Violence against children
Violence is the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation. (World Report on Violence and Health 2002, WHO)
Children’s Conception of Violence In almost every discussion it was apparent that children conceptualised violence as a way in which many adults related to them and something that made them feel bad about themselves. They tended to use examples to illustrate the meaning of violence rather than a conceptual definition. When the concept of violence was explored through different methods, the following ideas consistently emerged. 1. Violence is about how adults make you feel bad. In a variety of contributions, when probed to clarify what made an act violent, children talked about residual feelings of anger, fear, shame, and humiliation.
Violence against children is when big people make you feel bad by doing bad things to you. 13-year-old girl, Wakiso
Violence is about bad things adults do to you. Most often children talked specifically about what adults did to them. When asked, “What is violence against children?” they gave examples of personal experiences. It is when my father shouts at me all the time even for small mistakes. 9-year-old boy, Apac
Violence is about what adults don’t do. Children also gave examples of omissions and neglect as acts of violence, such as being ignored or excluded from the family.
My stepmother never talks to me or teaches me anything. She ignores me as if she doesn’t notice me at all and gives me sharp looks if I do something that she doesn’t like. 8-year-old girl, Iganga
- Violence is wrong. Children expressed a clear judgment of violence as wrong. Each story of sustained violence carried indignation and the belief that the adult ought to have known better.
It is not right to make a child walk four kilometres with a heavy load to sell things at the market, especially on a school day. 15-year-old boy, Kasese
ADULTS’ CONCEPTION OF VIOLENCE The topic of violence against children aroused controversy among many adults. They understood violence as an occasional act and described it as an incident (rather than within the nature of the adult-child relationship). They did not emphasise the impact of violence on their relationships with children or to the resultant feelings for the child or adult. When the concept of violence was explored through different methods, the following ideas consistently emerged: 1. Violence is an excess of otherwise acceptable acts. Many adults described violence as excessive punishment rather than the punishment itself. Two strokes [of the cane] for a child who is misbehaving is not bad. Twenty strokes however for a simple mistake is mistreatment of the child. female, parent, Apac
- Adults feel reluctant to use the word “violence.” Many adults felt reluctant to describe any adult interaction with a child as violence. For obviously egregious acts, many chose the description “mistreatment” to imply a temporary aberration and discount the seriousness of the act. For other contentious transactions, many adults preferred the term “punishment” to imply an intention to guide children rather than abuse power.
Sometimes I see a mother hit her child badly. She doesn’t mean harm. Yes she is mistreating, but with a good heart. female, community leader, Apac
- Punishment must involve physical or emotional pain. Many adults felt that for punishment to be effective it was necessary to inflict physical or emotional pain. Adults considered a moderate amount of pain, or severe pain over a short period of time, a useful tool for training children to avoid the perceived misbehaviour. They did not categorize the infliction of this pain as violence.
If the child feels no pain, he will just laugh and learn nothing. male, community leader, Kasese
- Adults know the difference between punishment and mistreatment. Adults asserted that, by virtue of being immersed in the Ugandan culture and cognizant of local sensibility, most adults developed a reliable sense of the boundary between the legitimate punishment of children and the mistreatment of children.
We all grew up here. We know what is right and wrong when it comes to punishing children. female, community leader, Iganga
- Punishing children is a duty. Many adults felt it their duty to punish children in order to guide them on how to behave.
If you as a parent don’t punish your children, you are not their real parent. male, parent, Nakapiripirit
Forms of Violence For the purposes of this study, the acts of violence against children are organized under four broad forms; physical, emotional, sexual and economic. While this may oversimplify the reality of children’s experience (most acts of violence are multifaceted), it does facilitate a meaningful discussion and allows responses to become more specific. However, the study will not propose a false hierarchy of importance within the four forms.
Causes of Violence This study assumes that most violence against children, within the domestic realm, is the consequence of children’s low status in the social hierarchy of power. In other words, violence is inflicted on children mainly because they are children, and less so because of their actions. For example, an adult male who commits the same mistake as a child would not be beaten, but the child would. Thus, this study analyses violence within the context of this power-based adult-child relationship. It avoids simple cause-and-effect linkages, such as alcohol, jealousy, misbehaviour, and poverty as the causes of violence; although it recognises that they can act as triggers for violence.
