Understanding key forms of violence against children

Violence against children takes different forms. It is crucial to understand each of them and come up with measures to handle them.

It is also common that a child may be victim to more than one category at the same time, and therefore require more than one measure of intervention.

Uganda’s National Strategic Plan on Violence Against Children in Schools (2015-2010) defines forms of violence inflicted on children of school-going age – three to 18 years – in four broad categories.

The five-year strategy relies on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) definition of violence as ‘all forms of physical or mental violence, injury and abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse’.

Physical violence is any form of punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort. Physical violence can be fatal and non-fatal. This involves hitting children with the hand or with any object, kicking, shaking, scratching, pinching, biting, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions and burning, among others.

Corporal punishment refers to any disciplinary measure in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort. Psychological or emotional violence is any act or behaviour that conveys to a child that they are worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or of value only in meeting another’s needs.

It includes blaming, degrading, intimidating, terrorizing, isolating, restraining, confining, corrupting, exploiting, spurning, withholding affection, and belittling the child’s capabilities, qualities and desires, or otherwise behaving in a manner that is harmful, potentially harmful, or insensitive to the child’s developmental needs or can potentially damage the child psychologically or emotionally.

Sexual violence is any sexual act (or attempt to obtain a sexual act), unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic a person’s sexuality, using coercion, threats of harm or physical force, by any person regardless of relationship to the child.

This encompasses a range of offences, including completed non-consensual sex acts (i.e. rape), attempted non-consensual sex acts, abusive sexual contact (i.e. unwanted touching), and non-contact sexual abuse (e.g., threatened sexual violence, exhibitionism, verbal sexual harassment).

Sexual violence also includes the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful or psychologically harmful sexual activity; the exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices; and the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials, and the provision of gifts especially from men to girls or from women to boys in return for sexual pleasure.

Neglect and negligent treatment is the failure to meet the children’s physical (such as food, shelter, clothing) and psychological needs; protect them from danger; to access vital services required by the child such as education, medical care, registration and or abandonment when those responsible for children’s care have the means, knowledge and access to services to do so.

Some of the common forms of negligent treatment in schools include failure by schools to provide midday meals, absenteeism among teachers and deliberately providing substandard education.

The strategy observes that there are also new emerging forms of violence such as school fires that have resulted into loss of lives of children and property.