Children showing their drawings - KG Uvira, Congo, Africa…
SOS Children's Villages in DR Congo calm, but cautious
Children showing their drawings - KG Uvira, Congo, Africa
SOS Children's Villages in DR Congo calm, but cautious
30/10/2008 - Though the fighting between rebel forces and government troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo has ceased for now, thousands of civilians are fleeing the dangerous areas. SOS mothers in the SOS Children's Village in Bukavu are stocking up on food supplies - just in case.
Renegade Tutsi General Laurent Nkunda's rebels declared a ceasefire after reaching the gates of the city of Goma, an important trade city located some 230 kilometres to the north of SOS Children's Village Bukavu. Congolese government troops and UN peacekeepers are patrolling the streets of Goma after several cases of shootings, rape and looting. UN secretary Ban Ki-Moon has warned of a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic dimensions, as thousands of civilians flee their homes in an effort to reach safer regions.
Along with the fact that food supplies for Bukavu, which traditionally come from Goma, have been cut off, the influx of refugees from the north has caused further scarcity of basic foods and products on the markets of Bukavu, leading to a sharp rise in prices, as SOS Children's Villages national director in the DRC, Marthe Kangene has reported. "The SOS mothers are buying food to stock up their supplies in case the situation worsens. The SOS mothers, the children and the staff are calm, although a feeling of anxiety and generalized fear is in the air."
Nevertheless, life in the villages of Bukavu and Uvira, located at about 110km from Bukavu, continues as normal, SOS mothers and staff are going about their work as usual and the children are still going to school.
Little girl playing with her younger sister outside - CV Sanankoroba, Mali
Violence against children
Times have changed - the general public increasingly rejects violence against children, and changes in legislation have contributed to a shift in peoples awareness: the soul of a child, a developing body, needs protection, and nobody has the right to undermine the "best interests of the child", as it is called by law.
Yet according to the child welfare organisation UNICEF, more than 50,000 children worldwide die as a result of violence and abuse each year, while the WHO estimates that annually 150 million girls and 73 million boys are victims of sexual abuse. Besides war and poverty, violence within the family and inflicted by people the children know - including peers and people in charge of education such as teachers - is still the most common form of aggression. There are numerous different forms of abuse against children and they are classified as physical, mental and sexual abuse.
This includes all acts that (can) cause injuries or physical harm to a child. This never happens "unintentionally" in this case it would be an accident. Frequently, the family atmosphere is aggressive and several family members are subjected to physical attacks or witness them - this is also a form of violence! Physical injuries such as bruises, fractures, scratches, bites or burns but also weals, knife wounds or internal injuries caused by kicking or shaking a baby can be proven easily. However, most often these children are either not taken to a doctor at all or they are taken there far too late, and most injuries are said to have been caused by an accident. Only when practitioners and hospitals closely cooperate with youth welfare authorities, schools and kindergartens can they become aware of violence in families and protect the child effectively.
They are invisible, yet no less serious: mental injuries. Language as well as emotional coldness or withdrawal of affection can be used as weapons which hit "right at the heart". The question of where mental abuse begins is hard to answer - and there are children who are astonishingly robust and who, in spite of unfavourable conditions, still become healthy adults. However, in most cases their souls show scars that do not heal at all and if they do it is with great difficulty. Children who grow up with mental injuries tend to become adults who suffer from specific dis-orders such as fear of emotional closeness to a person, because as children they were often disappointed in such situations. They may also develop a paniclike fear of being abandoned because they were left alone as children. Although the symptoms are not always that clear, isolation, humiliation, insults or deliberately causing fears definitely leave their marks on children. Another form of violence or abuse occurs when children are prevented from having contact with their peers or when they do not receive proper education - stimuli that are required for their healthy development. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children are to be supported according to their dispositions and that they are entitled to a non-violent upbringing and education.
