Child Leadership within Child Protection
Firelight grantee partner, the Rural Education and Economic Enhancement Programme (REEP) focuses on children’s rights in Butula Division, a rural area near the Kenya-Uganda border. REEP works to reduce child abuse by educating community members, lawyers, educators and children, on children’s rights. Mary Makoha, REEP founder says, “In a place with high HIV prevalence like Butula, orphans and vulnerable children are often abused and unless they know their rights, they cannot seek help or the abuse is discovered too late.” REEP began in 1997 “as a small organization working under a tree.” Relying heavily on nearly 500 community-level volunteers, they now mobilize the community, advocate for the protection of children and encourage the prosecution of offenders. They identify and report at least 90% of the total cases of child abuse. Community volunteers, trained as paralegals by REEP, received over 84 reported cases between 2008 and 2009 alone. They’ve been able to support 1, 693 children so far and reach out to 16, 234.
Parents and guardians of sexually abused children meet in support groups and are brought together as parent educators. This approach allows REEP to then train over 100 children as child’s rights leaders. Empowered with knowledge of their rights, children are more likely to recognize and report abuse.
Child participation and leadership is an integral element to their vision- over 60 primary schools now host children’s rights clubs that are fully run by the children themselves.
By training local administrators and teachers on children’s rights, REEP integrates child protection into existing institutions and systems. Strong relationships with local police and the hospital, have led to more child-friendly services. Community leaders, who play an important role in setting norms, are also a part of the work.
Initially intimated by the legal system, REEP tapped into the legal expertise of a trained lawyer working in the nearest urban center. Over time, they learned what evidence they need to document and how to present it to the police and to the court. They still call for advice, but much less frequently as their own knowledge and expertise have become more sophisticated.
From humble beginnings, REEP has grown into a respected organization with holistic programs that integrate health, education, nutrition, economic empowerment, children’s rights advocacy and protection. Following their five-year strategic plan, they are eager for additional resources to develop a safe house for children recovering from sexual abuse. “It also prevents a situation of repeated abuse, especially if it is happening within the child’s home,” Mama Makokha stated.
Building on the resources of the community to effectively increase support and protection for the most vulnerable children, REEP has increasingly brought attention to an important issue in ways that reinforce community and child leadership. In the words of Mama Makokha, “In my rural community, people have learnt to respect children.”