What do you understand by the term “violence against children”? Violence is when they treat you badly so you feel bad all the time. 13-year-old girl, Apac
Tying children with a rope and the child sleeps there for three or more days without eating. 12-year-old boy, Kasese
Burning them even when a child does a small thing like fighting with his friend or stealing 100/=. 16-year-old girl, Iganga
Violence is when they look at you with bad eyes to scare you. 9-year-old boy, Apac
Giving children hard labour. Although we must do labour, it should be according to age. For example, a child of 6 years should not fetch firewood or a 20 or 10-liter jerry can of water. Children should not be treated like this. 17-year-old boy, Wakiso
I think it is the discrimination of children especially by stepmothers. Some children are not given food, school fees, and not allowed to express themselves freely. They are always put down and always sad and not allowed to mix with their stepbrothers and sisters. 15-year-old girl, Wakiso
Treating children badly. Giving a child heavy work and also beating and tying the child, the hands and legs with a rope then beating him. 15-year-old boy, Apac
Locking children up in the house. 8-year-old girl, Kasese
Denying medical care or food to children. 18-year-old girl, Nakapiripirit
Excessive beating, for example, caning a child 10 to 20 strokes, and the child runs mad because of fear of the stick or even runs away from home. 10-year-old boy, Nakapiripirit
Child neglect by mothers who go to drink without caring to prepare meals for the children. 12-year-old girl, Iganga
Some young girls are forced to marry a 50-yearold man who has so many wives already. 12-year-old girl, Nakapiripirit
Over-beating of children. 15-year-old boy, Wakiso
Have you experienced violence against you? When researchers asked children, “Have you experienced violence against you?” children responded with a virtually unanimous and unambiguous “Yes.” Almost every child indicated without hesitation that they had experienced violence. Children of all ages, girls and boys, readily gave examples of the violence they had experienced, from the adults in their homes, schools, and communities. Physical violence was reported as the most common form of violence experienced by children. Caning was reported most frequently, followed by slapping and pinching. Children reported denigration of their physical integrity, from being shoved and kicked, to the constant threat of a raised arm, even for minor offences. Emotional violence against children was also common. Two thirds of the children reported being shouted at, and more than half reported being intimidated with glaring. More than half of the children said they were threatened and insulted by adults frequently. A significant proportion of children reported experiencing sexual violence. Of the children consulted through the questionnaire, one in six reported being forced to have sex. More than one third of the children reported being touched sexually against their will, and a similar number reported being harassed sexually. A large number of children reported being exposed to their parents or other adults having sex or to explicit sexual materials. In focus group discussions, children readily cited economic violence as a form of violence against children. Almost half of the children reported denial of school fees and money for uniforms or denial of money for medical care as a form of punishment. Children also reported the exploitation of their labour, many describing the assignment of excessive work as an explicit condition of partaking in the family. Of the children consulted through the questionnaire, one in five reported being denied food as a form of punishment for minor infractions. Although no child was immune from any of the four forms of violence, the kind of violence children experienced depended partially on their age, sex, and whether they attended school. For example, younger children were more likely to be bullied in schools, older girls were more likely to be sexually harassed, out of school children were more likely to experience emotional violence, and older boys were more likely to experience extreme forms of physical violence. However, children emphasized that although the form of violence may vary, they had experienced violence against them in every stage of their childhood.
“You can’t escape it. From when you are born to when you are grown-up, they beat you, shout at you, and insult you, and do what they like to you to control you. I don’t know why it has to be like that.” 16-year-old boy, Apac
A Boy at Boarding School “We are at a boarding school where they torture us. They beat us all the time. The nurse shouts at you and doesn’t give you any treatment if you are sick. The teachers beat you for no reason. The food is terrible. It is what we call ‘transparent posho.’ It is so light here is no calories in it. One day me and my friends, we were so hungry. One of our friends had some money so we decided to go to the hotel near our school for some meat. We got there and ordered our food and were so excited. But before the food arrived, the headmaster walked in. When he saw us, he exploded! He shouted at us and gave us two slaps each in front of everyone. Then he made us hold our earlobes and hop back to school frog-style. Everyone was laughing at us. When we got to the school he said, ‘You wait, I am going to teach you a lesson tomorrow.’’ Next morning, he called all five of us in front of the assembly. Again he gave us two slaps each, really painful slaps, and then announced to the assembly what we had done. He then asked two boys to go and cut some thick hard sticks. He said every teacher will have to beat each one of us with three strokes. There were more than 20 teachers there. I could see that some were not happy but what could they do. They all beat us and I lost count how many strokes rained on me. All I remember is that I could hardly walk for two days afterwards. The headmaster, at the end of it, turned to all the students and said, ‘This is what happens to students who break our rules.’ 17-year-old boy (district withheld to protect identity of the child)
Have you experienced physical violence? Physical Violence: Any act or interaction in which the adult aims to infl ict physical pain on the child. Children talked most readily about physical violence and could offer immediate examples of how it happened and how often it happened. Usually, no elaboration or probing questions were required to elicit a detailed response or a story about when they had last experienced physical violence.