If a childs basic needs for healthy food, care, security, belonging or stimuli are not met, this is called neglect. The difficulty in defining the exact characteristics of neglect is the fact that each child reacts to certain deficiencies in a different way, while there are certain balancing factors that may prevent children from being harmed. An example: after a long period of unemployment a family can only just survive on social security. Their three children of school age have to share a room, they have only a few clothes and sometimes there is no money for a warm meal. Even though these children (materially) lack a lot, they are not neglected. In spite of poverty, a family system can still be intact; although the parents have their own difficulties, they are still present. They care for their children and support them to the best of their abilities. Conversely, it is in fact possible for children from families with enough money to be neglected because their parents do not meet their parental responsibility, because they show emotional coldness towards their children, reject or humiliate them, always find fault with them or because they scare them. Most often neglect has a serious impact on children - both physically and mentally. Children can show deficiency symptoms or their development may be impaired or interrupted, in some cases neglect can even cause the death of a child.
Forms of sexual abuse range from sexual language which the child cannot cope with and sexual acts to looking at pornographic pictures, watching films together with the child and sex tourism. The majority of culprits are male, while the victims are mostly girls, although boys are affected as well. Sexual abuse only seldom causes obvious physical injuries and consequently it remains undiscovered in most cases. The culprits scare their victims by telling them that the abuse might be discovered, they make them feel shame and guilt, deliberately threaten them and even use physical violence or drugs to hush up their actions. Although for the last couple of years the media have no longer ignored the subject, it is still difficult for children and young people to talk about the things that have happened to them. Frequently, people working with children also find it difficult to assess the situation properly because there are no clear indicators that define when sexual abuse takes place. The fact that most cases of sexual abuse take place within the family or in the childs immediate environment makes it all the more difficult to uncover them.
Victims often try to protect the culprits because they are people the victims are close to. Children often react by developing eating disorders, behavioural problems or inner withdra withdrawal, though these reactions alone are not clear signs that sexual abuse is taking place. It is important to organise professional guidance provided by advice centres and to enlist therapeutic help - for the victims, helpers and culprits.
If we are faced with violence against children we often feel helpless and do not know how to react. Our first impulse is to try to protect the children. Organisations that are specialised in uncovering and fighting violence within families and especially violence against children can help us. Recently projects have been increasingly focusing on the aspect of prevention. These measures are to prevent violence from occurring in the first place and/or to intervene as early as possible. In most cases children send out signals. Even if these signals are not always clear, adults with the appropriate training are able to interpret them and help the children. In particular people working in the field of education must have access to the necessary knowledge and know how to act accordingly. Other prevention projects even empower children to fight for their rights. Children learn what adults are allowed to do and what not, they practise saying "no" (for instance within the family, when someone wants to give them a "little kiss" and they dont want to) and learn that their needs have to be taken seriously. This way, children and young people are also sensitized to pay attention to signs of violence among their friends and to get help for themselves or others.
This attentiveness is the key for all of us dont look away! Help children to grow up without violence whenever possible.
Carola Koppermann Qualified educationalist, trainer on sexual education and gender topics, member of isp-dortmund www.isp-dortmund.de, founding member of Plattform sexuelle Bildung (platform for sexual education) www.sexuellebildung.at
We still have a long way to go
Felicidad Marin, director of the mother training centre in Venezuela and member of the national child protection team, on the acceptance of non-violent upbringing in Venezuela and SOS Childrens Villages child protection policy.
FORUM: In many countries non-violent upbringing is the exception to the rule. What is the situation in Venezuela like? Felicidad Marin: In Venezuela we have numerous laws on child protection.
However, in the families adults still use corporal punishment to exercise power. Parents and other adults consider corporal punishment as the "only" means to make children obey rules and adopt good behaviour; this is very much rooted in our culture. It is difficult to change this attitude because mothers fear that they will lose authority and control.
