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UNICEF calls Zimbabweans, speak out on child abuse

UNICEF calls on Zimbabweans to speak out against child abuse

In the wake of accusations this week that a headmaster in Zimbabwe raped six primary school pupils, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today repeated its call for communities in the country to speak out against all forms of child abuse.

“This is an utterly intolerable violation of children's rights,” said UNICEF's Representative in Zimbabwe, Festo Kavishe. “At a time when Zimbabweans are making phenomenal efforts to absorb more than 1 million orphans, there appears a small number who prey on the most vulnerable of children.”

Almost every day there are fresh reports in the local media about children being abused, sometimes at their schools, other times by family members, but mostly by trusted authority figures, Mr. Kavishe added.

Anecdotal evidence from local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and clinics around Harare show child sexual abuse is rampant. Last year alone, a local NGO recorded 4,146 cases of sexual abuse against children in its area of operation alone.

“Community leaders need to be explicit in their condemnation of such abuse," Mr. Kavishe said.

UNICEF, in partnership with government ministries and several NGOs, supports a national campaign called Zero Tolerance Against Child Abuse.

As part of the drive, UNICEF is backing training of trainers' workshops and community-based education. Participants include government officials, NGOs, journalists, police and teachers.

The children's agency is also stepping up its work with communities, seeking to further educate them to spot the signs of child abuse and to tenaciously protect their children by establishing and supporting functional child protection committees, where children themselves are represented.

“Community leaders, teachers, mums and dads – these people are the front line in the fight against child abuse,” said UNICEF's head of child protection, Jose Bergua.

“Silence on this issue shelters the perpetrators and is a crime against children,” he warned.

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