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The thin line between Covid and abuse

The thin line between Covid and abuse

THE devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed girls and young women to multiple types of abuse, such as domestic violence, transactional sex, and early and forced marriages.

Measures such as school closure and lockdowns in some of the countries largely contributed to girls and women to be more vulnerable to female genital mutilation (FGM), GBV, child marriage and early pregnancy.

In Tanzania, four in every ten women and girls aged 15 to 49 years have experienced physical violence in their lifetime.

Similarly, three in every ten girls are married before their 18th birthday (the Tanzania Demographic Health Survey (TDHS) 2015/16.

According to the World Report on Violence against Children, the perpetrators of the violence are mostly parents, family members, teachers, caretakers, and law enforcers.

As the pandemic took shape early last year, the government was forced to close schools and universities to contain the spread of the virus.

Young children were forced to stay at home waiting for the situation to settle before resuming their studies again.

Due to the varying conditions of different families, some of the children stayed at home as it was supposed to be while others from middle and lower class families had to join their breadwinners in their small businesses or farms.

Recently at an event to announce the launching of Generation Equality Forum in Paris and Tanzania, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, Ambassador Liberata Mulamula revealed that when Covid-19 hit the country for the first time in March last year, schools were forced to close, leading to a rise in gender-based violence cases.

Although Ambassador Mulamula could not give out the actual numbers of GBV cases, she was of the view that the government was working on measures to overcome the problem within the country.

Former President Jakaya Kikwete in his article published recently disclosed that in the past year, has witnessed the Covid- 19 pandemic disrupt learning across sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Kikwete noted that in many countries, children have missed at least 20 weeks of school - the equivalent of half an academic year.

“Child labour, early marriage and teenage pregnancies are on the rise, meaning that millions of children and young people - especially girls - will never return to their classrooms even when schools re-open.

The ravages of the pandemic are worsening a preexisting learning crisis,” noted Dr Kikwete.

A UN report, Child Labour: Global estimates 2020, reveals that for the first time in two decades, the number of children being put to work has risen to 160 million worldwide, representing an increase of 8.4 million over four years, while millions of others are at risk due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the population growth, recurrent crises, extreme poverty, and inadequate social protection measures have led to an additional 16.6 million children in child labour over the past four years, according to the report.

The report warns that globally, nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the pandemic, which could rise to 46 million without access to critical social protection coverage.

Taking into account the growth rate of violence experienced across the world, Tanzania is no exception.

A sixteen-year-old Amida Juma (not her real name) has been assisting her mother to sell food in offices during the Covid-19 vacation, and in the course of service delivery, she has come across all sorts of male advances from their customers.

Amida’s firmness helped her to focus and not give in to any of the male advances she encountered while assisting her mother who is their only breadwinner.

The number of people in extreme poverty due to Covid- 19 is projected to increase between 71 and 100 million, according to International Labour Organization (ILO).

Attention should be paid to dropouts, as well as opportunity costs that are likely to affect parent’s decisions to support their children’s education.

Former President Kikwete also disclosed that for girls, education opens doors to better jobs, later marriages, higher family incomes, and healthier children.

GDP in Africa could be a whopping 2.5 times higher if the benchmarks for both education and health were achieved.

He pointed out that to stem the loss of learning created by the pandemic and enable future generations to reap these benefits, African countries will need to prioritize education and commit to major investments in education now.

“So it is deeply alarming that per capita education spending in Sub-Saharan Africa could fall by more than 4 percent if governments reprioritize domestic budgets as a result of Covid-19. We must not let this happen.

“Now is the time to commit to a future in which every African child can get an education that gives them a fighting chance to realize their full potential,” stressed Dr Kikwete.

He went on to reveal that most governments should make sure schools are equipped to provide a safe learning environment for both teachers and students and fund catch up programs to make up for lost learning.

On the other hand, the retired President viewed that where schools are closed, adequate resources should be made available for remote learning and to maintain and expand student support programs such as school feeding.

Equally, beyond maintaining and increasing the amount of domestic financing for education, governments should also ensure investments in education are fully inclusive, targeted more carefully towards the most marginalized children, and well accounted for.

Africa should also prepare for future shocks by investing in digital learning and literacy and leveraging technology in classrooms.

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Author: MAUREEN ODUNGA

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