FORUM: In what way have the staff members in Venezuela been faced with the subject of "child protection"? F. M.: SOS Childrens Villages Venezuela participated as a pilot country in developing a child protection policy for SOS Childrens Villages. This worldwide initiative opened the door to a common goal: to protect the children in our programmes from any form of abuse and to hold information campaigns on non-violent ways of dealing with children in the communities. Staff members from both the SOS Childrens Villages and the family strengthening programmes were involved in activities in terms of child protection. We built teams, held training courses, talked about fears and built up a network in order to achieve far-reaching changes in our culture.
FORUM: How did you involve the children in activities regarding child protection? F. M.: The children and young people were involved in numerous activities. They were able to express their fears in teams and committees. They were able to initiate their own activities and participated in the annual national workshop on child protection. Their reactions were very positive, they were motivated and were more directly involved in what happened in the SOS Childrens Village. They showed empathy and were more willing to talk about their difficulties.
FORUM: How to continue? F. M.: We still have a long way to go. When talking about a change in awareness regarding topics such as discipline, upbringing, power and confidence we have to remain consistent, but we are convinced that this is necessary. The next steps are about creating awareness and alternative ways of upbringing with the main emphasis on communication and more affection within the family. Within the organisation there are clear rules on what to do in case of abuse. This enables us to react according to the situation, guarantees the security and well-being of the children and helps us to develop ourselves further in order to ensure high-quality upbringing.
Learning about responsibility Roseanne Mwangi, Child Protection Advisor for Africa and the Middle East
Education starts with the first interactions within the family. Most often, older brothers and sisters, neighbours and friends are the "first teachers" acting as role models for children. Each adult in charge of raising children is responsible for teaching them about reasonable and social behaviour and, if necessary, for intervening in a supportive way. The impact of a clear and trusting atmosphere in this context is much greater than corporal punishment or emotional blackmail which seriously harms the childs self-esteem.
A positive, exemplary attitude is important because this helps the children to develop skills such as self-control, a sense of responsibility and considerate action. Children need discipline to achieve a sense of responsibility, which is essential for mental maturity and self-responsible, adult action: In early childhood children develop a sense of responsibility by being taught to be obedient. At this stage children must obey their parents or care persons because they are not yet able to understand explanations. Children learn that there are numerous forms of authority and that we are encouraged to follow laws and rules so that we can live together in peace and harmony. By following instructions, children of this age group take on responsibility. Next, children are taught the extent to which their actions have an impact on others. In this way, the children learn about moral limits and how to develop their talents and abilities without coming into conflict. During the next stage of experience the children learn that responsibility goes hand in hand with self-discipline. They learn to be responsible for their actions, their character and the development of their abilities..
Finally, children must be taught that responsibility also includes a sense of duty and they must become aware that everyone has to contribute to society.
Our traditional style of upbringing focused on teaching the children authority and obedience by punishing them for inappropriate behaviour. However, the relationship between the childrens behaviour and the (undesired) consequences resulting from this was either not explained properly or not at all. In the framework of their basic vocational training, the SOS mothers in East Africa learn how to support the children in developing a sense of responsibility according to their respective state of development. This way of promoting the development of children and young people avoids many conflicts in daily life, as is shown by a simple example from the SOS Childrens Village Entebbe. Through talks with their SOS mothers, the children learn that they are responsible for their toys themselves and for putting them back where they belong. Even if they are playing and its time to do something else the children clear their toys away in next to no time and without any fuss. In a positive way the children have learnt to take on responsibility.
During one of my visits to a family house in SOS Childrens Village Arusha we had tea, unfortunately without milk because one of the children had inadvertently spilt it. Probably, it would have been easy to buy some more milk, but this way the children learnt that their behaviour had certain impacts on their environment. The impact of these lessons becomes evident later in life, both at school and in society in general. The children easily learn that the basic rules are also applied in other situations. If children are taught these basic rules at home, corporal punishment, teachers sticks and verbal violence could soon be banished from the classrooms and families. To do so, the natural chain of cause and effect should be internalized ideally, during early childhood - and define the childrens behaviour. This would be both the result of and the basis for high-quality upbringing and education.