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Feature on exposing child abuse
Thursday 13 January 2005
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SWAZILAND: Feature on exposing child abuse

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

MBABANE, 17 October (PLUSNEWS) - A groundbreaking study by the Ministry of Education on the effect of child abuse paints a disturbing portrait of the state of the Swazi child today, suggesting that up to 38 percent of children might be abuse survivors.

"Sexual abuse of students by teachers is a dirty little secret no longer," Alicia Tsabedze, a teacher in the central Manzini province, who conducted interviews for the project, told IRIN.

"The abuse of children is a major challenge for Swaziland's schools and communities," said Principal Secretary for Education W.M. Msibi, addressing the social welfare organisations that participated in the project.

The report links rising incidents of child abuse reported to the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) - an NGO that provides medical assistance, legal help and counselling to abuse survivors - to chronic poverty and the break-up of the traditional family.

Fully two-thirds of Swazi children do not live with both parents, the survey found. The most vulnerable children are between ages 10 to 15, who are not under the care of both parents. Affected Swazi children suffer sexual abuse by a two-to-one margin over physical abuse.

Worse is to come for Swazi children, with the UN Children's Fund predicting 150,000 orphans under the age of 15 due to AIDS by 2010. They will comprise perhaps a sixth of the population, if worst-case morbidity predictions prove true, in a country where the government has not built a single orphanage.

"Most of those who had been abused came from poverty-stricken homes. Some of the children were abused because they had no one to protect them, as in the case of orphans, or where their own parent or guardian was abusing them," the report said. Two-thirds of Swazis live below the poverty line.

Adult males between the ages of 21 to 40 perpetrated a high number of abuse cases. In most cases, a child was abused by a relative, particularly in cases of sexual abuse. Abuse by women was typically verbal and emotional, the study found.

Musa Dlamini, president of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers, told IRIN: "Child abuse, both the sexual and the violent kinds, is no longer just a police matter. We see it as an educational problem. We are particularly keen to address the psychological needs of survivors."

To curtail abuse, a culture of silence will have to end, social welfare groups agree. Teachers and community members were found to be aware of occurrences of child abuse, having heard about or having actually witnessed abuse. But the education ministry report found no instance of community members or teachers confronting the perpetrator, or reporting what they witnessed to the authorities.

While the study was in progress, preliminary findings circulated in the education ministry, and alerted officials to the scope of the problem. Education Minister John Carmichael told IRIN: "What is so disturbing to me personally is that these victims are the ages of my grandchildren. This has got to stop."

Principal secretary Msibi announced this week a new ministry policy to handle teachers who abuse their students. "There will be investigations involving the police. There won't be any suspension with pay, or transfer of a teacher found guilty. That just moves the problem to a new area, where a new group of children are even more vulnerable to abuse because the perpetrator is unknown to them," Msibi said.

The ministry's new policy is to fire teachers involved in abusive situations, with safeguards in place to ensure no teacher is falsely accused.

Msibi said the consequences of child abuse that have been chronicled include sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and the subsequent expulsion from school of pregnant girls, baby abandonment, and decline in school performance.

The study's good news is that among cases reported, in a country where the reporting and prosecution of child abuse cases is relatively new, 60 percent of perpetrators were punished for their actions.

"Unfortunately, there are lots of cases where families sweep the matter under the rug. They call it 'tibi tendlu', or 'house garbage' that should not be aired publicly. This affects the child survivors emotionally and psychologically, and also causes ill feelings between the survivors and their families," said Tsabedze.

"Cultural and traditional beliefs such as keeping family matters within the family, especially if the name of the family will be tarnished, promote child abuse in Swazi society," stated the study, which said the HIV infection rate will inevitably climb even further if child sexual abuse is not addressed.

The fact that children are not reporting abuse when they fall victim was blamed on a lack of "essential behavioural life skills", which now need to be taught in school as a priority matter, educationalists recommended.

Although Swaziland is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, parliament has not enacted any enabling legislation to carry out the convention's provisions. "One of our recommendations is: government puts in place a law that deals with child abusers," Msibi said.


Recent SWAZILAND Reports
Prominent traditional leader condemns AIDS drugs,  30/Dec/04
Army unveils HIV/AIDS policy,  24/Dec/04
Swazis strengthen efforts to fight HIV/AIDS stigma,  19/Nov/04
Construction declines as impact of HIV/AIDS builds up,  5/Nov/04
Men urged to take more responsibility in curbing HIV/AIDS,  7/Oct/04
Le portail d'informations générales de la Côte d’Ivoire
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
Youth against AIDS
Making A difference for Children Affected by AIDS

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