From child trafficking, child labour to defilement, Malawian children are battling with various forms of abuse in the homes and elsewhere. Is there hope for their future?
In March this year, Isaac Banda and Shukuran Kassim of Naveya Village in Thyolo (southern Malawi) were on their way home from school when their relation told them to follow him to Bvumbwe Trading Centre where he would buy them clothes.
â€œObviously, we were excited. But to our surprise, we took a different route from the one we use when going to the trading centre. It took us three hours to reach the trading centre when we normally take one and a half hours,â€ said Isaac, 10.
It turned out their relative had planned to sell them at K250 000 (about $1 000) each to an unknown man. Isaac and Shukuran, 11, who were pupils at Kalimbuka Primary School, and had just taken a mathematics test.
The two boys were lucky to be rescued by police at Bvumbwe Trading Centre Roadblock. But many cases of child trafficking and other forms of child abuse go unreported in Malawi.
But the fact that they are on the rise raises questions.
Have parents failed their duty?
â€œChildren need maximum protection from their parents. These days, children are being exposed to many things.
â€œParents are not just responsible for the physical well-being of children. They are also responsible for the emotional and social development of their [children],â€ said Reverend Patrick Semphere recently.
Semphere was delivering a child-care lesson to couples at the Lighthouse in Malawiâ€™s capital, Lilongwe.
Article 18 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states: â€œâ€¦Parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of a child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern.â€
Semphere said the new generation of children is living in the world of human trafficking, sexual abuse and other social evils which, he said, require parents to be vigilant in guarding their children.
â€œChild care is not just about giving children the basic amenities like food and sending them to school. Children need to be protected from psychological, emotional and sexual forms of abuse.
â€œStudies have shown that sexual abuse on children mostly comes from the least expected persons in the society. Even fathers are sexually abusing their own children. Therefore, mothers need to be more careful when leaving their children in the care of others,â€ he said.
Semphere added that while beating of children is recommended to avoid spoiling them, parents should refrain from extensive whipping to avoid rendering the punishment ineffective.
â€œParents should ensure that children are exposed to the right things both at home and school. Many parents do not check the age limits for videos and television shows which their children watch.
â€œAs a result, children are watching almost everything, including things which can destroy their future. Parents have to monitor how the behaviours of their children are changing when they come back from school,â€ said Semphere.
The child care and other sessions, including one on the advantages of circumcision, were part of Lighthouseâ€™s session for parents. The couples included Lighthouse staff and volunteers who implement the organisationâ€™s HIV and Aids activities.
Parentsâ€™ challenges in child care
Stella Mwale, a mother of two children, said it was difficult for parents to follow their children wherever they go and track their conduct, saying this poses a challenge for them to check negative habits developing in their children.
â€œIt is sad to see young people dying these days before they have contributed to the development of the country. Some of the deaths could be prevented if parents were able to check things like drug and substance abuse in their children,â€ said Mwale.
Lighthouse executive director Dr. Sam Phiri said they decided to groom the couples on child care and circumcision because the two issues relate to the fight against HIV and Aids.
â€œWe, basically, wanted to look at the current issues affecting the fight against the pandemic. As Lighthouse, we have gone out to teach communities on these issues, but we wanted to have time with our workers to highlight the need for them to provide good care to their children.
â€œWe also wanted to look at issues of voluntary male circumcision in terms of advocacy,â€ said Phiri.
Violence, exploitation, abuse
According to Unicef, child survival and development is critical to the overall development of any country. The organisation calls on all stakeholders, including parents, to help give basic education to children and protect them from violence, exploitation and abuse.
Unicefâ€™s handbook on the implementation of the UN child rights convention states: â€œAlthough the covenant does not indicate how such responsibility [of protecting children] is to be apportioned, it is primarily incumbent on the family, which is interpreted broadly to include all persons composing it in the society of the State Party concerned, and particularly on the parentsâ€¦â€
In its report on Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children and Child Protection, Unicef points out that Malawi faces serious challenges from child abuse, exploitation and violence.
â€œAccording to the 2006 MICS, 29 percent of children aged 5-14 years are involved in the worst forms of child labour. Sexual exploitation, abuse and trafficking of children are believed to be increasing, but more reliable statistics are needed. There is no birth registration system in the country,â€ reads part of the report.
It also says lack of appropriate knowledge and skills, cultural practices, illiteracy, gender inequity and poor access to media all contribute to continued risky attitudes and practices at individual, household and community levels. Furthermore, legislation related to child care, protection, justice, adoption and inheritance is outdated and not in line with international standards.