Ending violence in Ugandan schools

A school within CRANE, Viva’s partner network in Uganda, is preventing violence in the classroom and in the wider community – and so changing the culture in a country where many schoolchildren continue to face physical and sexual abuse.

Mim Friday reports on how big a problem violence in schools is and the way forward as modelled by Viva and CRANE.

Corporal punishment in Ugandan schools remains a deeply-rooted cultural practice, despite measures taken by the Government. Teachers continue to punish under the pretense of ‘pushing children to attain higher academic grades,’ but, in reality, violence in schools threatens performance and drop-out of students.

A study by Dipak Naker of five districts of Uganda, published in 2005, found that six in ten children reported being routinely beaten and humiliated in school and that three-quarters had experienced sexual violence.

In my study of schools in Uganda just this year, countless participants described the abuse students experienced at the hands of their teachers and the intimidation which followed reporting to authorities. One respondent also explained how one school manager had sexually abused over 70 students during his time in authority at the school.

This research revealed the link between unsolicited physical/sexual abuse and corporal punishment. Those interviewed described how children aren’t usually beaten in classrooms until they have refused sex or have reported abuse to authorities, demonstrating the deep-rooted nature of this damaging negative culture.

Only one teacher in the entire cohort spoke out about the abuse, due to the corporate fear of dismissal.

Continuing the culture of violence only reinforces abuse as an acceptable and effective means of challenging negative behaviours. However, research frequently demonstrates that it significantly increases the risk of physical, mental and developmental difficulties and therefore reduces an individual’s ability to prosper economically in adulthood.

In 2001, a small group of organisations in Kampala came together to think about forming a network to work together to keep children safe from all forms of abuse and fulfilling their potential. Three years later, in 2004, Children at Risk Action Network (CRANE) was formed from 15 organisations, in partnership with Viva.

Today, the network comprises 180 churches and organisations, and reaches over 72,000 vulnerable children.

Between 2013 and 2017, a DFID-funded Girls’ Education Challenge Project allowed Viva and CRANE to expand its reach into schools, communities and families to end violence against children.

Schools in the network are on a journey to becoming violence-free, and have been able to demonstrate that behaviour and performance improve as children learn to take control of their own learning journey.

One school within CRANE, The House of Joy Primary School, has worked consistently over the last nine years to end all violence in their school, and has achieved this by focusing on four key areas.

One area is engaging children through Child Ambassadors, whereby children are selected by their peers to represent them at workshops, seminars and children’s camps.

Two hundred and fifty children have been trained as Child Ambassadors to understand their rights and to work to improve the situation for other children in their own communities.

Through them, more than 10,000 children have been made aware of their own rights, and in turn are empowered to reach out to their peers.

The school also engages parents with evidence surrounding corporal punishment, paving the way for negotiation between those who hold differing opinions. It also works with local authorities and teachers to streamline the HR process, ensuring all those working with children are adequately trained and checked.

Prospective teachers are required to face their own experience of violence, which helps them come to understand that violence does not achieve the desired results of behaviour change.

Many adults in the House of Joy community have changed from perpetrators to advocates. As authority structures are changing, new roles are becoming available to staff, such as through the newly established child protection committee.

And with the voluntary adoption of the title of ‘advocate’, adults and children are assuming a new form of social dignity within schools.

Mim Friday is Viva Programme Manager and Network Consultant for Africa


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