Everyone gets a slap or cane here. Sometimes you even get it twice a day, even from different people. 8-year-old boy, Kasese
Of the children consulted in this study, 98.3 percent reported having experienced physical violence, such as caning, slapping, pinching, locking up, or burning. In regard to frequency, 31.1 percent of children said they experienced physical violence at least once a week, and 15 percent said it happened “everyday.”5 As to where the violence occurred, 38.8 percent of the children said they experienced physical violence mainly at home; 28.6 percent said mainly at school; and 31.8 percent said at school as well as at home. Both girls and boys experienced with comparable frequency the common forms of physical violence, such as caning and slapping. However, girls tended to experience more of the subtle forms of physical violence, such as pinching or twisting of the ears, while boys (especially older boys) experienced more of the extreme forms of physical violence, such as burning, tying up, or severe beatings. While this difference may be an expected consequence of gender-based stereotypes, when explored in focus group discussions and interviews many parents linked it to the issue of bride-price.
I do not want to cause scars. Who will pay cattle if there are scars all over her body? female, parent, Nakapiripirit
Disturbingly, more than one in six children consulted through the questionnaire reported being burned deliberately by an adult as a form of punishment. The aim it appeared was to inflict severe pain and leave a scar that would serve as a warning against repeating the offence. More boys reported being burned as a form of punishment compared to girls, possibly due to similar concerns about scars reducing the bride-price as discussed above. This also suggests that burning as a type of punishment may not necessarily be an act of rage perpetrated in a moment of extreme anger, but a calculated form of punishment with a specific aim. Out-of-school children were more likely to be locked up6 or tied up compared to in-school children, although the latter were more likely to experience other forms of violence than those specifically explored in this study (such as kneeling, slashing grass, and cleaning latrines).
Despite the many teachers who repeated the “official policy” that they do not beat children, 60.4 percent of in-school children reported routinely being beaten and humiliated. Most damaging to children’s sense-of-self were the random and unjust beatings. For example, the entire class would be beaten when some children were “making noise” or children would be beaten for coming late to school because of excessive work assigned at home. Most children, especially those consulted through focus group discussions and interviews, tended to expect physical violence as a normal part of their relationship with adults. In journals, many children wrote about experiencing or witnessing physical violence several times a day. Narrative role plays based on children’s own experiences and depicting children being caned mercilessly regularly elicited a nervous laughter of recognition. The data indicates that physical violence manifests in a variety of context-specific forms, is rampant and has become normalized. Despite provoking intense feelings in children, as will be discussed later, it continues to occur with regularity.
“It [violence] is too much and happens everyday and no-one cares about it.” 14 year-old boy, Iganga
You see this scar? She burnt my right hand with a red-hot knife, because she sent me for tomatoes and I delayed to come back. She also burnt my brother’s back with a fl at iron and burnt his legs with hot water. She gave my young brother of 4 years his urine to drink, because he used to wet the bed. 16-year-old boy, Wakiso
I went back home late from school, because the teacher kept us late. They beat me for it and told me to go and fetch water as a punishment. I went and still delayed, because there were many people at the well. When I reached home I was beaten again. 15-year-old girl, Iganga
If you live with relatives you are beaten all the time. 14-year-old girl, Apac
I live in a drunkard’s home [father] who canes me regularly without any reason. 15-year-old boy, Iganga
The teacher slapped and kicked me, because I was watching my friends solve mathematics problems on the blackboard during lunchtime without his permission. The teacher was drunk. 16-year-old boy, Nakapiripirit I was over-beaten by my father with a cane until I got scars. 13-year-old boy, Wakiso
My father tied me up and locked me up for two days without food, because I ate a piece of fish that was supposed to be his. 13-year-old boy, Kasese
I was beaten severely by my stepmother for wetting the bed. 12-year-old girl, Iganga
Immediately I stepped home, he held me, beat every part of my body and mostly the head. From that time my eyes started paining up to now. By then I was 10 years, but I have never forgotten. 17-year-old boy, Iganga
I forgot to untie goats and I was beaten and made to sleep outside. 9-year-old boy, Apac
Teachers beat us badly when we are late, and yet we come from far. 10-year-old girl, Kasese
A child of 13 was beaten while tied on a tree. 16-year-old girl, Apac Have you experienced emotional violence? Emotional Violence: Any act or interaction in which the adult intentionally attacks children’s feelings, withholds affection from children, or undermines children’s opinions of themselves, and, as a result, adversely affects children’s self-confidence.
