Structural violence and abuse against children a major hindrance towards the development of sub-Saharan African states.

Dan Browne

Despite making various commitments to the protection of children’s rights, structural violence and abuse against children is still a great concern for many sub-Saharan African states. Nearly every sub-Saharan African nation has ratified both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Somalia have not ratified either treaty, while Zambia have not ratified the African Charter). However, many children still suffer from physical violence as well as emotional abuse. This can be very harmful for the development of African states. Consequently, there have been efforts in sub-Saharan Africa to address this link between child abuse and development.

The magnitude of this violence is extremely difficult to measure because most of it happens in secret. However, there is a wide consensus that the structural violence and abuse of children is one of the most prevalent issues that African states face today. For instance, national studies that have been conducted in Ethiopia, South Africa and Swaziland have indicated that between 30 and 40 percent of girls suffer from sexual abuse and violence before they are eighteen years old. Tanzanian NGO Caucus for Children’s Rights offer similar statistics, contending that nearly a third of females ages 13 to 24 and one in ten males reported at least one experience of sexual violence before they turned eighteen. Furthermore, the findings from Kenya’s first ever national survey of sexual, physical and emotional violence against children, as administered by the Kenyan Government demonstrated the magnitude of the issue. Released on the 29th of November 2012, the report revealed that in a household-level survey of over 3,000 young people three out of four children had been the victims of physical, sexual, or emotional violence. UNICEF’s Kenyan Representative, Kanyankore Marcel Rudasingwa, argued that the survey’s findings were “sobering indications of the widespread problem of violence facing children in Kenya”. It is therefore unquestionable that the violence and abuse of children is a widespread problem throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Not only does such violence have harmful and long-term consequences for a child’s development, it is also extremely damaging to the development of African countries. Caucus for Children’s Rights argues that because 50% of its citizens are children, Tanzania faces a “ticking time bomb” from young people who have been the victims of different kinds of structural violence and abuse. Young people affected by abuse are more likely to behave irresponsibly through engaging in activities such as drug and alcohol abuse, or having unprotected sex with multiple partners. Such behaviour leads to further problems. For instance, taking part in unprotected sex with multiple partners can lead to a greater number of unwanted pregnancies. The dangers of contracting sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS are also significantly increased. Structural violence and abuse towards children, therefore, can have incredibly detrimental and long-term consequences for the development goals of African nations.

The impact and severity of structural violence and abuse against children is clearly becoming apparent among African states and other actors. This is already apparent through the work of Caucus for Children’s Rights and the findings of Kenya’s national survey of violence against children, which I have already discussed above. Some sub-Saharan African states, including Angola and Burundi have demonstrated their understanding of the link between child abuse and national development by adopting measures to address violence against women and children in their national development strategies. Other states, including Botswana and Uganda have introduced child helplines, where children are encouraged to report cases of abuse and seeking counselling and psychological support. These services are also available through drop-in centres. These initiatives subsequently address the risks of children proceeding to engage in the risky behaviour that I have outlined.

It is clear that structural violence and abuse against children is a serious concern for sub-Saharan African states. There have been apparent efforts to address the issue and its effects on national development. While the long-term success of these initiatives remains to be seen, further frameworks and mechanisms that address the link between child abuse and development should be pursued. These would enhance the protection of children from abuse, and subsequently address other issues that hinder the development of sub-Saharan African countries.


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