Plan staff blog on our work with children across the world.
Children are in danger of growing up invisible as a result of not having their births registered following the Nepal earthquake, blogs Plan International's Nicoleta Panta on World Population Day, 11 July.
A lot of dizzying stats have been doing the rounds following on from the devastating earthquake in Nepal over 2 months ago. One of the most concerning focuses on the large number of pregnant women affected by the calamity (126,000, according to UNFPA*).
In Nepal, we’ve heard stories of women giving birth at home, in fields, in animal sheds, on the road, and in tents. Brave women have walked for miles by themselves to get to their nearest health facility. The hardships these women have had to overcome just to be able to bring their babies into this world are remarkable.
Those lives are just beginning and it’s important that all births are registered particularly in emergency situations, so that girls and boys can grow up legally recognised by the state and with the legal identity that will help them throughout their lives.
Who are you?
When you think about it, there are countless times when you might need to prove who and how old you are. Maybe you need to apply for a job, sign a contract, get a loan, open a bank account, request a passport, vote, go to school or sign up to receive aid after a disaster. All of these things require ID.
11 July is World Population Day and the theme this year is vulnerable populations in emergencies. Poverty plays its part and the most affected by disasters are often those who live in poor, rural areas and those from indigenous groups or ethnic minorities. More women than men die as a result of natural disasters and children and the elderly are particularly at risk. Pregnant and lactating women are also among the most vulnerable.
With babies being born across Nepal and with millions of homes damaged or destroyed by the earthquake, registering a birth is understandably not at the top of everyone’s list of priorities. This is why it’s vital that services reach everyone.
We know that public services are stretched to breaking point in Nepal, even though we are already more than 2 months into the response. Yet if we don’t act quickly to ensure all girls and boys are registered at birth, we are going to see a large cross-section of society grow up invisible and uncounted. The recent earthquake is potentially the catalyst for this.
Getting everyone in the picture
Great strides have been taken in recent years by the government, with support from partners like Plan International and UN agencies, to strengthen the system in place that registers births, as well as other key life events. We’ve helped develop software so the government can digitise the registration system in the 13 districts where we work. But still, about 40% of children in Nepal go unregistered, according to government records, and the rates are particularly high when you go out into the rural districts.
Unregistered children are at greater risk of being trafficked because there’s no record of who they are. It’s more difficult to reunite unregistered children with their parents because they don’t have a legal identity.
Girls are more likely to be forced to marry before the legal age if they don’t have a birth certificate to show how old they are. Children might not be able to go to school or take exams and they could find themselves working in exploitative conditions.
Birth registration right
Birth registration is the first right of every child. It’s enshrined in conventions and international laws. Yet around the world, 230 million children under 5 have not been registered*, while more than 100 developing countries don’t have adequate systems in place to register key life events like births.
If governments don’t have the most accurate, up-to-date data on the people in a country, how can they then effectively respond to those people’s needs at the best of times, let alone after there has been a major emergency?
Birth registration isn’t the most attention-grabbing area of humanitarian work. Headlines tend to focus on healthcare, deaths, trafficking and livelihoods. Yet what a lot of people don’t realise is that all of these are directly supported by a country having a robust, efficient system in place to register key life events.
This is why we implore our partners in Nepal and other developing countries to include birth registration in their work before, during and after emergencies. It will make everyone’s job easier and significantly reduce the risk to vulnerable populations while simultaneously giving governments the data they need to be able to effectively coordinate a response.
There is significant global momentum and political will for counting every child and ensuring all births are registered, particularly within the health sector, as was evident at the recent Measurement and Accountability for Results in Health Summit in Washington.
No generation of children should grow up invisible. This World Population Day, let’s not forget to include those who so often find themselves on the fringes of society.
Find out more about Plan International’s work on birth registration.
* Plan International is not responsible for the content on external websites
Just 1% of all humanitarian funds went towards education in emergencies last year – yet schooling makes a huge difference for children caught up in crisis, blogs Plan International's Anthony Davis.
3 July 2015: It was a beautiful early morning when we left Kathmandu to go to Makwanpur. I was taking a day out from my role as an advocacy specialist for the Nepal emergency response, to meet children, young people, partners and local officials Plan International is working with to help rebuild children’s lives after the earthquakes.
In Makwanpur, while we waited for the Phakhel Village Development Committee to assemble, we sat down with Plan International Sponsorship Manager Anil Deoja. Makwanpur was impacted on a smaller scale than other districts, but the needs are still great. Anil brought us up to speed with the situation in the district, where we were already delivering long-term development programmes before the April earthquake.
Adequate shelter remains the major need, particularly with the monsoons, and there are increased incidences of trafficking and child labour – already problems before the disaster.
As we made our way into the dimly-lit Village Development Committee building, the conversation turned to education, a key concern for children in Makwanpur and across the country.
1 million out of school
With more than 53,000 classrooms either destroyed or damaged, the government’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment ranks education as the sector with the second greatest need, only behind housing. When schools reopened at the end of May, 1 million Nepali children were unable to return to school.
