Started in 2000 by Plan International and the European Union, it was officially in 2014 handed over to the government to manage.
Jacky Achan
Journalist @ New vision
Started in 2000 by Plan International and the European Union, it was officially in 2014 handed over to the government to manage.

A call to the toll free child help line 116 connects instantly. There is an automated male voice that welcomes me to the child helpline.

A lady on the other side of the phone pleasantly asks how she can be of help. The number 116 is the only government run toll free Child Helpline in Sub Saharan Africa, the rest are run privately by mostly non-governmental organisations, Patrick Adupa the Child Protection National Program Manager at Plan International reveals.

Started in 2000 by Plan International and the European Union, it was officially in 2014 handed over to the government to manage.

Named Sauti a Kiswhahili word for voice and a befitting name too, the 166 toll free line is providing the avenue for children to speak up and report violence being perpetrated against them and they are getting help.

"We have counsellors and case workers working 24 hours day and night receiving calls that come from children and providing them with guidance and counselling," Adupa states.

The center through the toll free line, receives between 500-700 calls every day from children across the country. "it has improved reporting nevertheless this is not enough," Adupa says.

We are working with the government to ensure that all cases reported, are responded to end Violence Against Children (VAC).

Current Status

According to findings from a 2015 national survey on Violence against Children that was only recently released, Uganda continues to experience high levels of physical, emotional and sexual violence against children (VAC).

In Uganda, one in every four girls aged 13-17 years, has been found to suffer sexual violence in their childhood.

Six in every 10 boys in the same age bracket suffer physical abuse, according to new findings released by the ministry of gender, labour and social development.

Also more than one in five children aged 13-17 years' experience emotional abuse.

A global concern, the violence's is occurring in homes, schools, state institutions that include rehabilitation centers, justice systems and work places.

Some children suffer if not one, two or a combination of this violence's. This has resulted into dire health consequences including depression, suicidal behaviour, sexually transmitted infections, risky sexual behaviour and even death in children.

Reporting and responses to VAC

According to Senior Police Superintendent Carolyne Kushemererwa who is the  Child and Family Protection Officer Kampala Metropolitan, the Police have the child and family protection unit to handle VAC.

Kushemererwa reveals on Monday September 3, alone, the Central Police Station received eight cases of VAC though; the numbers keep varying each day.

At the central police station in Kampala and old Kampala police station "we cannot not fail to receive a child in a single day, people come from all parts of the country then to the taxi parks, then us," she says.

She adds that the children abused are from all backgrounds but, mostly those brought from upcountry (villages) by relatives for study, only to end up working as maids and abused.

"We counsel and give guidance to abused children, who come to us, give them assurance that their case is being processed and resolved. We also put these children in safe homes until their case is resolved," Kushemererwa says.

She adds: "For children brought from upcountry who can't trace their homes we work on reconnecting them with their families."

Police work with the probation officers who are in all districts across the country to trace their homes and take them back home.

This is after verifying that the information the child shared with police was not a lie but the truth.

Reporting, referral and response in sexual abuse

Kushemererwa says the police give protection to victims who report to them. For example girls who suffer sexual abuse from their own family member's (father, brother or uncle) cannot continue to live in the same home as police process the case.

"We have among other Naguru reception center, Sanyu babies home were we will put the mothers and babies so they are in a safe environment," she discloses.

The Director Health services Uganda Police Force- Assistant inspector general of police Dr. Moses Byaruhanga says in the case of sexual violence victims are also given the police form3A.

This form allows the victim to get free medical examination and also assist in prosecution of the case.

But, sometimes when given the form and victims prefer to go private health facilities.

 "There they will be charged and the charge varies from 20-50 thousand, even 100 thousand in up country areas.

Public health facilities are supposed to give free services but, you will find some health workers who work in the public facilities, have private clinics where they will refer the victims and charge them," he says.

To remove this charges and ensure victims return to public health facilities for this check, we got support from the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS).

Every year 8000 cases of sexual violence are brought to the police and JLOS is providing 25,000 per case which translates to sh.200 million.

But, Byaruhanga says the funds released by government to render this support each year is less sometimes, it can be 100 or 150 million, leaving a shortage.

Also, some health workers in public facilities who operate private clinics do not appreciate the sh. 25,000 paid per case, because when they refer the victims to their clinics they can charge as much as sh. 80,000.

The fact that most cases also end up in court, the health workers do not want to get involved in examining the victim. They claim the court process wastes their time through adjournments when they are called upon to testify.

They also claim to spend a lot of money going to court, yet they do not receive transport facilitation.

Dr. Byaruhanga says there is need for government to ably facilitate the medical checkup so that victims get the service from public facilities, where they do not have to pay for it.

Also crucial is providing training and counselling to the health workers to offer this service free in public facilities so that victims are not denied justice.

"When you refuse to examine a victim as a health worker, and even parent is absurd, you deny them this attitude has to change," he says.

Where lies the solution to VAC

Kushemererwa say previously a child was owned by the community but, what is disheartening today is that parents don't want another parent to discipline their child; "they even jail those who try.

We need to go back to that practice; the community should come back together and be united through neighbourhood watch it will curb VAC," she says.

Kushemererwa says something that happens to your neighbours child should be of your concern.

"You cannot just look on and turn a blind eye when the child is misbehaving or being mistreated, it's just wrong."

She says for schools, police have sensitized teachers that corporal punishment is criminal and encouraged them to take up positive disciplining.

Kushemererwa says if a child keeps coming to school late don't beat them but, take time to find out why they are always late, why is the child so quiet or so rude.

They may be facing violence at home from a step parent, or being made to wash dishes and walk to school where others take taxis.

"Even if you beat the child, the situation at home has not changed, they will continue coming late, being quiet or rude.

The best thing is to find a solution to the root cause of the problem. Talk to the child about the benefits of being in class early, beating does not change a child's situation it only inflicts pain," she says.

Prevention of VAC in schools

Adupa says the Introduction of peer support mechanisms in schools, where children mediate in cases of indiscipline from fellow children has helped.

The children's court decides on the punishment which does not involve beating, children fear each other this puts them in check and ends VAC.

"In kamuli girls boarding primary school this system has been successful seven years down the road no child has been beaten," he reveals.

Children in select schools have also been empowered with sms media each school to report violence.

Each school has a phone were children text messages to a code when abused. The head teacher and District Officer (DO) plus us, all get the report. The Headmaster and DO have to follow the report to the end.

The reporting system is being experimented with the World Bank and Ministry of Education.   It's a social risk mitigation component for schools being constructed by the World Bank.

It is to ensure contractors don't use their money to sexually abuse children but respect children dignity

Kushemererwa says there is every effort to end VAC "I cannot say our prevention and response to VAC is the best but, we are trying," she reveals.

Kushemererwa says gaps do exist and to fix them there is need to continue creating awareness in communities and work in partnerships with children NGOs which is crucial in preventing and responding to VAC, as one entity can't do it alone.