It’s all about the child.
By Janet Mwitiki
Janet is a Fellow in Metis’ Cohort II. She is a passionate visionary Child Care and Development Specialist with over 20 years of experience in Early Childhood Development (ECD) lobby and advocacy.
“Kata shingo songa mbele...” (English: Cut the neck, move forward…)
I heard young Brian screaming it repeatedly. I looked confused to his teachers and asked them: “Why aren’t you stopping him? Why do you let him say these cruel things in front of his classmates?” They looked at me helplessly, “These are the words he heard from the people killing his dad.” Hearing Brian repeating what he had heard from them became a new normal thing to the teachers. My heart suddenly felt heavy and I realized: It’s not just our traumatized children, but also our teachers that urgently need our support.
Traumatization In Early Age Comes With A Major Impact
Recent research underlines the impact of child abuse not just for the individual health of children, but also the well-being and economics for families, communities, and countries across our continent. With an increased focus on early childhood development, improved outcomes cannot be expected without addressing the adversity of child abuse and neglect which is a major threat to the achievement of the sustainable development goals on the continent.
According to a Child Protection Report launched by Childline Kenya between (2006-2016), over 33,929 cases of child abuse were reported through the 116 helpline. Among these, child neglect was reported as the highest form of abuse, making up 41% of cases for a total of 13,878 reported cases. The report showed that 75% of child neglect was perpetrated by immediate family members followed by parents and extended family at 17% and 8% respectively. When neglect was reported at a high rate, all other forms of abuse rose as well.
Neglected children are at an increased risk for impaired cognitive, language, emotional and social development, especially in early years where the brain development is rapid and critical, negative influence is harmful and permanent. It’s therefore impossible for me to accept that child abuse is still a largely unaddressed topic in our Early Child Development (ECD) Programs.
The Role Of Our Teachers & Community Is Crucial
Despite the family, our community, including teachers, are the crucial base of child protection. They can help identifying, treating, and preventing child maltreatment.
On the one hand our teachers have close and consistent contact with our children. On the other hand, educators carry the professional responsibility. Children cannot learn effectively if their attention or energy is sapped by the conflicts inherent in being maltreated. Teachers have a unique opportunity to advocate for children, as well as provide programs and services that can help children and strengthen families.
According to studies from the US Department of Health & Human Services, positive and balanced relationships with an adult may enhance the resilience of children who have been abused. It is therefore urgent to build teachers’ capabilities to answer to the special needs of abused children. I still find a major lack of awareness, sensitization, and knowledge throughout Kenya.
Child Protection – My work with Metis
I envisioned to initiate a child protection training to support both teachers and grassroot organizations with the target to help them identify and respond to common forms of abuse in their ECD programs.
With the incredible help of Metis, I am training and mentoring a group of twenty Directors and Proprietors of ECD Programs from the Kiambio slums of Nairobi. In addition, we empower the local community child protection leaders and caregivers in the informal settlements of Kagemi and Kibera as part of the Kidogo childcare programs.
Our training enabled the heads of these childcare centers to identify common forms of abuse. They initially could identify an abuse but had no idea of where or who to report to. However, through this training they are now able to link the abusers with the local reporting and referral systems in nearby health facilities. For the purpose of community sustainability, the trained teachers and community leaders are in the process of forming a Community of Practice (COP): 10 members are conducting monthly meeting to share best practices on children’s’ concerns and help each other to identify appropriate systems to respond to these abuses.
Despite my efforts, I truly believe the responsibility of protecting our children is not just in the hands of care givers or teachers, it is all our responsibility! Starting from the community to politicians and up to government stakeholders. Child protection is not a one man show! It’s a multi-sectoral approach!
I ask you to join me today fighting for the importance of child protection. Together we have the power to convince our government to increase resources and prioritize our children.
“Let children be children” and ensure that young girls and boys, like Brian, get the care they need and deserve.