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Speech: Child protection is a life-saving intervention

2 December 2015
Child protection is and must be considered to be a life-saving intervention in the immediate emergency response. That was the message delivered by Plan International EU Office at the global launch of, A Matter of Life and Death, a research led by the Child Protection Working Group on child protection programming’s essential role in ensuring child wellbeing and survival during and after emergencies.

BRUSSELS 2 DECEMBER 2015: SPEECH BY ALEXANDRA MAKAROFF, HEAD OF PLAN INTERNATIONAL EU OFFICE

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Children play at Child Friendly Space in an IDP camp, Myanmar
Children play at Child Friendly Space in an IDP camp in Myanmar. In an emergency situation, child protection interventions must be considered a life-saving intervention from day one. Credit: Plan International / Kaung Htet.

We know that when a disaster strikes, children and young people suffer disproportionately. Disasters impact children in many ways.

They get separated from family and friends, become orphaned or isolated. Their supporting structures, such as schools, are destroyed or requisitioned for other uses. They struggle to deal with uncertainty, anxiety and shock, so their emotional and psychological well-being suffers.

Plan International has been working with and for children and communities for almost 80 years and invested heavily in increasing its capacity and competence to do disaster risk reduction work as well as to respond to emergencies.

Our approach puts children at the heart of our interventions, helping them to recover, protecting and engaging them to reduce disaster risks, and preparing them to face future shocks and stresses.

Plan aims to provide holistic prevention and response to the protection issues experienced by children in emergencies. We build on our existing child protection in development experience and work in partnership with children, their families, local authorities to strengthen child protection systems and community based mechanisms.

Today, I would particularly like to address four points in relation to child protection which I believe must be central to preparedness and responses to all emergencies.

Child and youth participation

The first is the importance of listening to children and young people. Let’s not underestimate children: they understand their own needs best.

All children, and their families, must be consulted on and informed about decisions relating to the disaster response, and they must be engaged in the design and implementation of disaster preparedness plans.

Sharing information with children, especially the most marginalised, and involving them and their families in preparedness planning will help protect them in the event of future disasters.

When children are consulted, we almost always see the same priorities identified, irrespective of the context or the type of emergency: protection and education.

We have seen this ourselves in Nepal, Sierra Leone and in the Middle-East, which are three very different types of emergency. Whatever the country or context, children want to feel safe and go to school.

The particular needs of girls

During a disaster, more than a quarter of girls experience sexual abuse and violence.

Because of their age and sex, emergencies increase girls’ vulnerability when their families and communities are least able to protect them. This puts them at increased risk of violence and exploitation.

Adolescent girls in particular, are often at particular risk: they can be missed in traditional child protection interventions in emergencies, such as child-friendly spaces, but also may not be reached with protection programming used to reach adult women.

Governments, donors and the humanitarian community have a duty to protect girls of all ages, before, during and after disasters.

The link between protection and education

Globally, 37 million primary and lower–secondary-age children are out of school in crisis affected countries. Yet education can save lives in emergencies by providing physical protection from the dangers and exploitation of a crisis environment.

Importantly, it also gives children a sense of normality, which helps them cope with the post-traumatic shock in the aftermath of a disaster.

Lack of access to education directly impacts children’s safety and wellbeing. Children out of school are at a much higher risk of violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.

As was very nicely put by the global protection and education clusters: safeguarding education and enhancing child protection is a virtuous cycle.

Funding for child protection in emergencies

Despite the fact that 50 to 60% of the population affected by disasters is children; that an average of one billion children live in conflict-affected areas, of which 250 million are under the age of 5, child protection is always underfunded.

Worse still, child protection interventions are often left unfunded in the first phase of response to an emergency – according to recent studies, it is better funded in year two of an emergency than year one, as it is not considered to be life-saving.

But child protection interventions are life-saving, and it is critical they receive adequate funding right from the start.

So while the European Commission’s humanitarian aid budget for 2016 does prioritise protection, there are no specific targets for child protection. As previously mentioned, children, girls in particular, face specific needs in times of emergency, which require specific attention, from the onset of an emergency.

Therefore it is critical that specific funding is allocated to child protection interventions, including gender sensitive protection interventions.

Putting emphasis on child protection, education in emergencies, early childhood care and development, and inclusion of adolescent girl is the only way to improve the scale and quality of disaster preparedness, risk reduction and emergency response programmes.

It is time for donors and humanitarian workers to realise this and make child protection a priority.

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