Ugandan children are often expected to be completely submissive to the demands of adults, a dynamic that can sometimes lead to harsh emotional abuse if children are deemed to have spoken out of turn.
Emotional violence is defined as a pattern of verbal behaviour over time or an isolated incident that is not developmentally appropriate and supportive and that has a high probability of damaging a child’s mental health or his/her physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. Child neglect is often defined as the failure of a parent or caregiver to provide needed food, shelter, clothing, medical care, or supervision to the degree that a child’s health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm.
The Violence against Children National Survey 2018 stipulates that emotional violence is mostly perpetrated by parents and caregivers. For Uganda in particular, emotional violence is often not recognised as an issue within Ugandan society, leading to normalisation of severe verbal treatment of children.
According to the Joining Forces report, protecting children during the COVID 19 crisis and beyond, it was revealed that parents and caregivers lost their source of livelihoods but also stayed with children for a very long time. These scenarios saw most parents and care givers in Bugiri district experience high levels of stress and, in turn, this was transferred to children through emotional abuse and child neglect.
Obaara, a district elected councillor from Budhaya sub-county in Uganda recalls how, as a parent, provision of basic needs was not a priority: “My children often lacked essential items such as sanitary towels, books and pens. My family also suffered from emotional abuse, I was a very tough father, I would shout at my wife and children especially when finances were low.”
The Joining Forces for Africa project is using an approach called Parenting without Violence, developed by Save the Children. The approach helps parents and caregivers to clearly understand their role and responsibility and how to support their child as they develop. The approach works with fathers, mothers, care givers, communities, and children to transform harmful and discriminatory gender norms, power dynamics and accepted practices that drive violence in homes, it also works with Government to strengthen systems and mechanisms that increase children protection equitably and in a gender sensitive way.
Emmanuel was one of 200 parents to participate in positive parenting sessions where they discussed and learnt topics such as family dreams and self-care for caregivers, right to be safe, positive parenting goals, caring for children with emotional warmth, and understanding children, their views and feelings.
Other important aspects of parenthood such as respectful communication and solving problems together or positive relationships helped Obaara’s and his peers to review their parenting vision and skills. Obaara’s change started during and after attending the positive parenting sessions.
Obaara committed to change his behavior when dealing with his family. Obaara reports having changed from being a tough father and husband to being a lovely and approachable father and husband. He says: “I take provision of basic needs a pertinent issue at home, I provide scholar materials to all my children equally including girls without forgetting sanitary towels.”
Because of these new interventions at home, he now enjoys time with his family members. He says he now enjoys playtime with his children. In addition, his children have developed confidence and self-esteem as a result of discussing and making family decisions together with them.
Stella, the 14 years-old daughter of Obaara tells how her father, for the first time in her life, accepted her decision: “My father wanted me to skip a class because he did not have enough money. Like many parents, he wanted me to go ahead. However, because I wanted to perform better, I explained that I needed to stay in the class I am supposed to be in.”
Elijah, 12 years, one of Obaara’s sons explains how his father has shunned physical violence and now provides basic needs like food. Obaara has emerged as a community mentor and now he presides his Parenting without Violence group in Budhaya sub-county which is fighting against child labour, physical violence, teenage pregnancy, and early and forced marriages.
Using his knowledge on positive parenting, Obaara has taken it upon himself to sensitize other parents in the district to champion prevention and ensure child wellbeing.
During one of the focus group discussions, the different group members shared the impact of positive parenting sessions.
After the sessions, early and forced marriages decreased in the district, same as school dropout rate, teenage pregnancy and child labor.
Mirembe, a member of the positive parenting group, notes: “I have sensitised at least 10 parents on the dangers of child labor. As I speak now, these parents have pulled their children away from the mines and enrolled them in schools.”
These achievements are attributed to the efforts done by the different group members through engagements such as sensitisations through dialogue and case management.
Child protection risks still exist in the district but individual achievements geared towards improving the wellbeing of children are happening now as a result of Joining Forces for Africa project engagements.
One seed at a time towards the wellbeing of children.