‘Harm or abuse of children can happen anywhere.’ Church of Scotland
What is harm or abuse?
Abuse is any type of harm to a child as the result of the actions, or lack of actions of an adult. There are different categories:
Physical: Physical abuse is when a child is beaten, cut or subjected to other physical pain by adults. There is a difference between commonly accepted physical punishment (e.g. smacking a child for misbehaviour) and abuse (beating a child). However, many psychologists encourage parents to use alternative methods of punishment to physical punishment. Physical abuse includes bullying by children.
Mental: Mental abuse is when children are called names, told they are worthless or otherwise bullied using words or by being excluded. This can be more damaging than physical abuse. It includes bullying by children.
Neglect: Children not receiving the love, care or food they need. In Madagascar, many children are neglected due to malnutrition. Their parents love them but are unable to feed them properly.
Sexual abuse: Children being exposed by adults to pornography or led to become involved in a sexual act with an adult. Most sexual abuse is carried out by men, but most men are not sexual abusers. Minors involved in prostitution is sexual abuse.
Radicalisation: Children being lured to follow extreme views, for example Islamic State or similar.
Child Labour: Child labour can be abusive and harmful to the development of children. Local teachers are best to judge whether a child’s carers are putting unreasonable expectations on them. In Madagascar, often children must work so their family’s basic needs can be met.
All abuse listed above is wrong and harmful to a child and can cause damage that lasts a lifetime.
Signs of abuse
There are many signs a child is being abused:
- Bruises that the child cannot explain, or in unusual places. Not all bruises are abuse!
- A dramatic change in a child, e.g. from being outgoing to withdrawn. Not all changes in children are due to abuse, for example a relative may die or there may be family problems.
- Physical signs of malnutrition. This may result in stunting.
- Young children talking about sex. This is not proof of abuse!
- Children who are very tired at school. This could be because they must work a lot at home… or play computer games all night.
What to do about abuse
Abuse in the community
If you become aware that one of your students is being abused in the community, your school should consider intervening. What to do will depend on your situation:
- Malnutrition: Help parents know what a good diet is for their child. If family size is part of the problem, educate parents in family planning. Consider providing a nutritious lunch at school or referring the children to an aid agency that can help feed them.
- If the parents are not the abusers, discuss a strategy to protect the child with their parents.
- If parents are abusive you may need to contact the ministry of population or call 147.
- Some schools will appoint a staff member who is given time to deal with abuse.
- Go to the police.
- Go to the local ‘responsible’ (the title given to the area leader in Madagascar).
- Help the child contact relatives who can support them if the parents cannot.
- Orphanages are not a good option; it is far better to have the children looked after in the community.
Avoiding abuse in schools
Abuse happens in many schools in Madagascar. Teachers also can be falsely accused of abuse. This section discusses how you can reduce the chance of abuse happening in schools and protect staff against false allegations.
a) Make sure employees don’t have a history of abusing. A paedophile often wants to work with children to have access to them.
- Check references carefully before employing someone. Ask previous employers if abuse has happened. Require a police check for prospective employees.
- Welcome visitors to your school but don’t leave them alone with one or two children.
b) Train your employees to act so they reduce the chance of abuse happening and minimise opportunities for false allegations:
- Reduce Isolation: Abuse tends to happen in isolated places where an adult is on their own with a child where nobody can see. Reduce isolation by designing classrooms so they can be seen into from the outside.
- Where possible, the teacher should be with a group of children: It is difficult to abuse children when one teacher is with many children.
- Increase accountability: Teachers should tell their manager when they are running extra classes or tutoring an individual student. Individual tutoring should take place somewhere that other people can see into, such as a classroom with an open door.
- Staff needs to encourage each other to behave safely acting in line with the guidelines above. If someone is concerned about the behaviour of a teacher, they need to know who to report it to.
- Christian schools: Teach clearly about your faith so children will spot the error of radicals. Teach children to know ‘the voice of Jesus’ so they don’t follow the voice of ‘the thief’.
c) Have separate toilets and changing areas for children and adults.
d) Teach children about the issues around abuse:
- Teach about things that lead to abuse – strangers luring them somewhere private alone; inappropriate touching by adults etc. They should know that abusers are often experts at getting to know children and breaking down their barriers.
- Teach about who they can talk to about abuse.
- Teach about the dangers surrounding radicalisation.
- Teach that bullying is unacceptable and help students stand up for themselves.
e) Take bullying seriously. Bullying is mental and physical abuse by other children. I taught in a school with little bullying because students were expelled if they persistently bullied other children.
f) Take underage sexual behaviour seriously.
Discuss: What should you and your school do about this issue?