May 29, 2024

Conflict against girls, boys, and women in the southern region of Africa

Conflict against girls, boys, and women in the southern region of Africa

Editorial

A recent report by UNICEF and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) indicates that the levels of sexual, physical, and emotional violence in various Southern African countries are some of the highest globally. In Southern Africa, approximately 17 per cent of girls and women endure sexual assault at some point in their lives, while 80 per cent of children face harsh discipline within their households.

This report gathers statistical data on the widespread and enduring nature of violence against children and women in Southern Africa, impacting millions of individuals.

The SADC region had a homicide mortality rate for children, adolescents, girls, and women that was almost twice as high as the global average. Almost one-third of these young brides in the region have been victims of intimate partner violence in the past year.

There are various types of violence, such as physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, as well as neglect and exploitation. Violence is frequently concealed and not properly reported, and is sustained by damaging social norms, gender inequality, poverty, conflict, and other structural influences. This not only destroys the lives of individuals, but also poses a threat to national economies, mental well-being, and educational achievements.

The statistical data further emphasizes that:

  • More than 50% of females who have faced violence did not seek assistance.
  • 40% of teenage students have encountered bullying, with both boys and girls being equally susceptible to being victimized.
  • Boys are more than three times as likely to die from homicide compared to girls. Over 50% of the child and adolescent homicide victims are aged 15-19.

In majority of countries, at least 20% of children live with a mother who has been a victim of intimate partner violence within the last year. Children who live in households impacted by intimate partner violence are much more likely to encounter various forms of violent discipline.

Intergenerational violence is not only common but also deeply ingrained in the beliefs and behaviors of both genders. In many countries, females are more inclined to condone domestic violence than males, and there is a clear link between a mother’s acceptance of wife-beating and her children’s exposure to violent discipline, independent of socioeconomic status.

UNICEF and SADC urge SADC Member States to enhance their laws, policies, financial resources, and oversight in order to safeguard women and children from such violence. This involves the revision and harmonization of laws to meet global and local standards, as well as ensuring that essential measures for preventing and responding to violence are adequately budgeted for and integrated into national financial plans.

The report emphasizes that both immediate and long-term effects of violence against children impact not only the survivor, but also society as a whole. Sudden physical consequences can result in fatalities, harm, sexually transmitted diseases, and unintended pregnancies, which in turn can lead to longer-term physical repercussions like PTSD or hypertension. The effects of mental health issues can often manifest as feelings of depression, anxiety, and even thoughts of suicide. These physical effects also have a direct impact on academic achievements. Kids who have been exposed to violence tend to do poorly on verbal, memory, attention, language, mathematics, and IQ assessments compared to kids who haven’t experienced violence. Adults who experienced physical or sexual abuse as children were discovered to have achieved lower levels of education, employment, and income compared to those who did not have this history. They are more inclined to partake in risky behaviors such as heavy drinking, drug abuse, or neglect of condom usage.

UNICEF and SADC member countries are working together to put an end to violence against girls, boys, and women by focusing on prevention, response, and inclusivity for all.

Preventative measures include expanding gender-transformative programs to support parents and caregivers in establishing more equitable household dynamics, implementing protective policies in schools to ensure a safe learning environment for children, and implementing safeguards against online violence to protect children.

This involves creating routes for referrals and creating safe and accessible environments where children can report violence, ultimately enhancing the quality of support services available. Social workers responsible for addressing domestic violence and child protection need to prioritize the overall welfare of entire households. Additionally, it is essential to enhance direct assistance to survivors by offering mental health and psychosocial support, legal aid, medical care, and protection services.

UNICEF is collaborating with SADC Member States and partners to advocate for girls’ access to education and other opportunities in life. Continuing efforts are being made to address harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, with the goal of mitigating the risk of violence against women and girls. During times of armed conflict, natural disasters, or public health emergencies, it is important to involve appropriate partners in humanitarian efforts.