ZANZIBAR, Tanzania -– The ceremony began with the recitation of Utenzi, a form of Swahili narrative poetry. In a traditional Zanzabari style, two girls sang a sorrowful tale: “It is so heartbreaking to see that children are getting beaten,” they sang. “This is destroying our families. It is really sad to hear of children that have been beaten so badly they can’t even sit down.”
While full of sadness, the song was performed to mark a celebratory occasion: the opening of the One Stop Centre at the Mnazi Moja Hospital in Zanzibar – a critical new resource for women and children who have been subject to abuse. The centre offers specialized services to survivors of physical and sexual violence, including health care, collection of forensic evidence, criminal investigation and psychosocial support.
Modeled after similar centres in Zambia visited on a UNFPA study tour, the One Stop Centre is the first of its kind in Tanzania. It was developed through a broad collaborative effort that included several Tanzanian Government ministries, the police force, the directorate of public prosecution, the Zanzibar Female Lawyers Association, the Legal Service Centre, Save The Children, UNICEF, UNFPA and the Danish International Development Agency.
Violence against women and children is a common reality in Zanzibar. Corporal punishment of children is widely practiced. One in ten women in Zanzibar has endured physical violence, and about one in 15 has experienced sexual violence. In the overwhelming majority of these cases, no action is taken. Formal prosecution is very rare; typically, violence against women and children is considered a private matter and solved within the household or community.
Low levels of awareness of survivors’ rights and a lack of access to health, legal and psychological services for survivors contribute to high levels of under-reporting and leave women and children alone to cope with the trauma of violence.
In recent years, Zanzibari communities have become more aware of the problem of violence against women and children and the need for further investment into building a coordinated response. The Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar (RGoZ) has undertaken numerous legislative initiatives, such as the Children’s Act of 2011, to promote and protect the rights of women, children and vulnerable groups in line with international and regional human rights standards. The government has also established gender-based violence committees at local, regional and national levels and has created a child protection unit within the Department of Social Welfare, which is working alongside the police force to address cases of abuse against children.
At the One Stop Centre opening ceremony, the musical act gives way to a theatrical performance. A young woman walks on to centre stage carrying a bucket of water and encounters a man who aggressively solicits her. When she refuses, he violently grabs her and drags her away. The audience becomes silent as they intuit that he plans to rape her. In the play, the perpetrator is her neighbour. Her mother, crying in pain for her daughter, is comforted by a friend who tells her to take her daughter to the One Stop Centre to get medical help and file a criminal report.
The next scene is the trial, and the audience anxiously awaits the judge’s decision. As the young woman’s perpetrator is sentenced to prison, the audience erupts in celebratory applause, revealing a strong desire for this kind of justice to take place in real life as well.
UNFPA and its partners are committed to preventing violence against women and children and increasing the reporting and prosecution of abuse cases. Plans are already in place to establish additional one stop centres at other locations around Zanzibar, including the Chake Chake Hospital on the island of Pemba.
Concluding the ceremony, the Second Vice President reaffirmed Zanzibar’s commitment to end abuse against women and children and not only urged the citizens of Zanzibar to use the new centre, but also warned perpetrators of violence that they will be caught and prosecuted.