Protecting Children Through a System That Connects the Dots in Malawi
Traditional leaders, government officials, and community members teamed up in Malawi to help caregivers understand that some traditional practices may not only be illegal, but will harm children. As part of the IMPACT project, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, CRS and partners worked to prevent, stop, and refer cases of child abuse by informing communities about children’s rights and teaching positive parenting. Common infractions included corporal punishment, failure to send children to school, denial of food or shelter as a disciplinary measure, coercing or condoning early marriage, property grabbing, emotional abuse, and excessive child workloads.
Key to the project’s success was the support of traditional leaders in forming and revitalizing 604 village-level orphans and vulnerable children committees and training 7,330 family care volunteers. A child status index tool was used biannually to help the committees gauge and prioritize common protection issues.
Family care volunteers regularly visited homes to identify cases of abuse, offer counseling and encouragement, and initiate referrals for cases they could not resolve themselves. Caregivers often were unaware that certain practices are considered abusive, and skilled volunteers were able to present information and solutions that helped change behaviors, increase emotional connections, and reduce family conflict.
IMPACT provided child protection case management training for officials and staff who work in the education and police departments, judiciary system, and the ministries of gender, children, and social welfare. These trained case managers now meet regularly and conduct joint supervision. With this system in place, communities can deal with common violations, such as beatings and coercion of girls into early marriages. Very serious violations like rape and child trafficking are now taken up and resolved by the case management teams.