Catholic schools in Zimbabwe are set to adopt a Child Protection Policy before the end of this year that will make school safer institutions for the process of teaching and learning.

This was revealed to In Touch by the Jesuits Education Delegate, Fr Joe Arimoso whose office is spearheading the initiative. They have so far held consultative workshops in Mutare, Hwange, Gokwe and Harare.

The consultations are being done with School Heads, senior teachers as well as school prefects. They are working closely with UNICEF and Save The Children, who are giving them capacity building support on child rights.

Fr Arimoso sits on the Education Advisory Board that helps the Education Ministry that is headed by David Coltart.

Fr Arimoso said “Child protection is the acceptance that children in our schools are vulnerable. This therefore becomes an attempt to make sure that all those vulnerable, at all levels are protected. We do not focus on sex abuse only. There are all sorts of abuses going on within schools, physical, verbal… Our target is to improve the teaching – learning atmosphere in classes.”

He added: “The most common form of abuse is verbal abuse. People are very loose with their tongue. Someone can abuse a child by telling them, 7% ndoyako iyoyo and you cannot do better than that, or kuti urikuwaster mari yababa vako mfana iwewe. A lot of the abuse that goes on, people do them without knowing that’s abuse. But the net effect of that is it creates barriers on teaching and learning.”

He said they have seen child protection as a priority.

“Of course it is usually misunderstood because people often think that we are there just to protect children. No. We want to protect the child but also the adult, the school and the Jesuits and the Church.

Fr Arimoso said Zimbabwe has never had a child protection policy for schools adding that the ministry has only spoken previously about child friendly schools. But these do no actually tackle the problem of abuse.

“We had an evaluation and assessment of our schools in 2011 and that’s when we realised that after all the talk about child abuse in the Church, our schools have not responded in any way to that, it seems like issues of abuse are a no go area…we therefore need to remove or address that thing now.”

Fr Arimoso said the idea to come up with such a policy emanated from his visit as Education Delegates from Africa to schools in South America.

“We visited schools in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia and we were satisfied with the way they run their schools. And when I came back I was keen on bringing newness into our schools, but I could not do anything before I knew what was going on in the schools. So I did an evaluation and assessment of what was going on in all the schools, using an external education consultant.

“It’s from that report that we drew key result areas, and child protection is one of them. There are other areas like Ignation ethos, teaching and learning, Infrastructure development, advocacy and research…and child protection is but one of the 15 key result areas from that report…

“From the visit, we also realised that a Jesuit or Catholic school is not just like any other school, it is different. Our schools have their own values and ethos, but unfortunately we had lost all that over the years, schools were left to do their own thing, the Ignation or Catholic ethos has been lost,” he said.

Asked about anything else that he learnt in South America, Fr Arimoso said; “The schools in South America are keen on educating the marginalised, giving quality education to the marginalised and poor.

“Here in Zimbabwe, the school fees determine the quality of the education. Their schools promote a lot the Ignation ethos that makes it mandatory that they produce a well-rounded person, not just an academic but someone also good in sports, spiritual and social activities. The person at the end should be a man or a woman for others.”