Of all the forms of violence reported, children talked most emphatically about the impact of emotional violence. They talked about the rage and intense sense of injustice it provoked within them. Many children declared in indignation that physical pain would be preferable to a constant assault of threats, insults, and humiliation.
It is better that he gives me two canes, instead of letting me sit in fear all the time and by looking at me with fire in his eyes. 12-year-old girl, Wakiso
Of the children consulted in this study, 98.2 percent reported having experienced emotional violence, such as shouting, insulting, threatening, glaring, or embarrassment. In regard to frequency, 36.5 percent of the children reported experiencing emotional violence at least once a week, and 16.7 percent said they experienced it “everyday.” As to where the violence occurred, 42.6 percent of the children said they experienced emotional violence mainly at home; 21.2 percent said mainly at school; and 35.5 percent said at home and at school. Acts of omission, such as withholding love and affection or exclusion from discussions, were aimed at children who were expected to respond to a subtle form of emotional punishment. For example, children with perceived higher status in their families, such as boys or in-school children, reported being ignored or denied love with higher frequency. On the other hand, humiliation or acts meant to provoke intense emotional reactions, such as being publicly berated or locked out of the house, were aimed at children who were already seen as a “disappointment.” Thus it appears that adults choose the emotional punishment they inflict on the child deliberately based on the level of injury it was likely to cause to the specific child. Children who had a lower status in their families, such as girls or out-of-school children, reported being shouted at and insulted with higher frequency. They were also more vulnerable to incidental and random emotional violence and were more likely to be a scapegoat for no apparent action of their own. In focus group discussions and through narrative role plays, young girls and out-of school children related stories of how they bore the brunt of anger or frustration they felt had nothing to do with them.
My stepmother abuses me with harsh words when she is angry with my father. “Look at this prostitute, she is just like her father, useless and lazy.” 14-year-old girl, Apac The level of injury experienced by children from emotional violence seemed to depend on who was inflicting the violence. For example, in focus group discussions, children overwhelmingly identified the stepmother as the main perpetrator, yet when options were presented in questionnaires, the father was reported as the most frequent perpetrator. This discrepancy suggests that children experience greater injury when they feel that the perpetrator has no right to inflict violence on them, and they minimize the violence when it comes from the people they expect it from (i.e., parents or teachers). Emotional violence was closely linked with children’s assessment of their self-worth, and many children reported a sustained reaction to this form of violence. It severely damaged their sense of belonging within their families and their attachment to the perpetrator of the violence. In discussions and interviews, memories of emotional violence evoked profound feelings of loss, and many children articulated bitterness and resignation at the powerlessness of their situation.
