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Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
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It is total war on child abusers

The government is taking stern action against those violating the rights of children, mostly Aids orphans.
Mqondisi Dube

Under 10 years ago, Botswana had less than 10 000 registered orphans, but due the AIDS pandemic, that number has ballooned to 50 000. The majority of these orphans are in the hands of relatives because Botswana still values the tradition of extended families. Incidents of abuse of aid meant for orphans are prevalent and the government has said it will come down hard on such caregivers.

Botswana President, Festus Mogae has expressed concern at reports of child abuse, particularly in cases where the abuse is happening within the family. The president has called on communities to unite and take action against perpetrators of child abuse.

Mogae says the government is determined to strengthen the policy and legislative framework to come up with a combination of policies and statutes that protect children.

The Minister of Local Government, Michael Tshipinare has called for the empowerment of orphan caregivers, in most cases, relatives.

Such empowerment, Tshipinare says, is meant to help the children overcome trauma and bereavement. It will also discourage caregivers from abusing these orphans, the minister says.

"It is not enough to care for orphans within the extended families alone without providing other forms of support. We have to put in place strategies for strengthening the caregivers' coping mechanisms, " Tshipinare says.

BP Botswana Peer Educators say during their visits to rural villages, they discovered that there is rampant abuse of aid meant for orphans by relatives. "When we go around villages we see a lot of things. Some people taking care of orphans take their food and sell it or give it to other children," Kgalalelo Mokgweetsi, BP Botswana Peer Educators Chairperson said during a recent tour of Sefhophe village, a small settlement in the central part of the country.

Although they encourage communities to take care of orphans, they believe orphanages must be utilised as well. The Selebi Phikwe Town Clerk, Paulos Nkoni says social workers in the town are registering cases of abuse against orphans by caregivers who are in most cases, relatives.

The town authority provides money for orphaned children when they are on school trips and Nkoni says this has led to the abuse of funds by relatives. "There are a few irresponsible relatives who abuse aid in the form of food, clothes, funds and other basic needs meant for these children. At the moment, we are investigating a case of a senior army officer who registered orphans under his care but later took them to his home village where they were also registered. The officer is still receiving rations of food and clothing for these children yet they are no longer under his care," Nkoni says adding that the orphans were no longer receiving the aid.

He says in most cases, they have discovered that some orphans are registered more than once and the relatives receive aid at different places but orphans are not the recipients of this aid.

To this end, Nkoni says the town authority has requested the community development officers to frequently check if the registered orphans are still with the families and are receiving government aid. "The government has set-up orphanages for extreme cases where an orphan is abused, like being raped or denied his or her rights,” Nkoni says.

The abuse of aid meant for orphans has led to an outcry and most people now believe that it is time orphanages are utilized.

The abuse of orphans at homes has seen a steady rise of street children in big cities like Francistown and Gaborone. A home for orphans in Francistown is one center, which caters for abused children.

“Most children run away from homes because of abuse which they suffer mostly in the hands of their parents or relatives. The majority of the children are orphans whose parents in most cases would have died of AIDS,” Patricia Bakwinya Coordinator of Tshireletso Children’s Home in Francistown says.

Tshireletso Children’s Home houses more than 450 orphans, some of who were picked from the street after they ran away from their homes after suffering abuse at the hands of their relatives. The center started operating in 1999 and was formed by residents of Francistown in response to the increase in the number of orphans in Botswana’s second largest city. It started with only three children.

Last month, the center held a sponsored walk to raise funds for the children so that they can embark on their education while at the center. They are being taught how to read and write. Their ages range from two to 16. The older ones are taught practical subjects like cookery, agriculture, carpentry and metal work.

Bakwinya says the situation of orphans and vulnerable children was getting worse. “The situation of orphans and vulnerable children is changing rapidly, unfortunately for the worse. They suffer massive abuse, physically and emotionally,” she says.

The center, funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has a pre-school for the younger orphans. In addition to the pre-school, there is fabric, printing, cultural arts and craft and design, structured recreation and sporting activities, horticulture and a bakery, where the orphans are taught various subjects and skills.

It also intends to open an information technology center to equip the orphans with the necessary computer skills. The orphans are also taught life-survival skills to prepare them for the job market.

Botswana is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC).

Francistown Member of Parliament, Phandu Skelemani urges the government to ensure that the orphans or any other children are not abused ‘as they are the future leaders’.

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