The Importance of Child Rights and Protection

Corporal Punishment. Lack of food at home. Sexual and physical abuse at home and in the community. These are just a few of the violations that students have shared through TFFT’s Happy & Sad Box Project.

The Foundation For Tomorrow (TFFT) squarely focuses its work in Tanzania addressing vulnerability through the power of education. Underpinning our work serving students holistically is our focus on Child Rights. School, both government schools and partner private schools our scholars attend, is a valuable environment in which TFFT can engage students and encourage them to share and open up about what is going on outside of just their academics.  

The Foundation For Tomorrow is committed to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning. This cannot be attained, though, without the meaningful and active participation of learners themselves. Their voices, interests, aspirations, concerns, and challenges deserve to be heard.  TFFT firmly believes in Child Rights Education as a form of education. We take seriously the view that children are bearers of human rights. Children are citizens in their own right and schools and educational institutions are learning communities where children learn – or fail to learn. A legal obligation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is to educate children about what their own basic human rights are, the values and practices of human rights and citizenship.

TFFT sees the rights of Tanzanian children being compromised inside the classroom in various forms. Overcrowded classrooms, multiple children sharing a scant number of textbooks, and under-trained and overwhelmed teachers lead to corporal punishment as the normative response to an unruly classroom. As an organization serving orphan and vulnerable children, we also hear terrible accounts of children suffering from physical and sexual abuse, lack of proper nourishment, and general neglect.

Endorsing the rights of children and creating a safe school environment for students are priorities for TFFT.  We work to provide tools that can be utilized to create a safe and constructive space for students. One program TFFT has identified and developed over the past five years as a Child Rights instructional tool is our Happy and Sad Box Program.

TFFT adopted and adapted the Happy and Sad Box methodology in 2015 from Mkombozi, a Meru District program created to re-integrate street children back into schools.  TFFT identified this program as a positive solution to educate and embolden students and teachers. We have rolled this program out to our partner schools, receiving very positive feedback from students and teachers alike.  With this success, we hope this solution can be accessed by government schools as well in the future.

In the past five years, the Happy and Sad Box program has proven an effective way to improve the protection of children’s rights in school environments where they do not have access to toll free helplines and phones to report child rights violations or neglect. The Happy and Sad Box project educates students on what children’s rights are and allows a safe way to report both positive practices and rights violations. Our Psychosocial & Health Program completed an evaluation in December 2018 and found overall positive outcomes as a result of training teachers on children’s rights and protection and implementing Happy and Sad Boxes in 15 partner schools.

The Happy and Sad Box program follows a very strict process for opening and reviewing the boxes on a quarterly basis.  Each box is locked by two locks, with keys being held by the school administration and TFFT. The boxes are opened in a coordinated manner with all interested parties on hand: school administrators, a representative from the parents’ committee, someone from social welfare, students, and TFFT staff.  Notes in each box are reviewed and an appropriate course of action is discussed.

“The happy and sad boxes are a good way for us to talk about the things that make us happy and sad at school and home and have hope that they will be improved,” said Bryson Sirili, Grade 5 student at Arusha Modern Primary School.

This project aims to improve child protection and safety within the school environment including reporting on issues at home. Most learners find the confidence to express themselves through this initiative which would ordinarily be deemed as confrontational and disrespectful in most culturally conservative environments where children are seen and not heard, and have no recourse to complain or raise an issue.

The “child protectors”, or teachers, are jointly or individually held to account for the protection of children rights, which nurtures and develops a sense of collective responsibility towards practices and attitudes that safeguard the rights of children at all levels. Children eventually feel protected, respected and safe in school, at home and within their communities.

In 2018 TFFT trained 60 teachers and support staff and 250 students in 3 partner schools. In the first half of 2019, we trained 10 more teachers and support staff at Shepherds Secondary, did a refresher training for 85 students, and expanded to one more primary school and trained 29 of their teaching and support staff.  In recent trainings, TFFT covered topics such as the impact of abuse and myths and misconceptions about corporal punishment. Following this instruction, TFFT introduced the Happy and Sad Box program. Participants fully engaged with this training, admitting the class was an eye-opener that highlighted issues they overlook or normalize. Feedback found that teachers and staff now better understand that by ignoring these issues – ignoring the rights of their students – they impede making child rights a reality.  

“This model is one of the most transparent ways of finding out many of the issues we overlook and working together with our scholars and TFFT,” said Yoannis Mdio, a program participant and Headmaster of Shepherds Secondary. “We can create a more enabling environment that meets their needs, concerns, and aspirations.”

Through these trainings, TFFT has noted a number of changes, as well as gaps in terms of knowledge on child rights and protection policies, and how to make these rights a reality. The pre-assessment forms distributed prior to teachers before starting our trainings found that 90% of teachers had no knowledge of The Law of the Child Act No 21 of 2009  – the act providing reform and consolidation of laws relating to children, stating the rights of the child and to promote, protect and maintain the welfare of a child with a view to giving effect to international and regional conventions on the rights of the child; to provide for affiliation, foster care, adoption and custody of the child.  Moreover, the majority of participants, including teachers, believed that corporal punishment was “an ideal and effective” way to discipline students and does more good than harm, something that had been learned during their own school days.

The trainings opened participants eyes to the frequency of abuse, types of abuse, its impact, and alternative discipline.  Teachers reviewed several case studies and myths/misconceptions about corporal punishment which completely changed how they think about punishment and discipline. In these sessions, some teachers admitted that they see that they frequently only punish a student, but not discipline, understanding the importance that discipline offers in changing behavior. TFFT observed in schools in which we provided training a significant change in teacher-student interactions. TFFT saw teachers spending more time with students trying to learn why they behave the way they do. They also looked to involve guardians on matters of students behavior to find a way to co-construct solutions on how to help students’ behavior. We look to see how we can grow the Happy and Sad Box Program in support of Child Rights in the future.