FEATURES DESK 30/01/2014
The child was going back home after selling spicy fried fish [kanyenya] at Nkhotakota Boma. He was heading to Chia, a distance of about 18km from Nkhotakota Boma where he usually sells the commodity from around 4:00 pm till late at night.
As usual, he was to board public transport only to be attacked by unknown assailants who robbed him of cash thereby leaving him stranded.
That was not all. The thugs also beat him before vanishing into thin air. Luck enough, the child was met by a well-wisher who took him to the police after learning about his ordeal and anguish.
“The well-wisher brought the child to Nkhotakota Police Victim Support Unit around 9:00 pm and he spent his night there before assisting him the following day to go back home,” says Nkhotakota Police Child Protection Officer Esau Kamwendo.
Kamwendo says the incident is one of many cases of child abuses happening around Chia in the area of Senior Chief Malengachanzi in Nkhotakota.
“In this case the child was not well protected because he was exposed to an environment which made him vulnerable to abuse.
“Many children from Chia are exposed to such an environment because they come to Nkhotakota Boma to sell kanyenya and they return late in the night,” he says.
Kamwendo says apart from that, some children are forced to sell various commodities including fish during time for classes.
“Compounding these abuses is child labour experienced in fishing industry at the lake and child marriages which are also prevalent in this area.
“The children fall into these predicaments either on their own or by being forced by their parents,” says the child protection officer.
This is happening when article 36 of Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) stipulates that children should be protected from any activities that could harm their development.
Child marriages, for example, undermine almost all the core principles of child rights which include non-discrimination, the right to life, survival and development, protection, provision, participation and the child’s best interests.
It is important to realize that children need protection because they are more prone to abuse and have right to protection, freedom from violence and exploitation, and to a safe and supportive environment.
However, some children need more protection than others because of being in circumstances that expose them to extreme risk of lack of basic needs and other abuses that further deny them their rights.
Such children include orphans, street children, refugees or displaced children, child workers, children trapped in prostitution or sexual abuse and delinquent children.
Children from Chia and some parts of the lake shore district also deserve special protection because of the environment they are exposed to including engaging in fishing and vending along the beaches and trading centres during the time for classes.
The 2008 Population and Housing Census Report indicates that 63.3 per cent of children in the district aged between three and 29 were not attending school.
Nkhotakota District Council Director of Planning and Development Justine Kathumba says child marriages are also a concern in the community around Chia since many youths are dropping out of school at tender ages.
“We liaised with Senior Chief Malengachanzi to assist us in uplifting the lives of youths around this area who contribute 60 per cent of the population.
“The chief has spearheaded in the process of establishing by-laws in order to promote girl education,” says Kathumba.
This is in accordance with the 1990 World Summit for Children which called for full implementation of article 28 of the CRC, including a call on governments to increase enrolment and improve retention rates of girls by allocating appropriate budgetary resources.
This call has changed the status of girls in primary and secondary schools in some countries while in others percentage of girls enrolling still lagging behind their male peers, and once enrolled, are more likely to drop out of school.
Senior Chief Malengachanzi says Malengachanzi Area Development Committee (ADC) convened a meeting on 25 December 2013 and established by-laws to deal with the problem.
He says one of the by-laws highlights that girls should not be allowed to sell various commodities during time for attending classes and beyond 5:00 pm.
“If a school-going girl is found loitering at night, her parents will be fined seven chickens. In addition, parents should not allow their daughters to get married when they are below 21 years. Failure to adhere to this by-law will attract a penalty of five chickens or one goat,” says the senior chief.
“Am serious about this issue and anyone who does not abide by the by-laws will have to pay their accompanying penalties because this problem has been there for quite some time now and needs to be dealt with,” says the senior chief.
The by-laws are also calling for parents to provide proper guidance, care, assistance and maintenance for their children to ensure their development. They are against child labour happening in the fishing industry.
The fishing industry encompasses a wide spectrum of work from heavy industrial factory operations to leisurely hook and line fishing in a local river.
They range from hazardous work to light work that is possibly suitable for children under certain conditions. On land, there is dock work such as lifting nets and fish cases, repairing nets, maintaining vessels and cleaning and processing fish.
On the water, there is basic crew work, hauling nets, line fishing and diving. Children are engaged in all these.
Kathumba says the whole essence of these by-laws is to ensure that children and young people especially girls are protected and respected.
“They should also have opportunities for development, security, participation and also influence,” he says.
Apart from the by-laws, Kamwendo says there is need for sensitizing the community about both national and international laws dealing with child protection.
“We have good laws like the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act but many people in the rural areas are not aware of it,” says Kamwendo.
Awareness raising can create a protective environment for children to know their rights and responsibilities, to understand what constitutes child abuse, how to avoid situations of child abuse and know where and how to seek help when child abuse takes place.
The sensitization can also be crucial for the community members to take action in reporting the abuses as in line with Child Care, Protection and Justice Act.
Section 75(1) of Child Care, Protection and Justice Act states that it shall be the duty of any member of the community who has evidence that a child’s rights are being infringed or that a parent, guardian or any person having custody of a child, who is able to but refuses or neglects to provide the child with adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical care or education, to report the matter to local government authority of the area.
The child protection officer says he is hopeful that things will improve to mitigate the sufferings that children are encountering.
“Imagine defilement cases at Nkhotakota Police Station rose from 12 in 2012 to 24 in 2013. Many suspects said they were doing that in order to get rich or catch fish in abundance. So it’s really pathetic and children need to be protected from all these abuses,” says Kamwendo.