This week, I came across a message that baffled me: Tanzania’s most senior United Nations official stated that, “Tanzania is among the countries doing well in combating violence against women and children.” On paper, this may be true. In practice, though, Tanzania is not doing well.
The government has signalled a willingness to take measures to protect children. In 2016, it adopted a comprehensive plan to combat violence and abuse against women and children. It also became one of the 13 UN “pathfinder” countries joining forces to end violence against children.
But in Tanzania’s schools, little has changed.
A case in point is corporal punishment: Government regulations still allow school officials to hit children up to four times. Even President John Magufuli has publicly stated caning keeps children disciplined.
I will never forget the interviews I conducted with secondary school girls and boys in Tanzania in 2016. They consistently described high levels of violence and harassment in their schools. Nor will I forget the teachers who told me they hit students to cause fear and, “to get them [students] into shape.” The evidence of violence and abuse against students is so widespread and brutal, and its harm to students so significant, that it amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment.
Students told me they considered themselves lucky if they only got four hits. “Every teacher beats students according to her wish. One teacher can beat you up to 15 times if they so wish,” said Rashidi, an 18-year-old student in Mwanza.
I saw sticks and canes in every classroom – sometimes even in a teacher’s hand – stifling students’ ability to learn.
And I saw bruises on girls’ calves; an indicator of how hard teachers had hit them. Several girls described how male teachers hit them repeatedly on their breasts or buttocks – something that made them feel vulnerable and humiliated. Some even described how teachers hit them harder during their periods, in front of their classmates, for additional humiliation.
But policies and commitments alone cannot keep children safe in schools. The government will only do well when it bans corporal punishment, and takes decisive action to protect children from violence in its own schools.