What does it really mean to protect children? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 24, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, May 24, 2019

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What does it really mean to protect children?

As of 2017, roughly 16.2 million people newly displaced around the world—an average of 44,400 people forced out of their homes every day, according to the UNHCR Global Trends Report. Of them, 52 percent were younger than 18. The Child Protection Working Group (CPWG), which brings together academics and humanitarian organisations to improve the quality of child protection activities globally, likewise confirms that over half the people in the world impacted by conflict and disaster today are children. They are particularly vulnerable in these settings, in comparison to adults, girls more so than boys. They face neglect, physical and sexual abuse and exploitation, are separated from their families, trafficked, and are forced to join to armed groups. The trauma of these experiences can often leave lifelong impact on these young victims of conflict. Helping them, therefore, goes far beyond simply protecting their basic rights. It involves understanding the needs and contexts specific to each child, granting them the agency to influence the kind of help they receive, and filling in the gaps in child protection activities on an ad hoc basis.

In an effort to incorporate these elements into their work with children, SEEP—the Social and Economic Enhancement Programme, Bangladesh—has come up with a ‘Child Safeguarding Policy’ that clearly defines how humanitarian actors, academics, consultants, media personnel, vendors, donor agencies, etc. should work with children. Serving as an offshoot of the “Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action” mandated by CPWG, the SEEP policy seeks to help humanitarian organisations be aware of, prevent, report, and respond to the abuse and sexual exploitation of children.

According to this policy, a representative of a humanitarian organisation can never physically assault or engage in a sexual relationship with anyone younger than 18 (even with their consent). They can never stay unsupervised overnight, sleep in the same bed, or spend too much time alone, with children they are working with. Equally important to their actions is the language they use with these children—they can never shame or humiliate them, discriminate against them, communicate provocatively with them, or do things for them “of a personal nature” that the children can take care of themselves.

A “culture of openness” needs to exist in the workplace in order for these rules to be implemented. Representatives must feel accountable for others as well as their own actions, so that (confirmed and unconfirmed) acts of misconduct can be challenged and immediately reported within 24 hours. Openness also refers to including the children in the work being done—they must know their rights, understand what kind of behavior they can challenge, and participate in the decision-making processes surrounding their safety. It’s important, also, to note some clauses from the CPWG minimum standards which influenced the SEEP policy—the representatives should consider how their actions impact both boys and girls, children younger than five as well as adolescents, children from different ethnic, religious, and cultural groups, and children with different disabilities. If a child is somehow abused or exploited, the first call of action will be to immediately make the child safe.

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