In little over a year, and with only 50 instructors, small Kenyan charity Ujamaa has trained almost 25,000 Malawian children to fight the sexual abuse that is commonly committed by those they most trust. Ujamaa’s six-week programme – split into weekly, two-hourly sessions – covers self-awareness, self-respect and defence skills. Being told that the unwanted fondles and forced sex acts constitute abuse comes as a revelation to many children.
Backed by the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, the Ujamaa network, which started in some of the Kenyan capital Nairobi’s toughest slums, now extends to more than 250 schools across seven districts. At the end of the course, Ujamaa gives pupils details of referral services, which include an anonymous rape survivors’ group.
Preliminary findings from Ujamaa’s Malawi survey of 11,460 girls under 18 show that on average, one in five has been raped. The figure – currently under validation by John Hopkins University in the US – in two Malawian districts is one in three. Many girls tell Ujamaa instructors the “shocking stories” that they are too afraid or ashamed of telling friends or family, Kambalane said.
Local newspapers are filled with sex crime reports that give the names of victims or their parents, schools and villages. Reports about teachers impregnating students, police officers raping girls in custody – including those who might be placed there to escape sexual abuse at home – paedophile magistrates, and molesting stepfathers are widespread.
Malawi’s female magistrates and police recently voiced concern about the spike in cases of rape, which last year became Malawi’s most reported crime.
The increase in reports could be a positive sign of parents wanting to put abusers behind bars rather than keep the matter quiet. UNICEF is trying to encourage more people to report abuses by bringing social workers, police, medics and a justice officer under one roof in One-Stop Centres. At the centre in Malawi’s second largest city Blantyre, 90% of abuse cases are sexual. Ujamaa believes that only prevention can cure a “global rape epidemic” that in poor countries such as Malawi, equates to hundreds of thousands of victims a year.
“There’s no system in any country that could deal with that caseload,” said Ross, adding that per pupil, Ujamaa costs “the equivalent of a vaccination”. The classes are often a gift that keeps on giving.