Child abuse is when a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child. There are many forms of child maltreatment, including neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation and emotional abuse.
Key Conclusions from MIFUMI research:
38.7% of children reported their parents fighting. Girls were more likely to report fighting between parents than boys, as were those aged between 12-14 years. The largest number said this had occurred for four or more years.
The largest number of children reported their father hurting their mother with a knife, gun or object and breaking or destroying something on purpose. Even where fighting between parents was not reported, a tenth of children said their father broke or destroyed things on purpose.
Just over a third of the 38 children who said their parents fought reported their father had done something to hurt them at the same time, including hitting, kicking and beating. Overall, a fifth of children were being directly physically hurt by their father.
Almost two-thirds of the 38 children reporting fighting between parents said another adult in their family had done something to hurt their body, including hitting, kicking and beating. Even when there was no fighting between their parents, children reported an adult in their family hurting them through hitting, kicking and beating. Combined, these figures indicate that 56% of all children who responded to the survey had been hurt by an adult in their family, and for over 10% (1 in 10) this was a common occurrence.
Bride Price and Forced Child Marriages
One of the key issues relating to Child Abuse which MIFUMI is concerned with is that of Child Marriages arising from the practice of Bride Price. The weight of financial hardship faced by the many in Uganda, coupled with the high trend of harmful practices such as child marriages and bride price (the exchange of a bride for goods) often explains Uganda’s high rate of child abuse.
Here at MIFUMI we understand that in Uganda the issues of child abuse are complex and often grow in climates where these harmful cultural practices are rife which is often found in rural areas and villages where girls are often viewed as property of a man rather than children with rights.
In these cases, young women and girls, many as young as 12 are taken out of school and married to much older men in exchange of cows so that their parents can receive income from their bride price. In worse cases, some men would marry a woman and demand for a refund. However, with a group of our supporters, we fought against Bride Price refunds and have managed to abolish the oppressive act in Uganda.
Click here to hear more about our fight against Bride Price.
In many cases of forced child marriages and bride price, many young girls will also be subjected to domestic violence as they are seen as objects and possessions. There are also instances of neglect whereby a husband will seek another bride which can lead to the partial or complete abandonment of a wife.
We have also found that girls as young as 11 are sometimes targeted for marriage due to the belief that their virginity is a cure for HIV/AIDS. Uganda has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Africa and high rates of HIV/AIDS which ultimately puts young women in a vulnerable position.
Child Abuse during COVID 19
Due to covid, the number of married minors and child pregnancies has increased as education no longer offers an escape from poverty. Due to this more children risk being forced into marriages by their parents who believe marriage is their only way of a bright future, this puts great risk on the child whose body may not be ready for pregnancy or childbirth and threatens their power and humanity.
At MIFUMI we work with Mifumi Primary School to educate children about the harmful effects of early marriages and childbirth, and also teach them the values of education through our Sure Start Program.
Links between domestic violence and child abuse
MIFUMI supports children who report with their mothers at our advise centers and shelter by offering child support services
According to research, children whose mothers are subject to domestic violence are likely to suffer child abuse themselves. At MIFUMI we have found that in over 90% of cases of domestic violence against the mother, children have witnessed the violence either because they have been in the same room as their parents or have heard the violence happen from another room.
Effects of domestic violence and abuse on children
Domestic violence and abuse has a physical, psychological and emotional impact on children. Below are the ways in which children can be affected.
- Physically impacted: Our reports show children have been beaten, cut, burnt, and killed during domestic disputes. Some mothers reported being told to leave the family home and in worse cases thrown out during late hours in the night. We also found some men will beat their wives to end an unwanted pregnancy.
- Witnessing abuse: In many cases, children are present when domestic violence happens and experience psychological harm from seeing their mothers beaten, raped, or killed and feeling helpless to stop it.
- Acting as a defence: Children will throw themselves between parents to prevent harm being inflicted, especially to their mother which can result in physical harm.
- Be used a shield: Mothers carrying babies can accidentally use them as shields to protect themselves leading to serious injury and even death in infants.
- Being used as a weapon: Older boys can be asked to beat their mothers which can psychologically harm a child.
- Being used as blackmail: Men can use children to threaten or blackmail a woman which can put significant emotional stress on a child.
Psychological and Behavioral Effects
We often notice certain psychological and behavioral characteristics in the children that arrive at our shelters and have witnessed domestic violence such as:
- Changes in social behavior: Are aggressive towards others, may be prone to fight, shout and harm others, or may be withdrawn.
- Lack of concentration: Children seem to not be able to concentrate, particularly in class.
- Sleep disturbances: Children may suffer from insomnia or nightmares and may start wetting the bed.
Some of the common emotions children suffer when they experience domestic violence are:
- A loss of Trust: They may feel betrayed by the adults and no longer feel they can trust them.
- Feelings of Guilt: They feel that they are to blame for the abuse.
- Conflicting loyalties: They feel close to both parents and do not want to take sides.
- Negative emotions: These can range from fear, confusion, denial, anger and sadness to feelings of alienation, loss and insecurity.
The most common cases reported by women at our Advice Centres are neglect and lack of maintenance, this is often due to men abandoning their families and failing to provide for their children.
A reason some men cannot provide for their families is because they follow the cultural practice of polygyny and find that their finances cannot provide for all of their wives. In some cases some will simply abandon their families which can lead to the financial instability in children and long-lasting emotional scars as some of these children do not know or recognize their fathers. In some cases young boys may enter the workforce at young ages and fall victim to child labour while young girls may marry early or seek prostitution to afford basic needs.
At MIFUMI we receive a few street children at our Advice Centres who are sometimes referred to by the Police. Many have been sent away from their homes by step-parents, some have lost parents and are living with relatives or family friends who cannot provide and care for them and some have experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse at the hands of their caregivers.
Strategies we use to help children resist violence:
- Educate them about violence and abuse.
- Make them aware of their rights and let them know abuse is wrong
- Assure them it is not their fault.
- Let them know it is fine to still love their parents.
- Encourage them to talk about their feelings.
- Make them aware of the support structures available.
- Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs) should help parents talk to children about domestic violence.
- Provide extra-curricular activities for confidence-building such as sports, debates and karate.
Through the support of our donors and friends of MIFUMI, we are able to fight against child abuse and empower the young into leading safe and healthy lives.