Hope in the face of violence: Progress for Uganda's children

Edwin Agaba

Access to education is one of the fundamental rights of every child which should be delivered in a conducive and safe learning environment.

With the introduction of Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE) initiatives, the Government of Uganda has greatly improved primary and secondary school enrolment for both girls and boys, including those with disabilities.

For these programs to be effective, children need to access quality education and complete the education cycle in an environment free from violence. However, available research shows that violence against children in Uganda is widespread and occurs in almost all settings.

Violence against children in schools has adverse effects to children including undermining their right to access quality education. However, most cases of violence against children in schools go unreported.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC) defines ‘violence’ as all forms of physical or mental violence, injury and abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse. Violence against children in school refers to all acts of violence inflicted on children of school going age 3-18 years within the school setting. These include:

  1. Acts of violence on children in schools and during school activities,
  2. Acts of violence on children on their way from homes to schools,
  3. Acts of violence on children on their way from schools back to their homes.

Magnitude of violence against children in schools in Uganda

Violence against children in Uganda is widespread and occurs in almost all settings. According to the study on the Violence against Children: the Voices of Uganda Children and Adults, 98% of the children aged 8-18 years interviewed had experienced physical violence; 76% had experienced sexual violence; and 74% had experienced economic violence (where an adult intentionally and unjustly withholds from the child access to resources or coerces the child to contribute labor), with 24% of the children indicating that the violence occurred at school.

Further still the Ministry of Education and Sports and UNICEF though the National Study on Assessing Child Protection Safety and Security Issues for Children in Uganda Primary and Secondary Schools found out that 77% and 82% of primary and secondary school students respectively had experienced sexual violence while 5.9% of children were subjected to rape. Similarly 70% and 57% of primary and secondary school students respectively had experienced corporal punishments.

What needs to be done?

Such widespread violence is unacceptable and must spur further action. We must educate children on the importance of reporting and responding to violence against them and their friends in schools. Critically, we must also equip children in schools with the tools they need to report violence in schools to relevant authorities for appropriate action. Then, children must be empowered and supported enough so that they are comfortable enough to use these new tools and avenues to seek help and end the cycle of violence.

This is exactly what Children Reach Out seeks to do. Our program is a registered NGO in Kampala that focuses on empowering children living in urban communities. The organization provides a variety of programming – all free of charge – including educational life skills, education support, health and wellness campaigns, and events and trainings for children. The program currently operates in Nakulabye zones 4 and six, and other centers have been opened in Namugoona Zone 5 and Kawala Centre. Meetings take place on Saturdays and Sundays, and primary school outreach takes place during the week. More than 8000 children have benefited from the program since its inception in 2009, but there is so much more work to do.

Next week, we will be hosting the 7th Annual Children’s Hope Gala. The day will be run by children from singing, keynote address and workshops, lessons according to age groups, testimonies related to theme from children, speeches from guests, entertainment from children, schools, organizations, presentations related to the theme. This will give our children an opportunity to speak out and the adults will have a chance to listen and thus respond to issue raised.

From there, the gala’s findings will be documented and shared to partner schools, the Ministry of Education, Kampala Capital City Authority, partner organizations, civil society organizations and NGOs that work with schools so that the day’s insights are translated into real action for children against violence in all forms.

Join the effort

Even if you are not in Uganda you can still join our effort to inspire and empower the children with whom we work! At the Children’s Hope Gala we will be showing the children videos from supporters around the world sharing their words of encouragement and own experiences overcoming violence. If you’d like to share your support for these brave young girls and boys, you are invited to take out your phone and record a brief message. You can then send it directly to us, or share on social media using the hashtag #ChildrenGala2017.

We are incredibly excited about this year’s Children’s Hope Gala, but we also recognize that in Uganda, and indeed in every country, much more is needed. Educators everywhere have a responsibility to face this challenge directly. Because violence against children is never justified, nor is it inevitable.

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Edwin Agaba is the founder of the Children Reach Out Program in Uganda, a non profit organization that uses educational life skills to empower children in different urban communities across Uganda-Kampala. Since 2008 Agaba and his team have organized free children workshops, educational talks, creative games, free educational life skills trainings, and more; all done in a child friendly environment, free of charge, and open to all children between the age of 3-14 years.

Photo Credits: Children Reach Out Uganda

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