Those girls and boys who are able to return are faced with additional challenges. Countless numbers lost their books and learning materials in the earthquakes. Having missed school for a few months, and with many children finding it hard to study in the meantime, there are serious concerns about impending examinations.
Still, members of the Village Development Committee we spoke with were optimistic, proudly noting that before the earthquakes hit, all children were in school. It was clear that returning to school had made a huge difference for children. “When children are in school, they are fine. But it is in the evenings that they still feel scared,” a committee member told me.
This is consistent with what we know: in times of emergency, education provides physical protection and psychosocial safe spaces for children, particularly girls. It provides routine, and signals a return to normality. It can save lives. That is part of the reason that support for education in emergencies is a priority for Plan International.
Temporary learning solution
Later in the day, we visited a temporary learning centre in Bajrabarahi – one of 25 that we are establishing in Makwanpur. It is times like these that shine a light on the importance of education in helping recovery and strengthening resilience. As we entered the classroom, made from bamboo and corrugated iron sheeting, we were met with a chorus of noise.
“Namaste!” the children shouted, smiles stretching across each and every face.
They have quickly settled in. The temporary learning centre, half built by Plan International and half by the community, was alive with activity. As I looked over some promising artwork, and skimmed through a social sciences textbook, I couldn’t help but feel conflicted.
My joy at seeing kids back at school was tempered by thoughts of longer-term challenges. How long will it take for their primary school to be rebuilt? How will this centre fare in the monsoon rains?
And what about those girls and boys who are not yet able to return to education? There is a real risk that many will drop out of education – possibly permanently – to enter into child labour or child marriage, or even be forced into trafficking and exploitation. The risks to girls are particularly concerning, and the rates at which they return to school should be monitored intently.
Urgent funding call
Here lies the challenge. All of this will cost money. Commitments made at the recent donor conference in Kathmandu should ensure some targeted funding for education. This should be an urgent priority.
Education in emergencies is notoriously underfunded. The Nepal UN flash appeal for education received just half of its funding target – par for the course for a sector that in 2014 only received 1% of all humanitarian funding. This needs to change.
This is why Plan International is joining with A World at School and other partners to call for an urgent fund* to provide education for children affected by wars and natural disasters.
For me, the success of the 7 July Oslo Summit on Education for Development* hinges on whether world leaders take the plunge and commit to creating a Global Humanitarian Fund for Education in Emergencies.
That step would make a dramatic difference for all the children whose lives are disrupted by disaster.
* Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
Adolescent girls will continue to be invisible unless we explicitly include them in indicators to measure progress of the Sustainable Development Goals, blogs Plan’s International’s Zara Rapoport.
June 2015: The global community, in its preparations for the next 15-year development agenda, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has noted time and again that this is meant to be a “transformative” and inclusive agenda. It aims to transform all lives, including those who were left behind in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
If we look at the 17 Goals and 169 targets*, we can see this clearly, and note how much more comprehensive, and by association complicated, this framework really is.
A transformative agenda needs ambitious targets
Despite these more comprehensive and progressive targets, a look at the proposed indicators* – the way we will measure if we’ve met our goals – reveals a persistent tendency to maintain the status quo and keep using outdated indicators, effectively ignoring the more progressive and inclusive aspects of the goals.
This completely misses the transformative opportunity inherent in the agenda. It seems obvious that we will need to upgrade and even develop new forms of measurement, as many of the goals incorporate new ideas and necessarily include new populations who have been invisible in data collection and analysis in the past.
This is especially true for girls; particularly younger adolescents aged 10 to 14, a population typically excluded from the traditional age range associated with data collection for women of reproductive age. Yet we have learned, through hard lessons and lost lives, that reproduction starts before 15. Given this, it is especially important to include 10 to 14 year-olds in indicators related to sexual and reproductive health, as well as others that are relevant to their ability to live their lives to their fullest potential.
For example, the current indicator suggested for target 3.7, (By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes) recommends the indicator, “Percentage of women of reproductive age (15-49 years) who have their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods.” This is the long-used reproductive age range that is still considered the standard, despite data noting the increased risk of complications and even death for girls who are pregnant or give birth under 15 years of age.
It is also important to remember that sexual and reproductive health, including the age range associated with this, does not only mean actual reproduction. Menstruation, a significant part of girls’ and women’s reproductive systems and lives, often begins well before 15.
This is just one example of adolescents’, particularly younger adolescents’ needs and rights being left out of SDG procedures. If they are not explicitly included in the indicators, then they will remain invisible in the monitoring, reporting, and analysis of progress on the SDGs. We know from experience with the MDGs that what is measured is often what is prioritised, making it much less likely that governments and other actors will be incentivised to meet the needs of this vulnerable group.
Girls’ needs must be made visible
It is not only those targets and indicators associated with sexual and reproductive health that require newer and better indicators to capture what truly needs to be measured. For some of the more complex targets such as 2.2, which states, “By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons,” the only indicator currently recommended calls for measuring the prevalence of stunting for children under 5 years of age.
