YAWE: Keeping School Children Safe in Shinyanga
18 August 2023
Shinyanga Region has the highest prevalence of child pregnancies (34%), high school dropouts (500+girls), and the highest prevalent occurrence of child marriages (59%), various researches have revealed.
It is unfortunate, however, that several challenges make it difficult to address the problems that continue to push for unsafe learning environment for school children, hence fueling child abuse. The setbacks include a lack of knowledge among children about their basic rights, pressure from peers that leads to early sexual activities, limited access to sexual and reproductive health information and services, insufficient education on life skills and self-esteem, and poor cooperation between school authorities, teachers, students, families, and government departments.
To address the challenges, Youth and Women Emancipation (YAWE) with support from WFT-T implemented a project titled “Keeping School Children Safe in Shinyanga”.
The project, which was implemented in three administrative wards of Puni, Nyida and Didia, was aimed at improving the well-being of adolescent students by helping them lead healthier and empowered lives. Specifically, the project was aimed at increasing the number of peer activists advocating for child rights and protection and reporting mechanisms of child abuse cases in schools.
The project was also meant to increase the level of cooperation between parents, teachers, and the community in taking concerted action to protect child rights, through awareness creation.
Moshi Jilalage, Project Coordinator explained that as part of implementation, the project facilitated the formation of seven (7) school-based child protection and safety desks and child junior councils. These were formed using new national guidelines and monthly sessions between school peer activists and all school children were organized to educate them on SRHR and life-skills, as well as addressing their personal concerns through one-on-one discussions.
The project also led to the implementation of mentorship programs for school peer activists to raise their self-esteem and confidence and help them connect with community change agents, to strengthen collaboration in advancing the agenda on ending violence against children.
Through the project, monthly dialogues between parents, teachers, and community change agents were organized to discuss different forms of violence against women and children, including online abuse and its associated risks. Dialogue with school teachers, school committees, and parents were held to help curb harmful norms and emphasize positive relationships within the community.
As a result of the project, there has been an increase in children’s confidence resulting in the number of child abuse cases being reported in schools to go up. For example, at Buyubi Primary School, five child abuse cases were reported by school children compared to one case reported in the previous phase of the project.
This was facilitated by increased level of awareness among adolescent students, particularly those at risk, on different forms of violence against children and increased confidence in championing child protection and rights in school. “YAWE has revived my dream of becoming a great leader in Tanzania and helping a large number of people to know and demand their rights and speak against all forms of violence against children and women. I will be an advocate in revealing incidents of violence and defending the rights of children at school and society level,” said Amina,
On the other hand, school children have started demonstrating behavioral and attitude changes through participating in meetings or matters concerning their lives. They are currently participating in Junior council and child protection and safety desk meetings conducted at school for discussing different matters concerning the wellbeing of children at school including child rights protection. These changes came as a result of mentorship sessions on child rights, responsibilities, and forms of child abuse, implemented by the project.
When it comes to parents, there is an increase in the provision of responsive caregiving to their children both at home and school. Some parents are visiting schools to make follow ups on the academic progress and welfare of their children, a situation which is different from the previous time. This positive development is attributed to increasing awareness among parents and guardians.
_“My parents used to beat and prevent me from attending school. They did not want to buy me school uniforms and other school needs. It was very difficult for me to request them to buy school needs since they used to shout at me every time. “Now, things have changed after they attended YAWE sessions for parents. They are now supporting me and have bought me school uniforms and other school necessities,” _explained Gideon, another pupil from Puni village.
The project also resulted in increased effort, accountability, and commitment to take action against child abuse cases by school authorities. The project implementation has seen six out of eight schools posting child rights posters in classrooms to ensure that each student is aware of his/her rights, and knows the right channels for reporting gender-based violence.
On the other hand, the project also identified and trained 90 (50 females and 40 males) peer activists in schools, who are advocating for child rights and protection. The school peer activists are championing child rights through Junior Council meetings and safety desk meetings conducted on a monthly and weekly basis. This has led to the reporting and addressing of five cases at the school.
Rehema Kenerd, a peer activist at Puni Primary School said, “We are now aware of violence against children and we have decided to lead the movement to end violence against children. At our school, we always meet with safety desks and junior council members to discuss the situation of children in terms of violence and we motivate and encourage each other not to hide any case of abuse.”