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'These are not strangers': Fijian NGO targets child abusers hiding behind culture of 'fear'

Mary Afemata

Save The Children Fiji says a tendency not to report child abuse is maing it harder to crack down on perpetrators.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

An advocate working to end violence against children in Fiji says some families are still sweeping the issue of child abuse under the carpet.

Shairana Ali is the chief executive of Save the Children Fiji.

The organisation has been running a New Zealand-funded programme called Collective Action to End Violence Against Children for the past four years.

It includes providing practical resources and training for families and communities to deal with discipline issues without using violence.

Ali says the data they have is disturbing.

“According to the Child Welfare Act National Database, there were a total of 1968 cases that were reported last year, we still have to get the data for this year.”

Ali says 79.7 per cent of the perpetrators were known to the victim.

“These are not strangers, these are actually people living within the community and perpetrating acts of violence towards children.

“We always promote the idea that it takes a village to raise a child. If it is actually someone from the village who you know perpetrating acts of violence, it causes a lot of fear and distrust in the communities.”

Shairana Ali working in Fiji. Photo/ Supplied/ Save the Children

Ali says that in some cases it’s become a norm not to report child abuse, particularly for those communities that are harder to reach.

“In some instances, serious acts of violation against children have been swept under the carpet, you know, and they’re not talked about and they’re not reported. And so that is something that is still a challenge for us.”

Through the programme, training on how to safeguard children was conducted with over 400 community focal points, child club coordinators, and parents in the Fijian communities.

Save the Children say there have been positive outcomes showing that parents understand the importance of providing space and support for their children’s development, including communities establishing or reviving child clubs, organising sports days for children, starting literacy and numeracy classes for children, and holding reading sessions on Saturdays.

Save the Children has also trained staff from the Department of Social Welfare, Child Services Unit, iTaukei Affairs Board, Fiji Community Policing Division, provincial councils, and residential homes for children on parenting without violence.

Over three hundred adults and 322 children participated in the project between January and June this year.

Fifty-two teachers and staff at four residential homes for children were trained in child safeguarding, to ensure the most vulnerable children are safe from violence.

The project is funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade.

Hero image: Families learning together in Fiji. Photo/ Supplied/ Save the Children

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