While under-5 stunting rates are exceptionally important, tracking this does nothing to track progress on nutrition for adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women (who are often girls themselves), and older persons.
Reducing the indicators to the easiest to measure variables ignores the lessons we have learned from years of research: if the most vulnerable – those most subject to discrimination and exclusion – are not included from the beginning, their progress will not be measured, they will continue to be invisible, and transformation will fail.
The next generation of indicators
We should not be afraid to aspire to new, more comprehensive indicators. In fact, it is logical that by 2030 the indicators used should not be the same ones we used today. Nor are the indicators we use today the same ones we used in 2000. Data gathering and analytic capacity has improved, along with our ideas of what is important to measure.
There is a reason this new agenda is much larger and more inclusive than the MDGs: it needs to be if we are to create lasting, sustainable change in the world, and ensure that the hardest to reach are able to benefit from the advances the rest of the world is enjoying, achieve their rights, and realise their full potential.
Some are calling this push for new and improved indicators the “next generation of indicators” and that is indeed what we need. We cannot achieve true transformation without ambitious indicators which will push the global community beyond what is currently being tracked, measured, and analysed. We cannot use old indicators to measure new ideas.
Find out more about Plan’s recommendations for indicators for adolescent girls post-2015 in the Girl Declaration Joint Advocacy Group recommendions
* Plan is not responsible for the content on external websites
Sixty-Six Quarters slum in Islamabad, Pakistan, is home to 35-year-old Rubina* and her family. Rubina dropped out of school as a child because her family could not afford the fees.
For Rubina, domestic work provides an income so her 3 children can go to school and gain an education. It also lets her treat her children when she can.
Two to three females from each family in the slums are thought to be involved in domestic work – even though it is seen as a demeaning profession. However, many do not have a choice.
Raza,15, has been a domestic worker since she was 10. Many girls work in several houses per day - cleaning and doing the laundry. They earn on average 4,000 rupees ($40) from each house, per month.
"When I started working at people’s homes I faced a lot of discrimination; there is no concept of a minimum wage, regular job hours are not fixed, there is no fixed salary or over time," says Rubina.
Seeing the impact domestic work has on women and children in the slums, Plan and partner HomeNet Pakistan organised groups for women to discuss the issues they face and learn about their rights.
With the support of the Pakistan Workers Federation, representatives from each of the 10 communities have been elected to form a Domestic Workers Union. Rubina is now union president.
"We should be protected by Pakistan's labour laws so we have job contracts, defined hours, salaries, pensions and other benefits," says Rubina. "We can then help our children to have a better future."
Young girls and women from Pakistan’s slums who have been forced into domestic work are rallying for their rights, blogs Plan International’s Iffat Jamil on World Day Against Child Labour, 12 June.
“When I started working at people’s homes, I faced a lot of discrimination,” says Rubina*, 35, a domestic worker from Islamabad, Pakistan. “There is no concept of a minimum wage, fixed job hours, fixed salary or overtime. There is no paid leave even if a domestic worker is with child.”
This is the reality for many of the young girls and women living in Islamabad’s slum that I work with on a daily basis. These women are forced to take on domestic work to make ends meet, offering their services in houses in posh areas of the city. It’s not an easy task as Rubina can testify and one that is blighted with difficulty due to their lack of rights.
Why? In Pakistan, domestic work falls under the category of informal labour. That means labour and protection rights are not secure, while young girls are often vulnerable to child labour.
Forced to drop out of school, young girls take on work as domestic helpers to support their families with an income. It is not uncommon for girls as young as 12 to work in 2 to 3 houses in a single day, cleaning the house, doing laundry and washing dishes.
Farzana*, 12, from Islamabad, dropped out of school to become a domestic worker. “Perhaps I was 8 when I started working,” says Farzana. “Now I go with my aunt and my neighbours to work in rich people’s houses. Although I am happy I can help my family financially, I really miss the life which other girls of my community are living.”
Domestic work on the rise
Domestic work is firmly on the rise, particularly in cities such as Islamabad. After all, urban areas in Pakistan are the engines of economic, scientific and cultural development.
Yet, in my experience, those migrating in search of better livelihoods are women. Cities are not ready to absorb this burden and it has spawned many slums and illegal settlements without basic living facilities.
As women migrate from traditional, conservative societies to urban slums, they are exposed to a new environment. Instead of enjoying the life that comes with urban living, they struggle to achieve a work/life balance as they are faced with the extra burden of having to fulfil urban costs.
Due to a lack of access to equal education, health and income opportunities, women have no other choice but to provide services such as domestic work.
Poorest of the poor
According to the World Urban Forum (2004), poor, urban women are marginalised because of gender and social and physical conditions. In urban slums and shanty settlements, particularly in Pakistan, women face a range of difficulties, such as insecure housing, informal jobs, plus the double burden of household chores and access to resources. The inter-relationship between culture, gender and urbanisation is a complex one, where women are the poorest of the poor, because of the non-conducive urban environment.
