27 October 2011
Swaziland convenes first national dialogue on violence against children in schools
MATSAPHA, Swaziland, 27 October 2011 – “Away with teachers who abuse children, away!” chanted Wilson Ntshangase, Minister of Education and Training, at a national dialogue on violence against children in and around schools – a problem pervasive in the country.
The national dialogue, organized by the Ministry of Education and Training with support from the UNICEF and other partners, brought together teachers, parents, religious leaders, community representatives and government officials for the first time to address student safety and well-being.
Culture of silence
Nine-year-old Andile Kunene, a child representative at the event, illustrated the perils children face in order to be educated. Many “are assaulted, robbed or raped” on the long walk to and from school, he said. Once at school, attacks take place in latrines, empty classrooms and other isolated areas.
Yet child abuse, widely viewed as a personal matter, goes largely unreported in Swaziland. Victims are often discouraged from seeking help.
The national dialogue aims to break this culture of silence.
“Home and school are the two most common places where violence against children takes place,” said Reverend Absalom Dlamini, representing the religious community. “This is wrong, and it must come to an end!”
A community effort
Attendees at the dialogue proposed a variety of measures to end abuse and assist survivors of violence.
Mr. Ntshangase underlined in his keynote address that his ministry will take a hard line position on violence in schools. Teachers must report those who hurt children, he said.
Teachers agreed. “We will promote positive discipline instead of corporal punishment,” said teacher Mbokodvo Tsabedze. “Teachers who are found guilty of abusing learners should not be allowed to teach. It is not enough that they appear before the teaching service commission or transferred to other schools.”
Teachers also recommended hiring full-time guidance and counselling specialists to provide pyschosocial support to children who have been abused.
Child representatives at the event also pledged to fight abuse. They advocated for the use of technologies to protect themselves against cyber-based bullying and abuse. They also pledged to report abuse, bullying and violence.
Mr. Dlamini emphasized that ending violence against children requires the effort and vigilance of all community members, and pledged to work with religious leaders to ensure their participation. “We have the trust and influence of the people that we lead,” he said. “We should be driven by the moral responsibility entrusted upon us and ensure that mosques, churches and temples are safe places for children.”
“Violence against children is everybody’s business,” he said.