Stories: Children, Communities, Futures

Veteran teacher and headmistress Arube Nalwimba is on a mission to empower and protect her students from violence and exploitation.

It’s a busy day for Mrs Nalwimba at the primary school where she works in rural Zambia.

This morning she met with triplets in Grade 7. She called the girls into her office because, although they are promising students, they were falling asleep in class.

She learnt they had, as usual, woken up at 4am to do their chores before making the 8km journey to school by foot.

They were exhausted before they even got to their desks, and were at risk of being abused as they walked in the dark for hours.

The girls had already been held back a year so they could catch up. Mrs Nalwimba resolved to find a place where they can board closer to school, so they would be safer and would not have to walk so far.

Their education is too important! An educated girl knows her rights and how to exercise them.”

Mrs Nalwimba

“Girls here have no role models. They can’t imagine what it is like beyond the village. So I tell them I’m about to retire and I want them to come here and take over.”

Her passion for protecting children comes from seeing the effects of violence and exploitation on the children in her care.

High rates of child marriage, violence and forced labour are among the main threats to children in Zambia, according to Katongo Mwansa, ChildFund Zambia’s Child Protection Specialist.

“We know that we cannot end child poverty if violence persists,” Mr Mwansa says.

“Children who are subject to abuse are more likely to underachieve at school, drop out and miss out on an education entirely.”

For boys, one of the biggest threats is being forced to drop out of school and work in unsafe jobs.

“In many communities, you’ll find boys out of school and involved in things like sand mining and agriculture – heavy, physical work that is well beyond their age and can be hazardous to their health and wellbeing,” Mr Mwansa says.

Girls in Zambia are forced to marry at a higher rate than almost any country in the world. Almost one in three girls is married before she turns 18.

ChildFund has joined other child-focused aid agencies to form an alliance aimed at increasing the protection available to vulnerable children in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

The Pikinini Defenders Alliance, launched in September 2019, is a network of organisations committed to mobilising support, advocating, and raising awareness to stop violence against children in Papua New Guinea.

It is calling on the PNG Government to commit to greater and more sustainable investments to prevent and respond to all forms of violence against children in PNG, including 300 new child protection officers to boost the country’s under-resourced child protection workforce.

Alarmingly, it is estimated that 75% of children and young people in PNG experience violence during their childhood.

At ChildFund, we believe that every child has the right to be nurtured, protected and experience a childhood free from violence.

Evidence shows that children who are victims of abuse, or who have witnessed violence, often suffer severe psychological trauma which can have devastating consequences on their physical, social and emotional health and development.

The Pikinini Defenders Alliance has acknowledged initatives by the PNG Government to end violence against children, including the passage of the 2015 Lukaitim Pikinini Act.

It is hoped the Act will result in significant improvements to the protection and promotion of the rights of all children in PNG.

However, the Alliance has stated that implementation of the Act must be a government priority, and needs to be adequately resourced if real and sustainable changes are to be achieved.

At the launch of the Act, the PNG Government committed to the recruitment, training and deployment of 300 new child protection officers and volunteers.

The Pikinini Defenders Alliance is now calling on the PNG Government to uphold this promise by Universal Children’s Day on 20 November 2019, and encourages the training of teachers, health workers and faith leaders across all local-level government in PNG.

The Alliance states: “Every little Papua New Guinean has the right to a life without violence.

“It is time to make child protection our first priority. Children in PNG need more Pikinini Defenders.”

Members of the Pikinini Defenders Alliance, including ChildFund, will continue to work with government stakeholders, communities, young people and children towards a PNG that is free of violence against children.

Australians are urged to support the Pikinini Defenders Alliance by signing a petition which will be delivered to Papua New Guinea’s High Commissioner to Australia.

The Pikinini Defenders Alliance members include Cheshire Disability Services PNG, ChildFund, Equal Playing Field, PNG Council of Churches, PNG Tribal Foundation, Save the Children, UNICEF, and World Vision.