Plan International Pakistan, along with its partner HomeNet Pakistan, has been helping domestic workers come together and discuss their issues since 2011. A union was formally created with five representatives selected from all 11 communities in January 2014.
Now, organising domestic workers is no easy task, believe me. In societies such as Pakistan, women are not decision makers and women who create unions and run campaigns are not accepted.
Domestic workers’ earnings are dependent on them going to work and if they take time off, they aren’t paid. So, if workers want to attend meetings to fight their rights, it will ultimately come at a cost.
Domestic workers do not fall under the definition of ‘labour’ either, so these women their union cannot be categorised as a Labour Union. That’s why we’ve called on the help of the Pakistan Workers’ Federation (PWF), so women can discuss matters with other union members, while ensuring their voices are heard in an organised, systematic way.
Recently, there has been a spike in membership to Domestic Worker Unions and conventions have been taking place rights as per International Labour Organization (ILO)’s defined article C-189. The ILO are aware that domestic workers make up a large portion of the workforce in developing countries, and their numbers have increased in industrialised countries. Yet, there is still an ‘invisibility’ around their work, a deficit in law enforcement and organisation of domestic workers.
Things are progressing, slowly. In 2013, the first ever bill was drafted to bring domestic workers under the umbrella of “Labour” and it was presented in the senate. The bill had lot of observations and various human rights lawyers inputted into the bill, suggesting improvements.
Two years on, a new senate has come into power and the bill is once again under scrutiny. My colleagues and I are making a concerted effort to ensure this bill is passed. However, it needs a bigger push from civil society to ensure the bill is prioritised as convincing parliamentarians on passing such a bill is not an easy task.
Then, there’s the bigger the task. It’s not a matter of simply passing the law, but making it happen – which is much more crucial. Domestic workers need training and skills to discuss and handle their contracts with employers, to raise their voices against discrimination. The advocacy movement is slowly gaining momentum across big cities, but the work is far from over. Now more than ever we must continue to work together to ensure women’s rights are recognised in this sector.
*Names have been changed
10 June 2015: Sitting in neat rows on desks salvaged from their fractured classrooms, the boys and girls are back in school. Not the one which existed for 50 years with its baroque charm - now a twisted mangle of rubble and metal - but one built in 5 days in time to beat the monsoon.
It is made of salvaged wood and old doors and topped off with a gleaming silver roof of corrugated metal - a kind of educational Mecca. Plan International has helped make this happen, providing funds to partners and procuring vital materials.
I join the boys who are studying science, which involves a lot of scary maths. I tell them it was never my strong point and they laugh as we flip through a page of algebraic equations.
Maike Roettger, the National Director from Plan International Germany, and Lynne Hudson from Plan International Canada are interacting with the girls from Year 10 exploring their favourite subjects and ambitions for the future - to be doctors, and scientists and journalists and teachers. We ask if anyone wants to be a politician - there are no takers. We leave buoyed up by their energy and love of learning.
Their temporary learning space may be far from temporary. In the district of Dolakha, high in the hills of Nepal and some 5 hours away from Kathmandu by road, most houses have been reduced to rubble and their secondary school, rendered unsafe, is being demolished by the Nepali army.
The scale of the damage contrasts terribly with the beauty of the valley, the lush pastures and the riot of flowers. Most of the houses in this district were made of stone, held together in good times by mud and sand. Constructions of this kind is no match for earthquakes of the kind which hit Nepal in late April and early May.
Further down the hillside, Plan International Nepal has established a child-friendly space which is bursting with over a hundred children. Games are being played and songs sung and all the children gather together in lines to sing the Nepali national anthem, hands on hearts.
Nepali people are proud, patriotic and resourceful. Some have begun to rebuild their homes in time for the rains, using the tarpaulins Plan International has distributed and salvaged material from their former homes. But the long term challenge is to build back better and stronger, with concrete pillars which can withstand another major earthquake. The risk is that by the time the blueprints are ready, families will have settled for the old ways of construction and be too weary or preoccupied with other jobs to build a second time.
Finally we get to the food and shelter distribution point where Plan is handing over tarpaulins, hygiene kits, cooking oil and heavy 25kg bags of rice to families who wait patiently to collect these precious goods. So far we have reached 150,000 people with our programmes of immediate relief. A bag of rice could last a family a couple of weeks at least as they work to make the most of what could be an early autumn post monsoon harvest.
But the earthquake has meant a loss of stored food for themselves and their animals, and vital seeds for future planting. It will take cash relief to bridge the gap, to fund families to purchase food from local markets where prices are inevitably higher than normal.
It is a long way back for these families, both today as the women and girls haul the kilos of rice down the hill, and in the longer term to rebuild their homes and villages. And emotions are never far from the surface.
