Child abuse rocks Malawian schools

The survey conducted by the National Statistical Office (NSO) between February and March last year has indicated a high prevalence rate of violence against schoolchildren in the country. The objective of the survey, which was the first of its kind, was to assess the extent and nature of primarily gender-based violence in Malawian schools based on four categories namely; physical, sexual, economical and emotional. The survey drew a national representative sample of 4 500 children consisting of 3 000 girls and 1 500 boys within the age range of nine and 14 years as well as teachers, who were interviewed using a quantitative questionnaire. According to the survey report, 99 percent of the children interviewed reported being bullied, 23,8 percent said they had been forced to have sex against their will and 23 percent reported living in perpetual fear of being attacked when going to school. “Repeated victimisation of schoolchildren is very high. Fourteen percent of girls interviewed reported having been touched on their genitals or breasts against their will, and 3,9 percent of the children over 13 years reported having been forced to engage in some form of oral sex,” reads part of the report. The report says girls are most commonly victims of violence although sexual violence and bullying against boys are also common. It further says that children of all ages living in rural areas are more likely to be victimised than those living in urban areas because of some traditional beliefs and mostly their “free-range” life styles. “Location is particularly significant in the case of bullying and unwanted touching of the genitals and breasts. 55,3 percent of bullying and 52,5 percent of forced touching of breasts and genitals are most likely to occur at school, while 57,3 percent of forced sex and, in the case of older children, 53,5 percent of oral sex are most likely to occur at home.” The report also reveals that almost 33 percent of girls interviewed reported that teachers at their schools demanded sex from them in return for good grades. “19,8 percent of the teachers interviewed reported that they are aware of fellow teachers who entice pupils into love relationships and 73,7 percent knew of these incidents happening at their schools,” says the report. The survey report therefore finds classmates and teachers as the most common perpetrators of violence with parents and others living at home as the next most frequently perpetrators of all forms of violence. The data experts have therefore offered recommendations to authorities focused on both policy and implementation, which include the development of dissemination strategies to spread awareness of policies regarding sexual violence and corporal punishment that targets school staff and parents to which their children are exposed. The other recommendation is on how to deal with incidents, the development and dissemination of support strategies for survivors of abuse and the formulation and implementation of effective strategies to deal with love relationships in schools. Meanwhile, a senior official at a health centre in Malawi has warned husbands against beating up pregnant women, saying such domestic violence was a threat to the country’s sound reproductive health care. Banja La Mtsogolo Health service manager Limbika Tauzi said in an interview with the Chronicle that violence against pregnant women might cause serious injuries to the mother and to the unborn baby, which may lead to miscarriage. She said it was high time men in the country knew their role when their spouses were expecting. She said men should always give support to pregnant women rather than abuse them. “We know that domestic violence is high at the moment. Let me warn the nation that domestic violence against pregnant women is a big threat to the country’s social reproductive health, and sometimes women may lose their life during the time of delivery when they have been beaten up by their husbands,” she said. Tauzi pointed out that men should change their negative attitudes towards pregnant woman. “Men should avoid harassing pregnant women because in this situation it is easy for them to be disturbed physically and socially. Beating each other should not be the way of solving problems when there are misunderstandings in the family,” she said. Another nurse who is currently working at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe said most of nurses found it difficult to give double treatment to pregnant women. She said for instance, if a woman has been beaten up, she would need to go for special treatment so that she recovers fast for her to concentrate on her pregnancy. “You know that we don’t have enough medicine in most hospitals therefore it is always difficult for most nurses to give special treatment to a woman who is pregnant. Because of this, most of women suffer a lot during the time of delivery because their health problems are not taken care of," she said. The nurse advised men to give their wives special care, especially in times of pregnancy. “Men should know that when a woman is pregnant she needs special food and someone close to her, who is supportive,” she said.

April 2006
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