What is left for me here? No one cares about me. They torture me with words, and my heart is sick. It is better that I die than live this way. 15-year-old girl, Kasese
He says I am useless and lazy and ugly. He says I am worthless. 9-year-old girl, Nakapiripirit
Parents stare at you and you get scared. 16-year-old girl, Kasese
For me, I am violated so much. I am being harassed by my maternal uncles such that even if an old sick woman tempts me and gives me somewhere to stay I would go with her! 18-year-old boy, Iganga
My mother said I am bewitched by a community member and have bones in my stomach. 11-year-old girl, Iganga
I was locked out and told to go back where I have been. 17-year-old girl, Kasese
Even when I try to do my best and please my father, he finds fault with me and shouts. I do not know if he just hates me or what! 17-year-old boy, Iganga
My father says to me that I look like a dog. 15-year-old boy, Kasese
They say I am so stupid; I can’t even tie my shoe-laces without falling over. I can! It’s not true! 8-year-old boy, Wakiso
Threatening to cut me into pieces with a panga [machete]. 16-year-old girl, Wakiso Have you experienced sexual violence? Sexual Violence: Any act or interaction in which the adult exploits a child’s sexuality for his or her own gratification or benefit. The sensitive topic of sexual violence often only emerged in individual interviews, questionnaires, or towards the end of a discussion in which trust had been established. Children talked with shame and confusion about what was happening to them or someone they knew. They expressed disgust at the adults who were sexually exploiting children and felt a profound betrayal that nothing was being done about it.
Men in the streets touch my breasts as if it is public property. No one says anything. They just laugh. 16-year-old girl, Iganga
Of the children consulted in this study, 75.8 percent reported having experienced sexual violence, such as being touched, given unwanted attention, being exposed to adults having sex or being sexual, being forced to touch adults in sexual ways, or being forced to have sex. In regard to frequency, 10.7 percent of the children said they experienced sexual violence at least once a week, and a further 8.3 percent said it happened “everyday.” As to where the violence occurred, 32.2 percent of the children said they experienced sexual violence mainly at home; 24.3 percent said mainly at school; and 34.2 percent said at home and at school. A further 9.3 percent of children said they had experienced sexual violence within the community, such as in public spaces on the way to school or home. Generally, girls experienced sexual violence more often than boys. Of the girls, 46.5 percent reported being touched sexually against their will, and a similar number reported being coerced to kiss an adult or an older boy on the mouth. Alarmingly, 20.5 percent of the girls (1 in 5) reported being forced to have sex. While adults were the primary perpetrators of this violence, many girls, especially schoolgirls, related stories of being harassed and pressured by older boys at school. Clearly, this is an urgent problem that could have major implications on the psychological as well as the reproductive health of girls. Boys too reported a considerable level of sexual violence. A total of 13.3 percent of the boys reported being forced to have sex, and 27 percent reported being touched sexually against their will. A large number of boys (39 percent) claimed to being exposed to adults having sex, although when this was explored in focus group discussions, it emerged that many boys were referring to video shows or pornographic materials rather than adults they knew. Nevertheless, many boys reported being teased about their sexuality, made subjects of lewd gestures, or often threatened with castration by older men if they misbehaved or continued to annoy them. There appears to be an oversight around sexual vulnerability of boys and a further more detailed study is needed to understand the extent of the problem.
Why is it that they [adults] ignore defilement of boys? 14-year-old boy, Nakapiripirit
Out-of-school children demonstrated greater vulnerability to having sexual acts done to them, as opposed to in-school children who were more frequently forced to do things to others. For example, out-of-school children reported with greater frequency being touched against their will or being sexually harassed. In-school children reported with greater frequency being forced to touch or kiss on the mouth. This difference may be a consequence of accessibility as well as the culture of compliance imposed in the school environment. Although older girls (15 to 18 years old) generally reported with greater frequency sexual violence against them, in all age groups approximately one in six children, (in and out of school) reported being forced to have sex. This would suggest that forced sex was an opportunistic act, while other forms of sexual violence were at least partially targeted towards selected children. Sexual violence is closely linked with children’s sense of safety within their families and communities. Children who reported sexual violence felt betrayed not only by the perpetrators but also by the other adults who were supposed to protect them. They felt unprotected in a way that seemed distinct from other forms of violence.