We come across a woman with tears pouring down her face. The heat, the weight of the tarpaulins and other goods, the trauma of the earthquake, and perhaps lost family, and the resulting lack of sleep and home comforts have just become too much. The officer in charge of the Nepali Army brigade and Plan International staff offer water, and a comforting helping hand.
It seems to be the women who are doing the heavy lifting literally. We pass many of them on the roads carrying huge baskets of silage - food for the animals - and water for their families. In our short visit, we accumulate a kaleidoscope of images from a major natural disaster.
Happy children in school, demonstrating how a return to normality can begin to vanquish bad memories of shaking houses and the rumble of local landslides, and adults who have a different and arguably less optimistic perspective. With the monsoons due soon, it will take a lot of Nepali stoicism and determination to get through the next 3 months.
By then the recovery phase can begin. Let us hope the world pledges and delivers what Nepal needs when it meets this month to review the National Plan. Nepal was one of the poorest countries in Asia before the earthquakes. There is an opportunity to strengthen so much, not just the physical buildings, but the institutions of government nationally and locally, and reinforce social cohesion and the Nepali national spirit. It must not be wasted.
June 2015: On 25 April, Nepal suffered a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Strong aftershocks in the following weeks have left communities unsettled and fearful, despite trying to build back their lives and return a sense of normalcy. The government of Nepal, together with national civil society and international aid agencies, are racing to provide immediate aid and relief to millions of people.
Whilst many resources are rightly being focused on immediate relief aid – food, water, and shelter – many of us are working to ensure that more protective services are not forgotten. The protection of women and children, educational, and maternal and neonatal health services are vital. The immediate needs of food, water and shelter are often referred to as ‘life-saving’ – while protection, education and health services, by contrast, are not. This could not be further from the truth.
For example, anti-trafficking interventions will ‘save the lives’ of potentially thousands of the most vulnerable adolescents who are at risk of being trafficked to brothels in Kathmandu and Delhi, and into a life of bonded sexual servitude.
Education programming – including the establishment of temporary learning spaces – provides both a safe and protective environment for children, and ensures that learning is disrupted as little as possible. Particularly for rural and marginalised children, we see that the longer they are out of school the less likely they are to return. This is especially true for adolescent girls.
Despite the legal marriage age in Nepal being 18, almost half of girls (41%) will marry before the age of 18, and 1 in 10 will marry before the age of 15, according to UNICEF data from 2015. Girls who are married off at a young age will likely drop out of school and will bear children too early and too frequently for their bodies to cope with.
Child marriage – exacerbated in an emergency
It has long been understood that child marriage increases due to emergencies, both in terms of the number of girls being married off as children and/or girls getting married at younger ages. However, the impact of a disaster on child marriage is in fact a much more complex and nuanced situation, and is based on numerous factors including both underlying cultural norms and the nature of the emergency.
Underlying cultural norms can include the average age gap between husband and wife. For example, some cultural norms accept a 14-year-old to marry a 30-year-old. Other cultural norms may see a 14-year-old marrying an 18-year-old. Both situations may differ based on the available dowry or bride price – and whichever one is more important.
In emergencies where there is a heightened level of poverty and vulnerability, and where families have lost everything, tough household decisions have to be made. This may include marrying a young adolescent girl, even though that may not have been the plan before the emergency.
The nature of the emergency is also a factor in child marriage. Where there is mass displacement (for example into formal or spontaneous displaced persons camps) then additional factors come into play, such as parents’ concern of sexual violence in the camp and viewing marriage as a ‘protective’ measure.
In this regard, the idea of a ‘protective’ measure includes both the family honour and the perception that a married ‘woman’ is less likely to be subjected to sexual violence than an unmarried ‘girl’.
However, in some situations where mass displacement has not occurred – such as parts of India after Cyclone Phaillin in 2013, and parts of Niger after the West Africa Food crisis in 2012/2013 – communities’ perception of child marriage was that it had actually decreased after the emergency. This was due to a combination of age difference between girls and boys, the dowry and subsequent community trends. In some situations, we saw young men leaving the rural areas to seek work in the cities, therefore indefinitely delaying a marriage that had been previously arranged.
Reducing child marriage
It is clear that under the humanitarian imperative, where we see that child marriage will increase due to an emergency, we are obligated to address the issue. However, equally, where child marriage decreases due to an emergency we have an incredible and unique window of opportunity to embed the reduction of child marriage as a new normative practice.
Given the nature of child marriage in Nepal, coupled with the earthquake and the nature of the emergency response, it is expected that child marriage will increase over the next 12 to 24 months, and for all the reasons listed above.
Many families cannot afford to keep their daughters and with major impact to schools and the education environment, marriage may be seen by some as a viable option for girls. Schools reopened on 31 May, but with thousands of classrooms destroyed and needing repair, for hundreds of thousands of children, returning back to school, is still not an option.
Knowing what we know about child marriage, and recognising that it is a key driver of inter-generational poverty, we can predict that unless something is done to prevent child marriage now and in the aftermath of the April earthquake, future generations of children will continue to be born to child brides.
