Silent sexual abuse at child care centres
There are fears that children living in child care centres across the country are experiencing sexual abuse but most of them are afraid to report because they have nowhere to go, Malawi News has learnt.
Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare says it cannot rule out the possibility of this happening, and has confirmed receiving reports from across the country.
The Malawi Human Rights Commission’s (MHRC) monitoring of the centres in May also established the existence of sexual abuse which mostly goes unreported.
Director of Children’s Rights at MHRC, Noris Chirwa said the children are mostly abused by the people who have authority at the centres.
“Most children don’t know where to report and they are afraid to do so for fear that they could be sent back home where life may not be as it is at the centres. There could be more of such issues because we noticed that most children were timid. They couldn’t easily open up to talk about issues, even in the absence of their care givers and other authorities,” she noted.
During the MHRC’s visit, six cases of sexual abuse were discovered in Mangochi, Blantyre, Lilongwe and Ntcheu and all cases were referred to police where they are under investigation.
To some extent, it seems most children are at risk of sexual abuse due lack of government’s monitoring of the state of the Child Care Centres. Malawi News has observed that government last monitored these institutions in 2014.
Child rights activists have blamed the sexual abuse on the loopholes and weaknesses in the system.
Last year it was known that an American national, Gerald Campbell sexually abused orphans at Victory Christian Children’s Home in Thyolo. But this was discovered after he had already left the country, a clear indication of lack of government’s commitment to inspect the institutions.
He was tried and convicted in Texas where he is serving a jail term.
Centre for Children’s Affairs Executive Director, Moses Busher, was quoted in our sister paper The Daily Times as saying there is lack of order when it comes to establishment of such centres, noting that there is a lot of abuse in the centres which go unreported.
“People are just deciding to open these centres, taking advantage of the fact that government doesn’t have such structures and no other options to take care of orphans. This is compromising the welfare of the children,” he observed.
Busher noticed that most of the institutions are a haven for child abuse, under the guise of helping orphans.
“We seem to trust these orphanage owners so much yet they are abusing our children. Most of these abuses go unreported because these children are so vulnerable and are afraid to report such issues,” he said.
Busher added: “There is little supervision of such places by government and it is as if they only want government to check on them and not civil society organisations. If you go there, they say it is only Ministry of Gender that comes here for supervision and they highly question the CSO’s presence there.”
Busher cited the issue of Campbell saying, “I believe there are many children within such centres who are going through this.”
Executive Director for Family Rights, Elderly and Child Protection Trust (FRECHIP), Esmie Tembenu says the children are at a continued risk of sexual abuse in the child care centres because of poverty.
“The whole system is weak and has lots of loopholes thus, allowing the children to be prone to abuse. It’s a fact that there is no perfect system in the world as even in the most advanced countries such cases are registered. All we can do in Malawi is to tighten the systems checks and balances,” she said.
Tembenu added that: “When it comes to sexual abuse, children are particularly vulnerable because they are unable to give consent to advances of sexual acts. They are a group of people that is not capable of understanding the significance of sexual acts. They are always unable to indicate their refusal to engage in sexual activities to the authorities of child care institutions. Such child victims of sexual abuse don’t report for fear of being chased away from the centres as it is suspected that the sexual abusers are the people in authority.”
Spokesperson for ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, Lucy Bandazi said government cannot rule out the issues of abuse.
“Reports have been received from various areas and have been followed up, currently the ministry is working on compiling data for such,” she said.
Bandazi disclosed that the ministry has come up with re-integration plan, where the children will be taken back into their homes and communities, instead of having them in the institutions.
She says is has been observed that some children in these institutions have close relations and parents that prefer to send their children to institutions instead of taking care of them themselves.
“Government is also working on sensitizing people on the dangers of institutionalization so that they take care of the children in the homes. The government has put in place mechanism as to protect children which include legal frameworks such as the 2010 Child Care Protection an justice Act and child line (116) for anonymous reporting of child abuse…” he said.
Malawi is a home of an estimated one million orphans. According to UNAIDS, 530,000 of orphans aged 0 to 17 years old have been orphaned due to AIDS.
Last year, MHRC disclosed that over 10,000 children are living dangerously in over 150 orphanages across the country.
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