Next week, Plan International is bringing together governments, senior UN personnel and civil society organisations as part of its mission to protect children from violence, wherever they live. Our International Expert Consultation on Strengthening Communities to Secure Children's Right to Freedom from Violence is the first effort of its kind to bring together these bodies alongside communities and children to promote the development and implementation of strong and sustainable national and community-based child protection systems.
In the countries where Plan International works, It is not always possible for distant state systems to support children if they have been abused, exploited, neglected or faced any other form of violence at home, school, child care or any other setting. It is also not possible for state mechanisms to prevent such a violence from happening.
Working with communities to protect children
However, communities surround families and children, and have established ways of communication and influence. If communities come together to establish a mechanism to prevent, protect and respond to violence against children, it is likely to be successful in ensuring an enabling and protective environment for children. This could mean that communities take strong measures to prevent sexual violence, say no to child labour, prohibit early marriage, become vigilant about trafficking, and raise awareness amongst parents about non-abusive parenting.
Enabling and encouraging communities to play an important role in child protection needs adequate support, as well as recognition, under the national child protection systems.
Plan International works closely with children, families and communities through its child-centred community development approach and firmly believes that these are integral components of building a safety net around a child. The organisation currently supports more than 15,000 community based child protection mechanisms in regions of Africa, Asia and the Americas and Africa.
Community traditions and child protection
We work closely with communities in diverse societies where customs, beliefs and traditional practices are important, and can take precedence over the use of government services and formal legal systems. Mediation, for instance, involving traditional leaders and local village chiefs, may be the preferred way of resolving issues of inter-family conflict. This can be true even for serious issues of child abuse, where community cohesion is seen as paramount, over and above what may be in the best interests of the child.
Plan International’s work and studies have found a significant disconnect between the formal systems and the beliefs and practices of communities about ways to protect children. Very often children and families continue to rely largely on inbuilt practices to manage their child protection concerns. There is also the natural resistance of communities to rules and guidelines imposed from the outside. This makes it both relevant and critical that we continuously invest in community action towards child protection.
A systems approach recognises the linkages between children’s rights and the complex causes and consequences of violence. For example if socio-economic status is the reason to push children into child labour, it would seek collaboration with livelihood options for adults, if cultural practices lead to abusive behaviour of parents towards their children, this approach would encourage a behaviour change programme, and so on. Also providing evidence through scientific research that violence could lead to long lasting, detrimental impact on the overall development of a child.
In order to keep child protection agenda at the top, Plan International is collaborating at the highest possible levels, from the office of UN Special Representative of the Secretary General to the governments in more than 50 countries to implement this approach.
The International Expert Consultation
Plan International is organising the International Expert Consultation on Strengthening Communities to Secure Children's Right to Freedom from Violence, in partnership with UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General Marta Santos Pais, in Oslo, on 3 and 4 September. The event is supported by the Norwegian Government and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). Ministries responsible for children in Indonesia, Zambia and Niger are also collaborating for the consultation.
The core purpose of this global consultation is to enhance learning and provide further guidance on how to strengthen community-based child protection mechanisms and ensure a link to the national child protection system.
The consultation offers a platform where the larger child protection fraternity will benefit from sharing and learning about key developments and good child protection practices within communities in different countries and regions. It will help identify good models of community-based child-protection mechanisms supported by various international and local NGOs in communities across the world; provide an overview of legal frameworks for these mechanisms across different countries and regions; formulate clear guidance on what communities and children can effectively do in sustainable mechanisms; and devise a plan to work towards scaling up the approach to make communities more involved in protection of children at all levels.