Understanding the risk, the causes and the consequences of child marriage – particularly in an emergency setting – what could be more ‘life saving’ than working to ensure this does not happen?
8 June 2015: While the world’s attention is understandably on the devastating earthquake in Nepal, another humanitarian emergency is unravelling in East Africa. Following the decision of Burundi’s president to stand for a third term in office, which the opposition claim is against the Burundian constitution, protests have led to violence causing thousands of Burundians to flee into neighbouring countries.
What started as a trickle of refugees at the start of May has turned into a flood of people coming through different entry points in Tanzanian villages at the border area, with more than 100,000 refugees now having crossed the border. Some 70,000 of these are trapped in the tiny village of Kagunga, whilst they wait for the daily boat trip which will take them to the other side of Lake Tanganyika to the refugee camps.
In Kagunga, refugees pile packed together, squeezed between the hillside and the coastal line. There is not even sufficient room for them to set up makeshift shelters. Families just sit on top of each other, as they wait and wait for the passage to the other side of Lake Tanganyika where more waiting in inhuman environments awaits them.
Having received a request to support Plan International’s emergency response, it took me 36 hours to get from my office in central London to Kigoma airport. Stepping off the plane, the Plan field team took me straight to the major transit camp, located in Kigoma Football Stadium, which is where refugees are meant to be held for a few hours before being transported to a permanent camp, a Nyarugusu, a 2-hour drive inland.
However, as Nyarugusu is already overcrowded and the authorities cannot keep pace with the new intake; families have been kept in this temporary shelter for days. Indeed, as I walk through what was the players’ tunnel, the smell hit me first. There are limited clean water and sanitation facilities here. Then I emerge into the light to see a football pitch covered from end to end in people. Families clumped closely together with their belonging between them. I am not surprised when a staff member tells me that cholera has already killed 33 people.
The population of the camp fluctuates between 1,000 and 3,000 depending on the in and out flows of the refugees. Children are everywhere, some wander around with siblings or friends staring wide-eyed at the crowds of people that are waiting for their food rations, but the majority sit in silence, withdrawn and with glazed eyes. Many of them have thinned and their hair is patchy, showing signs of severe malnutrition. Aid workers scurry around, shattered and frustrated – holding the situation together by a fine thread.
Child support and protection
Plan Tanzania, Emergency Community Worker, Oscar Kapande explains: “It is staying together as community ties are strong – there is no stealing, there is limited violence, but this cannot last long. So many people in such a desperate situation; it is the children that I am worried for – many lost their parents and are here unaccompanied.”
Plan International was among of the first organisations to send an emergency field team to Western Tanzania and, as well as working with the Red Cross on cholera prevention activities, is now working with UNICEF and International Rescue Committee (IRC) to set up temporary child-friendly spaces where children can receive support and vulnerable cases referred to health clinics or the relevant government agency.
Monica Nyatega, the Child Protection Specialist for IRC explains the challenges that children are facing; “Many of the children arrive on their own; separated from their parents due to the complications of transport; some of them have lost parents to cholera, or have sick parents in the hospital. Some have fled the violence on their own and have nothing.”
There are some positives though. Monica’s face breaks into a smile as she tells us how her team united separated children the day before after tracking down their parents in a clinic.
We are also in discussion with the IRC on collaborating on a Back to School campaign to ensure that children’s right to education is not sacrificed during what has already been a highly traumatic experience.
It is a start, but it is insufficient. The next few days are crucial – as so often is the case, the international community is going to have to pull together if it has any chance of getting on top of this emergencie, to save lives and to start to restore a semblance of dignity of the refugee population.
Read more on how Plan is supporting Burundian refugees
3 June 2015: On 22 May, a 4.2 magnitude earthquake was recorded in Sandwich, Kent, UK. It struck almost a month after the damaging 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the Kathmandu valley in Nepal.
Now, I live in London, but in the immediate aftermath of the Nepal earthquake, I was deployed to the devastated country as part of Plan International’s emergency response.
Having recently returned from Nepal, I was keen to see how the two compared. So two days after the earthquake in Sandwich, I took a day trip to Kent to see the “impact” of the earthquake.
Sandwich is a historic town, located in south-east England. The 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montagu, is claimed to be the inventor of the sandwich. Charles Dickens, who wrote famous novels such as 'A Tale of Two Cities', even spent his last days in Kent.
In my mind, I still have vivid images of the devastation in Nepal amidst archival data destructive earthquakes elsewhere in the developing world. Yet, what struck me in Sandwich was it seemed to be business as usual. Nobody was injured.
When the earthquake woke them up, they had a cup of tea, kept their calm, then went back to sleep. Some residents said that the tremor triggered car alarms. Two school children told me that the ‘shaking’ woke them up, but they were not scared.
Over a cup of coffee in the University of Kent’s canteen, Bhargabi, a first year undergraduate, told me she slept through the whole episode. By the time she woke up in the morning, she had received over 150 instant messages from friends, showing “devastating scenes” of scattered garden furniture and overturned wheelie bins. There was not much on earthquake safety measures, however students had lived out their experiences on social media.
