“Child abuse cases will not stop until people who report them remains anonymously and protected against perpetrators. During investigations Police reveal names of people who reported cases, hence putting our lives in trouble; this makes us hesitant when we have to report,” This was said at Community Council Child Protection Teams (CCCPTs) training that was held in Butha-Buthe from 10 to 12 February 2022.
The workshop which was funded by UNICEF Lesotho and implemented by Lesotho Red Cross Society was facilitated by representatives from stakeholders from the Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Education and Training, Lesotho Mounted Police Service-Child and Gender Protection Unit (CGPU) and Human Trafficking. The project was implemented in Five Districts being Butha-Buthe, Mafeteng, Mokhotlong, Qacha’s Nek and Thaba-Tseka to the tune of M1.5 Million. The Project kickstarted in February 2021 and ends in April 2022. The aim of the project was to sensitize and strengthen child protection from violence and abuse during and beyond COVID 19 pandemic including schools.
It was discovered during trainings that although they see child abuse in schools and communities, they are not reported. It was indicated that people are afraid that most times people who investigate these issues reveal their names and that makes them vulnerable to the perpetrators. Apart from that, the team demonstrated that some cases that include family members are not reported because they hide them in respect of their family reputation.
During these trainings, participants indicated that they also bully children by calling them names according to their skin colours, their body structures and things that hampered self-esteem and confidence towards school work.
“Personally, I sometimes call my students big head”, said Teacher Thabelo Motsamai; not his real name.
He explained that they also were not aware that corporal punishment was one of child abuse activities. “We thought corporal punishment was good to discipline and guide the child into good behaviour. In addition, this training has opened our eyes that sending students to run errands during school time is also a form of abuse”; the Teacher said dejectedly.
However, it was also indicated that students also abuse male teachers by coming to the front seat where they do not normally seat and opening their legs and looking at the front of the teachers’ trousers. On the other hand, the boys too are said to abuse the female teachers by looking at them sexually.
“The moment the girl does that they never concentrate on what I am teaching but rather on my front. I wondered if my trouser was open or not. I changed positions while I was teaching, but she would not give up on looking and that is when I decided to leave class to check if the trouser was not properly closed or not and indeed it was closed,” he said.
“Not only do students carry weapons to schools, but they also give bad names and write about us on the schools’ toilets with all sorts of derogatory things and all these make us very uncomfortable during our stay in schools hence we need help too, “says Ms Maithabeleng Sesiu – not her real name.
In addition, the teachers’ observed the high rate of early child marriages, child labour as being at the peak, especially during the COVID 19 lockdowns.
On the other hand, Mrs. Matheko Ndaole, a Social Worker explained that early child marriage will be dealt with by the law.
Community Council Child Protection Teams “CCCPTs” requested that they should be given an assurance that when they report abuse cases they are taken seriously and the reporter’s identity is not revealed to the perpetrators for security purposes.
The team also pleaded that they need psychosocial support services in their schools. They demonstrated that both teachers and students need psychosocial support officer in campus so that they should access services when need so dictates.
The participants indicated that because of the education policy for inclusive education which gives every child a right to education, some girls come to school heavily pregnant and therefore they request the Ministries of Education and Training and the Ministry of Health to provide nurses and rest beds at schools for girls who are expectant. This could give girls respect and privacy when they get assisted by professionals to avoid causing more harm to them. They indicated that some girls hide their pregnancy period and end up giving birth in toilets or in class. They also emphasized the point that some schools are not nearer to the clinic where they could take the expectant girls to when their delivery stage starts.
The workshop came as a result of the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic on families, especially children. According to the Child Protection Volunteer Mr. Sebusiso Tsotako of Lesotho Red Cross Society, the issues of child protection have been seen to have increased from the first lockdown due to its impact. Tsotako indicated that parents lost jobs which resulted in their negative coping mechanisms that affected their children.
According to a representative from the Child and Gender Protection Unit Mr. Thabo Mokuena there are laws that are being formulated that protect the children. Mokuena indicated that they have been sensitizing people about early child marriage and labour for a long time and that they believe people know about these, and the charges which may befall everyone who was involved in child protection issues.
The Representative from the Ministry of Social Development Ms. Lijalo Halahala indicated that there are some parents who do not report rape which involves a member of the family, but teachers are the ones who should report because they spent most of their time with the children at school and that they will be able to notice through children’s behaviour when they are being abused.
She added that child protection starts from the family to the community and that the community includes schools where those children spent most of their time. Teachers and Principals of Mokhotlong also attended child protection workshop.