Letters to the editor: January 26 to February 1
Suffer the little children
There is something wrong with the state of Africa’s children. A shockingly large number are not enjoying carefree childhoods but are instead enduring often brutal, fast-track transitions to adulthood.
Globally, three out of four children suffer physically or emotionally abusive violence: from corporal punishment to bullying, neglect, rape, even murder. In Africa, the picture is even worse.
In 2015, an estimated 98% of children in Mozambique suffered harsh disciplining at home. In Burundi and Ghana, the figures were 97% and 94% respectively. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, physical violence affected 56% of adolescent girls — the highest rate of any country. Uganda, Cameroon, Swaziland and the Central African Republic were not far behind.
These disturbing findings come from a newly released report, Ending Violence in Childhood.
The problem of violence in childhood is far greater than most people realise. Patchy statistics, social acceptance, children’s fear and stigma leads to widespread underreporting.
Many vulnerable children pretend abuse isn’t happening, blame themselves or feel unable to seek help in the face of a powerful abuser.
Children who experience violence are more likely to suffer depression when they grow up, turn to drugs, endure poor heath and take their own lives. Children who are bullied or beaten at school avoid attending classes, harming their education and future prospects.
But within this disturbing picture, hope can be found. The report finds that childhood violence is lower in countries that are committed to a human development agenda, and that prioritise child health and education, particularly of girls. Moreover, many developing countries tackle the problem well, suggesting poor countries don’t have to wait until they are rich to end childhood violence.
The very high violence rates in Africa may be partly explained by a strong commitment to data collection. Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have completed comprehensive Violence against Children surveys. Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda are also committed “pathfinder” countries for the End Violence Global Partnership.
The key to reducing violence is recognising that it is not a private affair: governments have a duty to protect the rights of their citizens, including a child’s right to live free from fear.
The opportunities to prevent violence fall into three categories. First, building individual capacities, for example by ensuring children are given appropriate life skills and sex education and ensuring parents and caregivers are given the knowledge and services to create safe, supportive and stimulating spaces for children.
Second, violence prevention must be embedded in social services. Schools must become violence-free, ending corporal punishment and cracking down on bullying. Health professionals need to know how and when to report suspected abuse. And authorities need to find ways to avoid sending children into institutional care, where the chance they will be abused skyrockets.
Third, governments must tackle the root causes of violence, which are bound up in issues of gender inequality and social norms that legitimise violence, especially against women and children.
Perhaps the most immediate task, though, is to break the silence. Violence needs to be spoken about and made visible. Only then can the scale of the problem be understood, taboos shattered and the cycle broken. This requires individual courage and better national monitoring and reporting systems.
There is nothing inevitable about a suffering child; many childhoods are glorious. Leaders of governments and communities need to take this issue more seriously, implement practical policies to prevent violence and ensure that children enjoy the happy, peaceful upbringings they surely all deserve. — AK Shiva Kumar & Baroness Vivien Stern
Wake up, Cape Town!
After a month away I returned to find Cape Town seemingly unprepared for a humanitarian crisis that is perhaps six to eight weeks away.
It’s a reality that the city will run out of water. If radical changes are not made, perhaps in just a few weeks there will be the resultant disease, economic meltdown and, quite possibly, the loss of lives.
If people (particularly the poor or old) die this could dwarf Marikana and Esidemeni as an example of how things should not be done. If people have not cut their water use — either by request, fines or increased tariffs — should their water not be cut off, because it’s the poor and infirm who might pay with their lives for this selfishness and arrogance?
Also, why are the authorities not encouraging and subsidising the harvesting of water off roofs so that the coming winter rains are not largely lost?
The 200 collection points need to be set up as a matter of urgency for trial runs.
Many rural South Africans live on 10 to 15 litres of water a day and we in the city will have to learn to survive, at least for this summer, on much less than the 50 litres of the present restrictions.
There seems to be no credible plan for next summer and for medium- and long-term solutions.
And why are our leaders pussyfooting around this topic, not even being prepared even now to fully advise on the certainty of this crisis? — Mike Pickstone-Taylor, Franschhoek