Given the growing popularity of mobile technology and social media across the globe, it is time to consider whether social media has a formal role to play in disaster prevention or response. Perhaps Facebook and Twitter may want to start automatic instant messaging on safety tips (what and what not to do) just after such earthquakes or just before an imminent storm, to the impacted areas. It could help save lives.
In Ash, near Sandwich, the epicentre of the earthquake, stands the church of St. Nicholas, parts of its history date back to 1190 AD. The earthquake on 22 May did not even stop the old, impressive clock on the 15th century church tower.
Yet, in Kathmandu all the clocks stopped. Seismologists say the earthquake that hit Nepal on 25 April was 260,000 times greater than the one in Kent. It was the worst earthquake to hit Nepal since 1934, and it killed over 8,000 people and injured over 19,000. During my visit to Nepal, I came across hundreds of destroyed houses and commercial buildings. Entire villages were wiped out. Lives and landscapes changed forever.
I also came across small children, scared. Their schools had been destroyed, damaged or considered unsafe. Closed schools worry children. Centuries-old buildings were damaged or destroyed at UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu valley. The disaster in this mountainous country, one of the poorest in Asia, reversed all development gains.
Strong buildings key
Comparing Kent to Kathmandu may not make much sense as we are talking of two events with exponentially different magnitude. Still, it reminds us that if you are in a developed country where buildings are strong, you have a far better chance of surviving an earthquake than in a developing country.
And, if you are a child, not only do your schools and homes stay safe and intact, but lessons about disaster preparedness from school days improve your readiness and capacity to cope. You might even be back at school the next day.
In August 2014, San Francisco experienced an earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale. Roads were destroyed and several people were injured. There were no immediate deaths and life, in general, the city did not come to a standstill.
By contrast, the 2010 Haiti earthquake measured 7.0 on the Richter scale and killed 220,000 people, while approximately 16,000 children died when schools collapsed in the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan.
To stop earthquakes from killing children, we need safe buildings and schools. To break the cycle of disaster vulnerabilities, we need new, innovative ideas. Kent and Kathmandu offer lessons in disaster risk reduction. Both have been “hit” by earthquakes of different magnitude – but the level of preparedness and resilience have been different. To rebuild Kathmandu, it will take several years and will require long-term investments.
What if we borrow from the concept of “twinning cities”? This idea was designed to promote cultural and commercial ties that became popular after the Second World War to foster friendship and understanding between different cultures. It was also an act of peace and reconciliation as well as to encourage trade and tourism.
The same concept can be used to strengthen bonds between people and to build a culture of safety, disaster preparedness and resilience. It could foster people-to-people cultural exchanges as well as formal collaboration.
One way forward could be something like a sandwich degree programme, where students spend a placement year in another university or accept an internship during the course of their studies. It could be a sandwich programme for humanitarian professionals, government officials, artists and architects, writers and teachers, plumbers and city planners. It could be culturally enriching, educative experience for hosts as well as guests.
So, anyone for a sandwich programme in Sandwich?
Plan International is continuing to provide emergency aid and support to communities in some of the areas worst-affected by the Nepal earthquake.
29 May 2015: Last week, education policymakers, experts and activists met in Incheon, Korea, for the 2015 World Education Forum (WEF).
It was at this meeting that education ministers from more than 100 countries agreed on a future education agenda that is truly ambitious. It is also an agenda that includes important statements on gender equality that have the potential to transform the lives of girls around the world, both in and out of school.
Plan International was in Korea during the WEF, working to place the unique experiences and needs of adolescent girls at the heart of the decision-making process.
In particular, Plan’s lobbying efforts helped to influence and strengthen key statements on gender equality and participation including:
- Recognising the importance of gender equality in achieving the right to education, including a commitment to supporting gender-sensitive policies, planning and learning environments.
This is significant because girls – especially those from marginalised groups – face additional, multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination in their everyday lives, and they require education systems that work to address, and actively challenge, that discrimination at all levels.
- Defining ‘quality education’ as being delivered in safe, supportive and secure learning environments, free from violence including school-related gender-based violence.
Plan’s own research has shown the real cost of gender-based violence in and around schools, particularly for girls, so it is encouraging to see leaders recognise school-related gender-based violence as a barrier to education that requires urgent action.
- Agreeing to uphold the right to participation of all stakeholders in education governance processes.
Plan champions the full and meaningful participation of children and young people in all its work, and our efforts at WEF were no different. Indeed, part of Plan’s delegation to WEF included adolescent girl advocates from Pakistan and the Philippines. Read an interview with the girls here.
Beyond that, we wanted to ensure that the voices of children and youth (particularly adolescent girls and those from other marginalised groups), as well as families and communities are heard in the planning, delivery and monitoring of the education agenda.