“When a man touches me and nobody says anything, I feel nobody cares about me or respects me. I feel so ashamed.” 15-year-old girl, Iganga
My uncle forces me to kiss him on the mouth. 12-year-old girl, Iganga
My friend’s father disturbs her [makes sexual advances] at night when her mother travels to the village. 13-year-old girl, Kasese
I was forced to marry with an old man of over 30 years who had raped me. 16-year-old girl, Nakapiripirit
Our neighbour defiled his 9-year-old child. When he was got, he said, “The mother queen eats her own ants.” The man was 45 years old. 14-year-old boy, Iganga
When my mother asks my father to be quiet at night in bed, he says, “Let him hear! He will have to learn what he has to do with a woman.” 13-year-old boy, Apac
A young girl got pregnant and her mother chased her away because she had ashamed them. It is common here for girls to get pregnant when they are in school, and their parents mistreat them and chase them away from home. 12-year-old boy, Wakiso
One of the teachers in my former school wanted to defile my friend. He asked her to take books to his house and he takes advantage of her but she escaped. She reported it to the headmaster who ignored it. He did not take it serious. 16-year-old girl, Wakiso Relatives, especially the males, make love affairs with girls in homes and when they make them pregnant they deny or take them for abortions and sometimes the girls die. 13-year-old boy, Apac
Everyone thinks it is common to have your buttocks pinched. “What’s the problem,” a man can ask. “Don’t you like it?” 16-year-old girl, Iganga
A teacher defi led a girl in our school and the parents refused to take him to court. They just accepted 700,000/= he paid them. Nothing happened to the teacher. 12-year-old boy, Wakiso
There is a woman who gives a boy money to let her touch him and to make him do things to her. 13-year-old boy, Iganga
Some girls are asked by their parents, “What will we eat today?” 14-year-old girl, Apac A young girl was taken forcefully by a man of 30 years old from her father’s house. He paid the cattle and got his friends to help him carry the screaming girl. It is common here. 16-year-old boy, Nakapiripirit
Have you experienced economic violence? Economic Violence: Any act or interaction in which the adult intentionally and unjustly withholds from the child access to family resources or coerces the child to contribute labour or resources that are, by any reasonable standards, excessive.
Children reported contributing an enormous amount of labour to their families, yet having little access to the family’s resources and virtually no say regarding the expenditure of the family’s wealth. Many orphaned children reported being left destitute and at the mercy of relatives.
My father died, and my uncle took over his shop. Now he refuses to pay my school fees. I am now living with my grandmother who has nothing and is encouraging me to drop out of school and find a job. 13-year-old boy, Kasese
Of the children consulted in this study, 74.4 percent reported having experienced economic violence, such as being denied school fees or money for school related needs, assigned excessive work, made to work for basic needs, denied money for health care, or denied food as a form of punishment. In regard to frequency, 29.9 percent of the children reported experiencing economic violence at least once a week, and 19.3 percent said they experienced it “everyday.” As to where the violence occurred, 75.3 percent said they experienced economic violence mainly at home; 9.3 percent said mainly at school; and 15.3 percent said at home and at school. Boys and older children reported a much higher frequency of experiencing economic violence: 61.2 percent of 15 to 18 years old children reported being assigned excessive physical work compared to 39.2 percent of 8 to 14 years old children. This difference may derive from an explicit decision by adults regarding physical ability, but it may also reflect a growing expectation of many adults that older children should make a larger economic contribution to the family. Of out-school-children consulted in this study, 74.8 percent said they dropped out of school primarily because they had been denied school fees; 32.9 percent of the same group reported that they had been denied food as a form of punishment. These two findings may suggest that dropping out of school is a multi-causal event (not just poor academic performance), since falling out of favour so explicitly must have complex antecedents. This appears to be corroborated by many adults who claimed that their willingness to support a child or pay school related costs was dependent on their overall approval of the child. If they deemed the child unworthy, they would withdraw this support. Most children in Uganda contribute a substantial amount of labour to their families and schools. Many children, as young as 5 or 6 years old, take care of their younger siblings, and most of the water for household use is fetched by children. Children’s reports suggest that adults discount this economic contribution. Furthermore, adults commonly expect children to wake up early to begin their duties before school and to continue working when they return until late at night. Schoolchildren’s reports reveal the stress this workload created for them, causing them to feel exhausted and hungry in the classroom and to fall asleep during lessons. Reports of stress and exhaustion at school worsened for children whose parents could not afford the monthly charge for the school’s lunch. These children reported not eating from early in the morning until late in the evening, likely feeding into a cycle of underperformance.
