ChildFund with funding from ChildFund Korea, implemented a project dubbed “Empowering Communities to Protect Children” in partnership with Acholi Child and Family Program (ACFP) in collaboration with Kitgum District Local Government.
The project aimed to improve child protection measures through empowering communities with information and tools to fight all forms of violence against children.
Running for three years, the project realised four child protection trainings, trained 30 service providers, facilitated the amendment of the Kitgum district education ordinance, established and strengthened 12 child rights clubs and supported 10 child rights clubs with assorted items.
The project reached a total of 16,170 beneficiaries with a total of 3,700 direct beneficiaries and 12,470 indirect beneficiaries.
About 65% of children living in the project areas are safe and well protect from all forms of violence while 24% of child protection or VAC cases were reported to child protection structures in the past 12 months.
While addressing Child Protection Committees (CPCs) at Ibakara Early Childhood Development Centre in Kitgum-Matidi on Tuesday, ChildFund Communications Officer, Brenda Asiimwe, said children can influence policy and service delivery if given an opportunity to express themselves.
“In our culture in the past, children were never taken seriously. It is as if they had no say in their lives,” she said, adding that ChildFund aimed to empower children with knowledge so they can detect and report violence on against them and on behalf of other children.
“On 16th (June 2021) is Day of the African Child. Let us reflect on where we have been and challenges we need to overcome to ensure children are safe. We want children to live the best lives.”
She said ChildFund has done incredible work in the area with the view that vulnerable children face the similar challenges everywhere across the country.
William Komakech, a Child Representative, said the project taught him about his rights and responsibilities.
Komakech was sponsored by ChildFund to go to United Nations headquarters in New York city and speak about the plight of children.
Otam Pira Brighton, another Child Representative, said the project taught his sisters how to make local sanitary pads.
“I learnt how to debate and how to live in harmony with my parents. You know children are stubborn nowadays but the project taught us to be respectful to our parents,” he said.
Asked what she would tell the president if given a chance, Bibian Okello, 17, a Senior Two student at YY Okot Memorial College, said she wishes students and her friends can access reading materials in this second Covid19 lockdown.
“I wish my parents can protect my rights as a child,” she said during an interview with ChildFund PRO Asiimwe at Lagoro Trading Centre.
Atimango Priscah, a Senior Two student at Lagoro Seed Secondary School, also raised the issue of study materials saying it is one way of keeping the girl-child interested in studying.
“The lockdown makes girls want to drop out of school,” Priscah told ChildFund’s Asiimwe in a face-to-face interaction.
Child Protection Committees laud the project
Lapoya Atyak Ocweth, a Clan Leader, said they benefited a lot from ChildFund’s project, explaining how he was getting a lot of difficulties when raising children issues during clan meetings.
“The project taught me how to settle such issues and understand the value of children in a clan setting where children never used to be considered,” Ocweth said.
As a result, he said, physical abuses like corporal punishments (especially beating of children) have reduced hence families are living peacefully.
“The most important benefit is that elders now know that children too need privacy in a home. They used to sleep with their parents in a small manyatta (a network of mud-walled and grass-thatched huts) which was inconvenient.”
Ocweth, on a personal level, was given a bicycle for easy transportation while sensitising clan leaders on child protection and tge danger of child marriages which, he says, have since reduced.
Anywar Mwa Everest, a CPC member, says the project taught him skills of mediation when children violations occur in the area.
“I now know who to approach on children rights. I was given tools to write and report child abuses to those responsible for protecting children,” Everest explained.
He also witnessed first-hand how the project helped an abandoned child amid rising child neglect cases.
Ocaya Vincent Franco, a CPC member and Child Protection Champion, says the project supported the police to arrest suspects of child abuse, trained them on children rights to the extent that even known alcoholics in the area understood the need to care and protect their children.
On the other hand, the project taught CPCs on how to guide and counsel children when they face difficulties.
Ocen Justine, a Community Chairperson, says the project properly coordinated issues of children and opened people’s eyes to report abuses instead of hiding them like before.
“It gave me easy work as the chairperson,” Ocen noted.
Willy Odokonyero, a Catechist, says the project has positively impacted community members like himself who had little knowledge on children protection.
“I was trained on psychosocial support and mediation. We managed to conclude almost 80% of the mediation cases in the area,” Odokonyero noted.
He said the project strengthened coordination among community members who had little hope in police, which was considered the enemy, but in the end managed to bring all sectors together.
“The project brought exposure through radio talk shows, sensitisation, dialogue with communities, district leaders up to the parliament level,” he said, adding, “It built structures which remain intact even after the project ended; for example, people are now reporting children violations because children are a gift from God.”
Omara James, a teacher at Mulago Primary School (Kitgum), says child abuses have reduced in the area, cases of violence are reported to the authorities and people’s attitudes have positively changed towards education.
He hailed the project for creating advocacy at different levels giving children a platform to express themselves and creating a safe learning environment for children by removing cattle auction markets near schools.
He said children can also freely report cases because of eased coordination, toll free lines and radio talk shows.
Lalam Grace, a CPC member, said the project changed her life and that of her family as well as the entire community.
“We were taught how to handle children since many didn’t know the rights of children and responsibilities of parents. Parents now know where to report cases of child abuse. I welcome the project to return to our communities,” she pointed out.
Ronald Obong, LC1 Chairman Bobi village in Ibakara Parish Kigum-Matidi sub-county, said the project trained him on child protection, equipped him with adequate knowledge on how to handle children.
“It taught me psychosocial support especially how to speak to children, work with them and have a good relationship. I also learnt how to handle child courts, handle child violation cases, mediate, counsel or refer them to relevant authorities.”
He says the project made possible for a relationship between health workers, police and courts, something that had never been before.