This will help ensure that education systems are more democratic, transparent and accountable, and as the agenda gets implemented in the months ahead, we expect to see all stakeholders, including children and young people, central to education governance processes.
What happens next?
Our work doesn’t stop at WEF.
The education agenda approved in Korea will form one part of the Sustainable Development Goals to be agreed by leaders at the UN in New York this September.
Plan will continue to advocate with and for adolescent girls around the world in order to guarantee the global goals recognise and respect the rights of girls everywhere to learn, lead, decide, and thrive.
Vote #Girl4President on social media to keep girls at the heart of the development agenda.
Check out the Millennium Children video made by young people from 6 different countries on the topic of gender-based violence in schools.
May 2015: When Motorola’s Martin Cooper made the first cellphone call way back in 1973, he knew he was onto something big, but he couldn’t have known how important mobile phone technology would become. Today, ICT is making a huge contribution to the development of societies around the world.
There are billions of cellphones, found in the pockets of people everywhere from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and they form an integral part of the daily lives of many of us. So it should come as no surprise with these amazing advances in technology and such wide-reaching networks that the humble mobile phone has come to play a vital role in development.
Mobile phone operators have massive networks that reach vast areas in pretty much every country you can think of. They are natural private sector partners for organisations like Plan International when it comes to development. They have technology, reach and knowledge that, more often than not, we can only dream of.
Not in the picture
Putting all this together, mobile phone operators can help us with a problem: More than 100 countries around the world have inefficient systems in place for registering key life events, like births, marriages and deaths. This may not sound like a big deal, but it’s huge. Those governments don’t have reliable data on issues like why newborn babies and mothers are dying or where there are diseases or where they need to build school or health centres.
Not only that, but we live in a world in which these inefficient systems have left 230 million children unregistered and effectively invisible in the eyes of their governments. Being invisible leaves them vulnerable and can make it more difficult to obtain the legal identity that makes education, healthcare, work and travel much more straightforward.
The root of these problems lies in the fact that the systems many of these countries have in place are dated, inefficient and weighed down in bureaucratic, paper-heavy processes. For example, when a baby is born, how does a mother who lives out in the hills in a remote village register the birth? Even if the birth takes place in a local medical facility, how is the paperwork going to get from A to B and maybe even to C before it ends up in the national database?
Hopefully you can see where digitising these systems can help. Simplifying processes and making them more efficient benefits everyone, from the individual through to the government responsible for that individual. A mobile phone can record a birth and send that data to a registration centre where it is recorded and put into a system, giving the government real-time info on what’s happening and where.
Digital technology, when used as part of a complete system for registering key life events, streamlines processes, improves data quality and helps boost registration rates. Health workers need only be given phones, software and basic training before they can begin using them to record data.
Know the risks
But before we get carried away with all the benefits this technology can bring, it’s important to recognise that there are some risks that need to be addressed.
We live in an age of big data and if recent events in the news have taught us anything, it’s that it’s vital that people’s personal data is protected. Data can fall into the wrong hands and be misused while flaws in the design of systems can open the doors to child protection risks. There are many issues to think about, such as identity theft, privacy violations, targeted oppression based on personal characteristics, exploitation by registration agents, and exclusion from the benefits of birth registration if systems aren’t designed to meet the needs of already marginalised groups.
If it sounds scary it’s because it can be – if precautions aren’t taken. This is why it’s vital that mitigating these risks be incorporated into the building of such systems. Governments, development partners, civil society, mobile phone operators and more need to take note of these risks. The benefits to digitisation are enormous and the risks can be avoided with a little coordinated, forward planning.
Digital birth registration tool
That’s why we at Plan International have put together a tool for identifying and addressing risks to children in digital birth registration systems. This tool breaks down exactly how digital technologies can support and strengthen birth registration systems, what the risks are and how they can be planned for and avoided.
We want this to be as accessible for people as possible so that it can be widely used. The tool itself is a detailed checklist of what to take into consideration. Do potential implementing partners have a clear mission and high ethical and data protection standards? Is the population generally aware of the risks of digital information sharing? Are relevant laws and regulations effectively enforced?
We have a lot of experience working with governments and partners on birth registration programmes as part of the wider field of civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS). Since 2005, we have helped register 40 million children around the world with activities in 36 programme countries.
Our big push now is for the digitisation of these systems and we have programmes starting in places like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Kenya. We are also leading a taskforce to develop a Guidebook on CRVS Digitisation in Africa, which will complement the tool and other existing literature.
Plan’s research has shown that context is critical: a one-size-fits-all approach to developing digital CRVS systems isn’t going to get the job done. Each country has its own set of needs and circumstances that must be taken into account if we are going to truly count every child and make sure they are protected while we do so.
Technology can help us achieve our development goals and, ultimately, end poverty and protect the rights of every child, woman and man. We want to encourage everyone to reflect on the last 40 or so years since that first cellphone call was made as we look to the future and all that we will be able to achieve together over the next 4 decades.
Download the Digital birth registration tool
Read about Plan's birth registration work