Zimbabwe like many trouble sport on the Globe has children who are caught in between when there’s violence in their families, communities, at school, in the church or around the country .Children have a right to live peacefully, without threat to their safety, so that they can survive, be protected and develop their full potential. They also have the right to participate in decisions that affect them, in family, school and society, and so have the right to learn life-skills that will help them make appropriate choices, to enable them to live more safely.
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in its preamble says:
“Considering that the child should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and brought up in the spirit of ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nation’s, and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.”
What happens to children in a violent society?
In our society, the needs and rights of every child are adversely affected by the culture of violence. Many people carry guns, news are full of true stories of violence and violent scenes on “entertainment” television are increasing in number and becoming more and more explicit and horrific. It is these violent images that remain in the children's memories.
There is a worrying trend that the sexual scenes so often include violence. In addition, the high levels of child abuse are increasing dramatically. Children who have been hurt are more likely to hurt others.
When children's rights are met in a strong, loving home and supportive environment, they can generally cope with viewing or reading about some violence in the media. They can also usually cope with one or two isolated hurts - even bereavement or disablement. They do not form a "world view" or outlook on life that accepts violence as normal, and they do not to look for violent answers to their concerns for safety and protection.
For a large number of children, however, there’s no foundation of a stable, caring family to support them. Instead, violence starts in the home, and becomes the norm. It then continues as a widening spiral of violence in overcrowded and inadequate day-care centres, and in school where they experience violence from peers and also from teachers (in spite of physical punishment being forbidden by regulation). It spreads further and deeper into their lives if they live in violent inner-city or peri-urban communities with alcohol and drug abuse and crime. Neighbourhood gangs recruit youngsters from the age of 7 or 8, and often use a school as their base. Many children view a jail sentence as an initiation into manhood.
Children and young people are caught up in a spiral of violence where they are not protected and cannot develop fully. They lack opportunities to break out of the spiral, and recover from the hurts they have suffered, and often grow up to perpetuate violence themselves – They start off as victims and end up as perpetrators.
In taking action for children's rights we need to understand the causes of violence in our society and its effects on children's lives, and look at interventions that will break the cycle of violence, both generally and for specific children.
Emotional Damage to Children Who Live in a Violent Society
These are some of the ways violence damages the emotional or psycho- social lives of children:
Because of these factors, children living with violence often fail to develop social competence and empathy with others and may become perpetrators of violence themselves
Developing social competence and everyday skills is not enough. Children also need a sense of wonder in order to develop fully - to appreciate being alive, to be able to experience joy and delight, love and friendship.
Why children need extra protection from violence:
Interventions to break the spiral of violence:
“Safety Programmes for Children”
Coping in a violent situation:
We do not want to make children anxious and frightened all the time, but we need to teach them how to live with the dangers in our society. The following messages need to be taught over and over again, and put into their pictures, role-play and action-songs for the children to enjoy. Children need to explore ideas of violence and safety, and to know what reasonable plans they can make to be as safe as possible. The following can be done individually or in a family, school class or other group.
Children discuss the following, and draw about them, write about them or make up songs and poems or posters:
Note that children who take action to improve their own life feel competent and confident but need the support of adults, especially if they feel their actions did not achieve the results they hoped for. Adults can help them to set achievable goals so as to reach a satisfactory conclusion.
Key Messages To Give Children About Safety
Older children and teenagers need to know:
Teenagers in our society need education on gender sensitivity and the effects of sexual harassment and rape of girls. (If groups would like advice on this education they can contact the DCI-Zimbabwe on + 263 772 393 571 for the names of resource people)
Background information for adults
Children have rights. Children who know their rights, know that abuse is not their fault, as adults have no right to hurt children, and should never do so. Children who are confident about their rights and believe in their self-worth are less likely to be targeted for abuse, and also recover more quickly if they have been abused.
Age of consent. At present girls under the age of 12 cannot legally consent to sexual this must apply to boys and girls under 14, or to any child under 18 if there is a 2 or more year age-gap between the offender and the young person.
Perpetrators can be helped not to hurt children. Many children love their abusive father, uncle or other relative. If they know that he (and sometimes she) can get help, they are more likely to get help for themselves.
Bullying and Harassment:
Bullying is not child’s play! In spite of what most adults think, bullying should be taken seriously. Both physical and verbal attacks by one child on another, intending to hurt, are a form of violence and can cause permanent harm to the victim. Bullying can make the victim depressed, anxious and even fearful - it can be traumatic and has even led victims to commit suicide or take other extreme measures. Victims need help but so do bullies, as soon as possible, as their form of violence can escalate, as they grow older and stronger.
What is the difference between teasing and bullying?
School teasing may be hard to deal with, as you are often picked out for being different. If you show you are upset, it just makes teasing worse, so you need to learn to keep cool.
Bullying and harassment are an unpleasant form of violence very prevalent in our schools. They are often linked to bias and stereotyping. Victims are often girls (occasionally boys) or a minority cultural group or smaller and weaker children or any children who are seen as different in some way (such as being richer or poorer than the others, or more or less able physically or mentally). These groups are often stereotyped as "them" and not "us". This will shut them out of the peer group, and allow bullying free rein.
Victims need help:
In coping with on-going violence like this, victims need help. Family members, teachers and friends can help them by
Preventing or reducing bullying and harassment :
The following suggestions on a written policy against bullying and harassment can be adapted for any group of children, and is important in schools and residential care facilities for children.
A school policy against bullying and harassment
When girls are being targeted, a "sisterhood group" to protect girls might be possible. Likewise, a "brotherhood group" committed to the idea that "real men do not rape or hurt girls" could be encouraged. Gender sensitivity training is very important in our society, where the rights of the girl child are often transgressed. Role-play where the boys have to pretend to be girls in a dramatic sketch will often help them to understand the girl’s point of view when she is harassed. Stories and role models also help.
Help for bullies:
Considerable success has been achieved with "buddy programmes", where a perpetrator is linked with an older mentor who will take an interest in him/her, and help with anger management, mediation, and encouragement for socially acceptable behaviour.
Discuss with children what they do if they are bullied, and brainstorm alternative strategies
What can you do if you are being bullied?
Helping yourself to feel good :
Breathing exercise: Imagine you are a clock. Stand comfortably, with both hands at your sides – both down at 6 o'clock. Turn your hands with palms up, and lift them to 4 and 7 o' clock, respectively, breathing in, and lower them back to 6 as you breathe out. Raise them to 10 and 2 o'clock, breathing in, and lower again breathing out. Now, and then take a deep breath as you lift both hands up high (12 o'clock), feeling how your chest is stretched. Hold your breath for a few seconds and then let your breath out and let your head, shoulders and arms fall forward, relaxed. Repeat this two or three times
Relaxation: Imagine you are lying on soft, warm sand on the beach. Listen for the sound of the waves and feel a cool breeze blow over you. Stretch your toes and then let them sink into the sand. Stretch you legs, and then let them sink into the sand - feel how heavy they are. Do the same for your body and your arms. Wriggle your shoulders and neck and then let them relax. Pull faces and then let all the muscles - eyes and mouth and chin - go slack as if you are falling asleep. Breathe deeply and evenly and lie quietly. When you have to get up, take your time and try to keep feeling peaceful!