Kurt Madoerin on child-led protection groups and girl’s self-defence training in Tanzania

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This month, the Exchange talks to Kurt Madoerin to find out what community initiatives he thinks have made the greatest impact on children’s protection.

© copyright Kurt Madoerin, 2013
© copyright Kurt Madoerin, 2013

Exchange: Kurt, please tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be working in child protection in Tanzania.

Kurt Madoerin (KM): I’ve worked for 20 years for Terre des Hommes Switzerland on vulnerable children issues. I’ve been working in Tanzania for 15 years and living in Nshamba for the last ten years.

When HIV and AIDS left thousands of children without parents I started looking at ways of supporting those children. I work mostly to develop and implement psychosocial support training and I focus a lot on child participation, working with children to find ways to keep them safe and well.

I’m currently working on a project called TatuTano which is run by the organisation Kwa Wazee.

Exchange: Can you tell us what it’s like in the areas where you work?

KM: I work in Nshamba – a remote rural area, which has been very affected by HIV and AIDS. There are many families here where children are living with just their mother or grandmother.

Exchange: What are some of the biggest protection risks for children in Nshamba area?

KM: Where I live, one of the biggest problems for girls is sexual abuse and violence and forced marriage. We found out that roughly 30% of the girls who participated in the self-defence courses we run had experienced some type of sexual abuse or violence, such as rape, even as very young girls.

Often girls get attacked when they collect water and firewood in the bush. We also learned that about one third of these incidents actually happen at their schools or on the way to or from school.  In fact, violence at school is a problem more generally in Tanzania.

Another problem for girls is that they are often forced to get married. This is done when boys or men abduct the girls, taking them away against their will, where they are then forced to get married to and have sex with the man who organised the abduction. These types of forced marriage are a form of sexual violence against that girl, amongst other things.

It is not easy for girls to report sexual abuse or violence to the police, often the police station is far away. Often these girls come from very vulnerable households, where the women are already stigmatised by HIV and AIDS and feel very powerless as a result. The girls may only be accompanied by their grandmother and find it emotionally difficult to re-tell to the police officers what happened to them.

Exchange: So what has been the response from local communities to these issues?

KM: With our support, children organised themselves into community protection committees. The committees are made up of girls who had joined the 12-day self-defence training course, and boys who had received training in non-violent behaviour, including exploring non-violent models of boyhood and manhood. Mostly the children form groups in their own village and the children are the nucleus of these local child protection committees.

Adults are also part of the committees, but they are chosen by the children because they are people who the children trust. These adults are responsible for listening to the children’s issues and helping them take action.

Exchange: Can you provide some examples of how these child-led committees have worked in practice?

KM: In one example, one of the boys alerted the group to the abduction of a girl for marriage. He called the committee members, who alongside the police,  went in search of the girl and brought her back safely. The abductors were then legally prosecuted. The case is still in court.

In another example, there was a local secondary school where many girls were being sexually harassed by a teacher, but it was not being reported. Whilst the girls had complained to the matron about this particular teacher, it was never had never been reported to the school principal and as a result the teacher continued to harass the girls.

The girls told us about this problem during the self-defence training and then requested to talk with the school principal. The school principal agreed to meet with them and listen to their complaints. At the end of this meeting they agreed that each class the children would form protection committees and report any incident directly to the school principal. Since then all harassment has stopped.

In a final example, a very young member of the self-defence group in Kabare, who was living with her grandmother, was sexually harassed by a well known perpetrator. Using her self-defence training, the girl shouted and ran away and immediately reported the incident to the self-defence group members. The group, accompanied by the grandmother, decided to go to the police in Nshamba and the man was subsequently arrested.

Exchange: What have been some of the other impacts on the children?

The children have told their parents that they like having the protection committees as its good way for them to be able to report things which happen to them.

In terms of the girls’ self-defence training, after training 40 girls and 20 boys in one local secondary school the security was markedly improved. So empowering children to protect themselves more effectively has acted as a deterrent to violent attackers.

The self-defence training teaches girls how to avoid dangerous situations, how to deal with a dangerous situation and how to physically protect themselves, so it looks at the emotional, psychological and physical levels. The training also targets those who might observe an act of violence and helps them work out the best way to respond to that situation.

Also, the self-defence training for girls has had an amazing impact on the girls’ psychosocial well being and confidence. Whilst many of the girls originally ranked themselves at 2.5 on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of their feeling of security, they now rank themselves as 9, even a year or more after they received the self-defence training. The training has given the girls a new sense of power, that they can successfully avoid and, if required, deal with violent or dangerous situations.

In fact, based on the changes that the girls are reporting, I’m convinced that self-defence training and knowledge is one of the most powerful forms of psychosocial support that these girls can receive.

Exchange: What do you think has been the main reason for the committees’ success?

KM: The fact that the committee does the reporting to the police, rather than leaving to the child or caregiver to do it alone has worked really well. The committees have developed good relationships with the police and as a result the police do take action when they receive a complaint from the committee.

This new way of working has also sent a message to people in the community that there will be real consequences for any abuse or other mistreatment of children, so committees are a deterrent to the perpetrators of abuse and violence.

Also, having children lead the committees, especially in terms of allowing them to choose the adults that they work with, is another reason why the committees work so well.

Exchange: Is there anything which you think has not worked so well?

Adult committee members are all volunteers and because we train people from several villages in clusters, they have often have to travel to other villages to receive their training. This means that some adults don’t make it to all the meetings and might stop attending the group all together at times. We decided to address this by accepting that adult membership will be “self-selecting” and that we will recruit new adult members as needed, with guidance from the children.

We have also had some difficult cases where the committee has not been able to take the action it would have liked. In one case, a girl reported her teacher to the committee for sexual abuse. However, despite reporting this to the committee, she was worried that her teacher would give her a fail for her exams if he learnt that she had gone to the police. For this reason she decided not to report the abuse to the police. The committee had to accept and support her decision and respect that this is what she wanted to do.

Exchange: What training manuals have you used?

KM: For the child protection committees training we have elaborated on an existing manual written by Child Hope UK. For the self-defence training we wrote our own manuals, which I am happy to share with the Community Child Protection Exchange members.  We’ve used these manuals for training in Tanzania as well as in Malawi and Zambia.

Exchange: Kurt, have you got any final words of wisdom for us?

KM: “Start with the children”.

If Community Child Protection Exchange members would like to see the girl’s self-defence training manuals or the draft of the boys training manual, please contact [email protected] and we will pass on your message to Kurt.

A 2011 evaluation of the girl’s self-defence training is available on this website under case studies.