self defLILONGWE ( Maston Kaiya, Mana)- In Malawi, violence against children remains a silent and hidden destroyer of lives. It often happens in homes, private and public places. It is typically perpetrated by the powerful against the powerless.

Those involved in the malpractice include family members, teachers, friends and other trusted people of the society.

One such case is that of a 37 year old HIV positive man who could not resist his lust on his 13 year old step daughter who was in March 2015 sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with hard labour (IHL) for defilement contrary to section 138 (1) of the penal code.

The man Moses Kansepa of Nachipi village in the area of Traditional Authority Malili in Lilongwe stayed with his wife and the stepdaughter.

“Actually, the convict took advantage of the absence of the victim’s mother who was hospitalized at that time of the incidences and this happened on two occasions; first on the night of 16th and secondly on 19th of September 2012 when Kansepa entered the victims bedroom and defiled her and warned the victim not to reveal the incidents to her mother,” Lilongwe Police Station Public Relations Officer (PRO), Inspector Kingsley Dandaula told Malawi News Agency (Mana).

Nevertheless, the victim revealed of her ordeal to her mother after she was discharged from the hospital. In view of this, the mother reported the matter to Lilongwe police.

The 2013 Violence against Children and Young Women Survey (VACS) Malawi, the first national survey of violence against children in the country indicated that violence against children is a serious problem in the country.

Violence against girls is a global human rights issue. The Convention on the Rights of the child states that all children have the right to be protected against all forms of violence, exploitation and abuse including sexual abuse and exploitation.

Brendan Ross, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF Malawi observed that statistics on sexual violence in Malawi is similar to other countries mainly because of similar cultural and social norms and that the fight against sexual violence could not be won by simply strengthening treatment and aftercare.

Ross disclosed that UNICEF is currently supporting a proactive and integrated approach which emphasizes on prevention and referral systems.

According to VACS, one out of five females and one out of seven males have experienced at least one incident of sexual abuse prior to the age of 18 and approximately one-fourth to one-fifth experienced emotional violence and nearly 25 percent of all children experienced multiple forms of violence.

“Regardless of the fact that changing a pattern of behavior is not easy there is still a need to increase safe, stable and nurturing relationships between children and their parents and caregivers as one way of reducing sexual violence in the communities,’ said Ross. He commended Ujama for developing defensive skills lessons for prevention of all forms of violence in children and adolescents.

Ross observed that the most common form of sexual abuse experienced by both males and females before the age of 18 years was forced sex followed by unwanted sexual harassment and according to him, sexual violence is a public health issue which requires to be treated as equal as other pandemics.

According to VACS, ending violence against children and young people is especially important because violence against children affects the entire society.

With a population of about 9.8 million children in Malawi, VACS states that if sexual violence against girls is not addressed, there is very little hope of stamping out the spread of HIV.

VACS further indicates that if children are not safe from violence in schools, the goals of providing quality education for all will never be attained and if the violation of Malawian children human rights is allowed, there is little prospect of breaking the intergenerational cycle of violence.

Little did Florida Siku, a form 3 student at Dzenza Secondary School and Miracle Daftala, a standard 7 pupil at Chimutu Primary School in Lilongwe know that they had the capability to defend themselves from various forms of violence especially sexual abuse and exploitation.

Vote of thanks goes to the United nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Malawi in collaboration with the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at The Polytechnic, a constituent college of the University of Malawi for engaging Ujama, a local Nongovernmental Organisation (NGO) which is working in partnership with Plan Malawi and Action Aid to train girls on self-defense skills under Safe Schools project.

“Violence against young girls like me can happen anywhere, anytime and in different forms. I personally did not know that I could be able to defend myself from assaults and violence until I was trained by Ujama,” said Florida with confidence.

Florida who wishes to be a nurse when she completes her education said it was no secret that violence was happening in different forms of the society including her area in Mitundu, in the area of Traditional Authority Chiseka in Lilongwe.

“It is unfortunate that perpetrators of teen age sexual abuse include close relatives such as; uncles, boyfriends, romantic partners’ friends or classmates and step fathers but most girls do not know what to do in terms of preventing or in order to escape from the assailant,” elaborated Florida and further said she believed that the techniques and knowledge that she had learnt would help her if she got attacked,”.

Taonga Mtambo a Form 1 student at Dzenza secondary school shared the same remarks as Florida about self-defense skills and knowledge learnt from Ujama and was thankful for the program.

She said sexual violence against girls can have profound consequences and commended the training as an important tool for her safety and protection. She expressed concern over the increased number of sexual violence against girls in the communities.

Miracle Daftala and Thokozile Namate, standard 7and 6 pupils at Chimutu Primary School expressed gratitude towards the self-defensive lessons learnt and had similar observations as Florida Siku and Taonga Mtambo of Dzenza Secondary School.

“We have learned about 5 bodily weapons we can use when attacked, we have also learnt about assailants vulnerable primary targets and how to attack them, we have also been drilled on how to use our voice and various other skills and techniques,” said Miracle and Thokozile.

“The idea behind the skills and techniques is to escape from the perpetrators and am happy to be part of the girls in the country that have learnt the necessary skills and techniques,” boasted Miracle.

Ujama Program Coordinator, who is also trainer of trainees, Bertha Okello, said the girls were being trained to specifically defend themselves from an assailant.

“Our mission is to change the world for girls and boys by reducing assault and violence not necessarily to bully others. The program is a preventive initiative which has worked in Kenya and we believe it can also work in Malawi,” elaborated Okello.

Okello disclosed that the project is currently being implemented in 7 districts of Lilongwe, Dedza, Mzuzu, Nsanje, Mangochi, Salima and Machinga.