On 30th July 2021, a report by the Zambia Police revealed that 576 children (571 Girls, 5 Boys) were reported defiled in the second quarter of 2021. These statistics indicate an increase of over 10% from the first quarter of 2021, translating to an average of one child defiled every 3 hours 47 minutes.
This revelation must be of concern to all stakeholders; Government, parents, caregivers, teachers, traditional leaders, CSOs, and church leaders among others. Zambia is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which is a legally binding commitment that entails the upholding of basic fundamental rights. Central to this is that every child has the right to life, survival, and development, protection from all forms of violence, abuse, or neglect, an education that enables children to fulfill their potential, be raised by, or have a relationship with their parents and express their opinions and be listened to.
However, there has been a growing concern on the number of children being sexually abused which is a gross violation of the rights of a child and has long-term physical, emotional and psychological effects on them. These abuses have in some cases been committed by people entrusted to protect the child for example parents, siblings, caregivers, relatives, teachers, pastors among others. The most critical challenges have been the number of cases that go unreported, unnoticed or unspoken of. Cultural norms dictate that sexuality is considered sacred and labeled as a taboo. Therefore, children have been socialised to be silent on matters surrounding sexuality, which largely impacts on their ability to openly discuss issues of sexual abuse with adults. Similarly, cultural norms have further perpetuated a culture of silence and prevented adults from reporting cases of sexual abuse to the police for fear of public ridicule and bringing shame upon the family, thus cases have continued to swept under the proverbial “carpet”. This culture has consequently shielded the violators of children’s rights; exposed children to HIV and other sexually transmitted illness; denied the victims justice and a childhood as well as access to the necessary psych-social support.
In view of this, the Policy Monitoring and Research Centre (PMRC) urges Government to prioritise funding towards child social protection in order to adequately respond to the rising cases of child sexual abuse. There is need to adequately fund Victim Support and the Child Protection Units across the country and enhance sensitization programmes targeted at children and the general public in order to equip them with information and procedures to report against such vices and access to psycho-social counseling. Further, there is need to strengthen life skills among children through in-school curriculum training for children and increased targeting for out-of-school children through the establishment of safe spaces for children and youth to be able to identify various forms of abuse and be able to report them. Furthermore, the Government is urged to put in place strong policy measures aimed at protecting children through enhanced child-protection programs and enforcement of laws against child abuse offenders.
Government is urged to expedite the enactment of the Children’s Code which has been in draft form for some time now. This is a comprehensive instrument for the protection of the rights of the child.
In view of the COVID-19 pandemic which has resulted in the extended closure of schools, PMRC urges Government to establish welfare centres and safe spaces for children whose parents may be under quarantine in health facilities or may need to get away from homes that pose a threat to them. Finally, we call upon every individual to report cases of sexual abuse and protect every child.