I wake up early and have to sweep and then fetch water and cook porridge for everyone. Then when I come from school, I have to wash clothes, pound cassava, cook supper, and wash plates. I am so tired by the time I go to sleep. There is little time to study. 13-year-old girl, Wakiso I was made to carry 10 basins of sand from two kilometres away for building a latrine, as a punishment in school. 12-year-old boy, Kasese
My experience is that from 12 years I was told to pay for myself. When a child is 14 years he is asked to build his own hut and fend for himself. 15-year-old boy, Apac
I should make 120 bricks over the weekend 60 on Saturday and 60 on Sunday and after that I have to go and fetch water. It is too much. 15-year-old girl, Kasese
I am forced to pound cassava for food at home, as well as put the cows to graze after school, fetch water for cooking, and yet my parents are seated, so I wonder why. 15-year-old girl, Iganga
I carry six bunches of bananas to the market by force. I ferry one at a time and sell. When I bring the money home to my mother and ask for 200/= to buy kerosene to put in a lamp to read my books, my mother abuses me and refuses. 17-year-old boy, Kasese
Who commits violence against you? Children reported that a wide range of adults committed violence against them. They felt vulnerable in the presence of adults, because the violence could manifest at any time and from any adult. Most of the time, children would be expected to tolerate the violence and would be considered impertinent if they tried to respond in any way other than submission.
Any big person can punish you, even if you are doing nothing wrong. There is nothing you can do about it. 8-year-old boy, Apac
AT HOME At home, girls were most vulnerable to violence from relatives. For older girls, this often meant sexual violence, while younger girls mostly described emotional violence. Girls were almost twice as likely as boys to experience violence from others beyond the family, such as neighbours, community leaders, and strangers. Girls reported comparable amounts of violence from stepmother, mother, and father. However, boys, particularly older out-of-school boys, named their father as the person who committed the most violence against them. As a group, schoolchildren reported the highest level of violation from relatives and were more than twice as likely to be violated by others beyond the family. These numbers could suggest that the school system cultivates submission in children.
AT SCHOOL Older children and teachers were the most commonly cited perpetrators of violence at school. Many older children seemed to mimic the behaviour of adults, and, as a result, victimized younger children. Bullying was reported as a major problem, especially by girls and younger children.
When children grow up they keep what was done to them in mind and in the end they also do the same to those younger than them, especially at school. Some people become mentally disturbed. 14-year-old boy, Wakiso Boys and older children reported teachers as the most likely perpetrators of violence. Many older boys reported that male teachers appeared to be targeting them, often humiliating them. When these statements were explored in discussions and interviews, many boys claimed that the male teachers were competing for the attention of older girls. It is also likely that teachers feel reluctant to beat older boys due to fear of retaliation and thus resort to an alternative that exploits their positions of power.
He [teacher] punished me with five strokes in front of the whole class and then sentenced me to fill a five-litre jerry can with water from the well, with a 100 millilitre test tube. It took me more than 50 trips to the well! All of this because he thought I was too friendly with the girl he likes. Everyone calls me the “test tube boy” now. 17-year-old boy, Iganga What do you do when violence is committed against you? This question revealed the resourcefulness of many children and how they actively tried to find a solution to their situation. While many children expressed despair that adults did not take their concerns seriously, they often took the responsibility of becoming protagonists for their own causes.
If you don’t try to do something, you can end up just suffering without end! 15-year-old girl, Wakiso
Of the children consulted in this study, 62.3 percent said they would try to find someone that they trusted for help, although in discussions they often felt that this would only produce a short-term solution. In comparison, 54.7 percent said they would cry and hide so that at least they would attract attention and deflect further immediate pain; and 42.5 percent said that in serious cases they would runaway for a short or prolonged period of time, to stay at a relative’s house and temporarily diffuse the situation. Only 20.7 percent of the children said they would do nothing. Girls reported with higher frequency that they would cry and hide, while a greater number of boys would go to someone for help. Younger children and in-school children reported with higher frequency that they would do nothing. This difference suggests that the more dependent a child is on the perpetrator, the less likely they are to seek help. Children, in large numbers, still preferred and sought the protection of their parents. When asked whom they would turn to for help, 56.9 percent named the other parent; 50.6 percent said they would turn to their neighbour; and 48.9 percent said they would approach a teacher. Children reported that they would approach a local council member only in what they viewed as a serious situation needing official intervention. This pattern suggests that many children are reluctant to approach an outsider or a public official for help, because they fear that it would exacerbate the situation. When girls and younger children experienced violence, they tended to rely more on teachers (at school) and the other parent (at home) for help. While boys and older children were more likely to approach neighbours and local council members. This difference suggests that girls generally hope for an internal solution, while boys are more likely to approach external persons for help if the situation deteriorates sufficiently. Many children continued to believe and hope that an adult would help them. However, they also believed that any intervention would likely offer only a short-term solution. Children knew that many adults were unwilling to confront another adult on their behalf, even if a clear act of violence had been committed. The burden of proving the injustice they experienced would still rest on them.
