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How Prevalent is Violence in Tanzanian schools?

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

by dr kate mcalpine

“At our school, you can be beaten without any guilt, we can be included in the punishment for mistakes done by others.”

This quote provides an insight into the experience of a school child in Tanzania and raises the question; is this the experience of one child or is there a wider problem of violence in schools across Tanzania? To determine the answer, Citizens 4 Change conducted a study with 188 primary and secondary students across Tanzania seeking to understand their experiences of violence in school settings.

The study focused on the students’ perception of the prevalence of harm, asking them about their own experience and/or that of their peers. Children in Tanzanian schools are experiencing harm with 87% of participants telling us a story that involved violence. Children experience chronic exposure to harm, with 53% of participants saying that the harms they experienced or witnessed happened more than once.

The prevalence of corporal punishment

Corporal punishment and the associated emotional harm are the most common forms of harm; with 39% of children across all age groups saying that corporal punishment had occurred.

“One day the student came to school late, the teacher caned the student so hard without knowing why the child was late for school, but the child was living with his stepmother and was required to do housework before going to school.”

Notably, children who experience corporal punishment also had feelings of worthlessness. Students reported that they felt like they weren’t important, that their feelings were hurt, and that they didn’t feel cared for.

Who are the perpetrators of harm?

Perpetrators of harm in the children’s lives are close authority figures. 29% of students reported their male teacher to be the perpetrator of harm and 16% reported their female teacher as the perpetrator. This clearly demonstrates that there is a need for a transformation of teachers from perpetrators of harm to child protectors.

Girls seem to normalise violence more than boys

The survey questions were carefully crafted to capture the acts of harm and then to ask the child if they considered those harms to constitute violence. 13% of children who described acts of harm, including corporal punishment, did not consider these actions to be violent.

There is an indication that despite being more attuned to the existence of various forms of harm, some girls are not problematising violence in their lives. They do not name the acts as violent, and this enables them to close their eyes to the prevalence of violence in their lives.

While both genders witnessed or experienced harm in school, the girls seemed to be more attuned to the existence of emotional violence and the boys seem to be more attuned to the physical forms of violence and pay more attention to children receiving insufficient food.

Discrimination ranked in the top 10 harms experienced by children across all regions of Tanzania and includes reports of discrimination based on disabilities, gender, family wealth and life circumstances.

Acts of sexual violence were referenced by 15% of girls and 18% of boys between the ages of 9–18 years. This sample is too small to draw definitive conclusions, but this difference is counter-intuitive given the lack of attention given to boys who may be victims of sexual violence, compared to the attention that is placed on female victims of sexual violence.

The circle of care

For school-age children, parents are the most important person in their lives. Participants of all ages value the opinion of their mother or father over that of other adults. However, parents were not the people that children routinely talk to about their school lives. Only when a child needs assistance from their parent do they reach out. There is a need to better equip parents with the skills to talk to their children about their school life and to build their toolbox to act when their children experience harm.

Friends ranked quite high as people the students would talk to about school, but few children would go to their friends when they needed assistance. This indicates that a valuable opportunity exists to support peers in educating each other about protective behaviors.

Only 24% of students mentioned their teacher as someone whose opinion they valued. 42% of children said they would talk to their teachers about school but only 36% said they would seek their help. Teachers have the potential to become effective child protectors if the conditions are created to transform them from perpetrating violence and that encourage children to see them as sources of help.

Others’ Perceptions of Violence

The overwhelming majority of students believed that the people in their lives disapprove of the harm being perpetrated. But less than half felt that adults would intervene to stop harmful behavior. This belief is reinforced when students witness harm being perpetrated by their teachers with no real social sanction being taken against them. This disconnect between people’s beliefs and their actual behavior has led Citizens 4 Change to explore if violence in schools is driven by social norms, maintained by social norms or by other non-social practices.

Citizens 4 Change is currently expanding the study using SMS technology to collect the perspective of both children and adults in order to build a deeper understanding of the system in which violence against children in schools occurs.

Follow the progression of our work on @C4CEastAfrica.

If you are in Tanzania and ready to champion change or if you are already uplifting the lives of vulnerable children in your community then join Citizens 4 Change by dialing #149*46*11# or you can register on our website.

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