Violence against Children is Complex and Requires Multi-disciplinary Multi-level Prevention Interventions

Violence against children in settings like Uganda is a public health matter whose management and prevention is complicated by its cultural manifestation.

The Child Health and Development Centre at Makerere University College of Health Sciences in collaboration with the OaK Foundation recently organised a workshop to raise awareness, interest and commitment among public health professionals to scale-up primary prevention of violence against children. The workshop that was attended by over 60 participants; leading experts and stakeholders was held at Silver Springs Hotel, Kampala. Participants were drawn from the health sector and development partners.
Discussions were focused on the magnitude and cost of violence against children and the role of the health sector. Special attention was given to debating policy considerations, programmes and advocacy efforts in the public health sector.

The workshop was opened by Dr. Paul Kaggwa, Commissioner Health Education and Promotion at the Ministry of Health. Dr. Kaggwa ÔÇô who stood in for the Minister of Health ÔÇô noted that violence against children manifests in various forms in different ways across the country due to the different cultural settings, calling for realistic and appropriate interventions to suits the different settings. ÔÇ£We need to emphasise primary interventions for Uganda, through educating the public. We need to engage the custodians of culture to understand these practicesÔÇØ, he implored.

Dr. Kaggwa further pointed out that practices like disciplining children in schools and at home have long gone beyond mere disciplining and have spiraled into violence against children. He therefore advocated for the design and implementation of appropriate interventions at these various levels.

In a speech read for him by Dr. Olive Sentumbwe, the World Health Organisation Country Representative, Dr. Wondimagegnehu Alemu said that violence against children occurs everyday, everywhere but it is preventable once pulled out of the shadows. He said the effects of violence against children can last a lifetime; damaging mental, physical and emotional development. ÔÇ£Many parents believe that physical punishment is necessary to raise an upright childÔÇØ, he pointed out.

Among the possible interventions, he mentioned support to parents in good parenting, strengthening judicial system and services for children affected by violence, the need for evidence with human and socio-economic costs for proper advocacy, among others.
Representing the Principal College of Health Sciences, Dr. Ezekiel Mupere said that violelnce against children is perpetuated by societal, institutional and individual level factors, necessitating interventions that target these different levels.

The Principal, Makerere University College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Prof. Edward Kirumira pointed out that violence against children should not just be treated as an event but attention should also be given to the causes and effects. ÔÇ£The effect on us as we grow up, the health system and what it does to the national development trajectory should all be accorded adequate attentionÔÇØ, he said. He noted with dismay that while Uganda has 18 laws that relate to children, there are more efforts to enact more without assessment of how the existing ones are performing.

Dr. Anne Katahoire, the Child Health and Development Centre Director said violence against children is a complex problem mostly perpetuated by those who are supposed to protect the children; parents, teachers, close relatives, among others.

Violence against children continues to be a major public health challenge in Uganda and worldwide. It has been argued that the move towards prevention by all parties is more sustainable, although all stakeholders working in this area can still bring in their unique strengths and expertise. The key question at the workshop was how stakeholders can take advantage of existing opportunities and create new ones to strengthen prevention of violence against children.