is a proud recipient of Rotary Peace Fellowship studying at International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan in the Public Policy and Social Research Program (majoring in Peace studies). His research areas of interest include religious-based conflicts and child protection from emotional, physical and sexual abuse. He is particularly interested in the issue of silence surrounding child abuse. Jacob is also pursuing to understand and propose a solution to Muslim and Christian conflicts that started to emerge in his own country Tanzania.