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Child protection in emergencies

Disasters, conflicts and other crises can have devastating effects on children’s lives. Structures and systems that protect children and support their positive development are often undermined or damaged.  

As a result, children are exposed to new threats, such as loss of or separation from their families, sexual exploitation, trafficking, and recruitment into armed groups. Furthermore, existing harmful practices (such as harmful labour and child marriage) can be exacerbated. 

Plan International works with children, their families, communities and local authorities to prevent and respond to violence, abuse, neglect, and exploitation against children with urgent, life-saving actions. Our programmes ensure the protection needs of children are met, with particular attention paid to the unique risks faced by adolescent girls.

PREVENTING HARM AND RESPONDING TO VIOLENCE 

Our child protection in emergencies work includes:

  • Addressing urgent needs: We support national child protection systems to deliver case management services (social work-type support) to children and their families. We ensure children with urgent protection needs are identified and receive timely, age and gender- appropriate services. In many cases, this means searching for separated family members and linking children to caring and protective foster families. 
  • Strengthening families and communities: Children and their families suffer both physically and mentally in the aftermath of an emergency. In response, we create safe environments for children through child and adolescent friendly spaces where children and adolescents can access psychosocial counselling, support networks, life-saving information, and be referred to other services. Parenting courses are also provided to help caregivers develop skills to cope with crises. 
  • Strengthening local systems: We partner with civil society organisations, community leaders, local governments, academics, activists and NGOs to meet the needs of children. We provide training for and build the capacity of partners to support existing structures within communities that keep children safe.
  • Influencing: Building from lessons learned in programme evaluations, research, needs assessments and contextual analyses, we influence policy, practice, and budgets on child protection in disaster resilience, preparedness, response and recovery at international, national, and local levels.

FOSTER FAMILIES SUPPORT BURUNDI’S LOST GIRLS

Since the Burundian civil war began in 2015, more than 250,000 people have fled to neighbouring countries such as Tanzania. Many are unaccompanied girls who have been orphaned or become separated from their parents during their journeys to safety.

Plan International works in Northwest Tanzania to connect the unaccompanied girls with foster families who take care of them. We are also working to trace the girls’ parents and reunite families where possible.

Bernice**, 12: "There is a difference between here and Burundi. I am getting food, a place to sleep and care from my foster parent. It helps me feel safer."

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TACKLING EMERGING ISSUES

In order to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children during disasters, our work is expanding to respond to the growing issues and gaps in emergency responses. 

For example, we are working to eliminate the worst forms of child labour, including trafficking, sexual exploitation, forced and hazardous labour.

In addition, we work with and for adolescent girls who are subject to particular risks during emergencies and are not equally equipped with the knowledge, mobility or assets to get life-saving help.

We also work to prevent harmful traditional practices, such as child marriage and intimate partner violence, which are often reinvigorated during emergencies.

PROTECTION FOR ADOLESCENT GIRLS AFTER NEPAL EARTHQUAKE

In response to rising levels of child marriage and teenage pregnancy following the 2015 Nepal earthquakes, Plan International established a number of adolescent friendly spaces for girls aged 12-18. 

These spaces allow girls to access their right to protection and receive sexuality education which informs their ability to make decisions about their sexual health. They have also allowed the needs of girls who are married, pregnant or young mothers to be addressed in a safe, trusting environment free of discrimination.

Maya**, 16, who attended one of the spaces said: "I am comforted knowing that I am not the only person who has faced these challenges. There are other girls like me. The adolescent friendly space has shown me that I have value and a choice in my life."

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GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT

Plan International is a core member of the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action in which it takes a leadership role on the Worst Forms of Child Labour and Community-Based Child Protection in Emergencies Task Forces. We are also a member of the Strategic Advisory Group for the Child Protection Area of Responsibility and a new Core Member of the Gender Based Violence Area of Responsibility.* 

View our child protection in emergencies publications

* Plan International is not responsible for the content on external websites

**Names changed to protect identities