Chasowa Kambala walks long distances to help children faced with various abuses. The 35-year-old volunteer, from Traditional Authority Malenga in Ntchisi, works as a child protection worker and a community paralegal.
Despite the agonies associated with his work in the rural locality, he is happy when victimised children get necessary help.
“My work involves following up on reported cases of violation of children rights. I have to know how to help a child in need. This has made me a better person,” he says.
Kambala’s work has become pivotal in a society where children are often abused by people who are supposed to protect them— including teachers, parents, uncles, police officers and religious leaders.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund, one in five Malawian girls is a victim of sexual violence, as is one in seven boys. Its survey found that most abusers are people that children trust and are related to.
Kambala says lack of resources slows his response to cases and prevents him from reaching more children. However, he is determined to bring change to Malenga community.
“I want children in my area to know their rights and parents know their responsibilities. Some rights violations involve their parents and guardians,” he says.
Despite various efforts to combat violence against children in Malawi, it remains a serious problem.
Ntchisi Police community policing coordinator Lloyd Maida says time has come to start sensitising communities to ways of safeguarding children from violence.
“Cases of early pregnancies and marriages in Ntchisi have been rampant. Children do not know where to go when defiled or forced to marry. Parents are equally unaware. It is now time to end these vices because girls are not sexual objects or brides. They need to be protected,” he says.
Police stations run victim support units which handle cases of rape, defilement, child marriages and other rights abuses with maximum privacy and confidentiality. Every district hospital also has safe spaces where the victims of sexual assault are screened and treated. Health workers also give their clients medicines that prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
“Victimised girls and women are encouraged to go to the nearest police to get help,” says Maida.
Child rights activist Amos Chibwana says paralegals have helped track and handle cases of sexual assault cases which are often buried because they involved relatives and people they trust.
“Most people in Ntchisi did not know how some of these issues are handled. A study we conducted to understand if people are aware of how and where they are supposed to report cases of child abuse, 48 percent of the respondents did not even know where to go to if such cases arise,” he explains.
In this way, paralegals such as Kamba act as a bridge between the criminal justice system and communities. They also sensitise their communities to the dangers of hiding crimes that involve the abuse of children.
Since children are usually victimised by their own relatives or members of their communities, the ‘community-based lawyers’ offer hope and strengthen systems of support in areas where horrors of child abuse are often concealed to safeguard deep-rooted relationships.
They also entrench a culture of child care and protection. This helps reduce violence and increase the uptake of information and services.
Malawi is party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits violence against children. However, it needs to expand strategies not only to detect and reduce cases of child abuse, but also
ease the way victims get services they need.
Child protection is one of the pillars of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) President Peter Mutharika and world leaders adopted five years ago at the UN in New York, US.
Key to the global goals to end poverty by 2030, SDG 16.2 calls for countries to end all forms of violence against children and respect the right of every child to live free from fear, neglect, abuse and exploitation.
The 2030 Agenda presents an opportunity to place the protection of children at the heart of policy and actions of every nation.
Kambala says: “Children are leaders of tomorrow, we need to create a nation where every child, everywhere, enjoys freedom from fear and from violence in all its forms.”