People just listen to you and then say to stay away from him [perpetrator] until he cools down. Some might offer you food or allow you to stay for a while but then you have to go back. 13-year-old boy, Kasese
What, if anything, should be done about violence against children? Children found themselves in a dilemma when this question was discussed. On the one hand, they wanted the violence to stop, yet they also knew that the adult might respond to an intervention by becoming entrenched in their anger. There was a genuine fear of reprisal, since they had to live with these adults or see them at school the following day.
If I say something to anyone, he will say, “Go let him keep you!” He may even start beating me more. 10-year-old girl, Apac
When asked broadly, “Should something be done,” 70 percent of children said something should be done; 15.2 percent said nothing should be done; and 11.5 percent said nothing should be done because it would make things worse for children. When this last statement was explored, many children related stories of how the violence got worse when other adults approached the issue insensitively. It is likely that these children, who were usually dependent on the perpetrator, were making a delicate calculation regarding the potentially positive outcomes and the potentially adverse economic or emotional consequences of an intervention. When the question was asked more specifically with options attached (i.e., “What should be done...”) more than 98 percent of children chose an option that indicated their desire for action. In response to the question, “What should be done?” most children preferred non-punitive interventions. Although children often proposed that legislation or local council bylaws be put in place, when this idea was further explored, it appeared that many children hoped these laws would act as a deterrent and that no actual arrests or prosecutions would be necessary. Children’s suggestions focused on raising awareness of children’s rights and increasing support for children: 79.4 percent of the children said other adults should talk to parents about children’s rights; 73.9 percent said teachers should be sensitised to understand children’s rights; 73.5 percent said that communities needed places that responded to children’s needs and assisted them when they reported violence. A comparatively lower percentage of children suggested intervention by the police (56.9 percent). Girls preferred the options of sensitising teachers and developing community-based responses, with slightly higher frequency than boys. Boys suggested police intervention with slightly higher frequency than girls. This difference could be related to the finding that boys experienced more severe forms of physical violence compared to girls. Older children suggested more frequently that teachers and parents should be engaged in a dialogue, while younger children proposed more frequently that there should be local response mechanisms in place. This difference would suggest that older children were less hopeful of any response mechanism actually resolving the issue to their satisfaction. In discussions, many older children expressed doubt about whether an adult would side with them against another adult. Most children urged caution and sensitivity when addressing cases of violence against children. Beyond reprisal, they also feared losing their teacher’s approval or their parent’s love and affection. They emphasized the need for broader community awareness-raising approaches that addressed the attitudes of adults towards children, rather than singling out individuals for punitive action.
The government should teach parents how to treat children. 12-year-old girl, Kasese
Parents should handle children well and should talk to children when they do something wrong instead of beating them. 17-year-old girl, Nakapiripirit
Not all parents are bad and not all parents are good. Some are bad because they don’t know about children’s rights. 15-year-old boy, Nakapiripirit
Counselling for both children and parents should be done by grandparents or clan members. 15-year-old boy, Apac
Sensitize the leaders such as LCs, teachers, parents, and students on how to handle children. 11-year-old girl, Wakiso
Government should pass a strict law to make sure parents don’t mistreat children. 15-year-old girl, Nakapiripirit
Government should develop policies that protect children. If a drunken teacher punishes children, he should also be punished. 13-year-old boy, Nakapiripirit There should be by-laws to handle those who violate children. 13-year-old girl, Apac
Counselling services be made available. 15-year-old girl, Iganga
Children should not be overloaded with hard work. 14-year-old girl, Kasese
Parents should stop forcing young girls from marrying, because some of them end up committingsuicide. 13-year-old girl, Nakapiripirit
Local councils should come up with strict laws on how the children should be treated by adults. 16-year-old girl, Iganga
People should turn to God. 15-year-old boy, Kasese
Carry out campaigns against child abuse. 16-year-old girl, Wakiso
Children should be taken to boarding schools to help them survive the daily violence at home, because sometimes at home you are punished for nothing. At least there is no burning at school. 12-year-old girl, Nakapiripirit