Since 1991, Child Wise has supported a range of government and non-government organisations, not-for-profits and corporations to improve their child safety practice and help them work towards becoming safe environments for children and young people. We exist to ensure the safety of children and young people in organisations where they spend time, including Australian organisations that work in international development or respond to emergencies in humanitarian contexts.
We spoke with Nadine Haddad, Senior Humanitarian Advisor for Save the Children Australia, to get her views on some commonly asked questions about child safety in humanitarian action. Nadine is a leading voice in the Humanitarian and Development Sector with over 15 years of professional experience working in child protection and education in emergencies. Nadine has responded to many large-scale emergencies including in Iraq, Syria, Philippines and Vanuatu, and has worked in some of the most challenging parts of the world including Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan and Lebanon.
What should you know about child safety if you are working at an international development or a humanitarian organisation?
What exactly is child protection in humanitarian or disaster response?
Child protection in emergencies is preventing and responding to abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence against children in times of emergency.
Shouldn’t we be focused on responding to the emergency, rather than child protection?
One billion children globally experience some form of emotional, physical or sexual violence every year; and one child dies as a result of violence every five minutes. Violence against children knows no borders and no boundaries of culture, class, education, income or ethnic origin. It takes place in institutions designed for their care and protection, in schools, online, as well as within the home.
During emergencies, children face an increased risk of all forms of violence and exploitation. We also know that children are likely to make up half or more of the disaster-affected population. Across the world, one in five children live in conflict zones. During a disaster, the risks to children are many, and have long lasting and often devastating impacts. It is clear that an effective emergency response must focus on children and their safety.
What are the top 3 tips you would give to people responding to disasters/emergencies in relation to child protection?
Tip 1: Have the key components of child safety already implemented.
In an emergency, there must be a careful balance of good process and moving at speed. If you have not done the preparation work, it is more difficult to be effective. For example, I was in the field responding to Typhoon Hayian in 2013, when someone came into our office and left four young girls in the care of staff. It is critical to have processes in place to manage this. My team knew what to do. We had recruited, screened, cleared and trained appropriate staff, we had a clear policy in place, and very importantly we had already been trained in the procedures associated with it. We also knew what to do within the local system to report and support the young girls and to keep them safe.
Tip 2: Understand the context.
Emergencies undermine or damage normal service delivery, meaning that children are impacted by the emergency itself, but are also made more vulnerable by it. It is important to quickly understand how to navigate systems in its post-disaster state. It is important to understand who the key stakeholders are, and who has influence in community, as well as to be sensitive to culture and gender norms.
Tip 3: Consult with children to ensure they inform your practice.
We don’t speak on behalf of children; we are an instrument to amplify their voices. If children do not inform the design of the services, they may not be appropriate for them. Children need to trust the organisation in order to be part of the consulting process, so we must be a safe organisation, constantly implementing and monitoring the things that make us a safe and trusted environment for children.
There are many frameworks for child safeguarding, where should Australian humanitarian organisations or those working in international development start?
The National Principles for Child Safe Organisations are a good place to start because they outline at a high level ten fundamental elements that strengthen the safety of children. The National Principles are also part of the Australian Commonwealth Child Safe Framework which is the Australian government’s policy for child safety across Commonwealth entities, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
When it comes to specific programming, the Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (CPHA) is also a core document for anybody working in Child Protection in Humanitarian responses. The CPHA also sets ten Principles along with twenty-eight minimum standards.
You will see that there are common elements across both sets of Principles, which include:
- Open and aware child safety culture strongly supported through leadership.
- Clear understanding of the relevant legislation and policy.
- Robust knowledge of both internal and external reporting processes.
- A dedicated knowledge holder for child safety that provides expertise to the team.
- Legitimate inclusion of children’s voices.
- Strong people management that covers child safety recruitment, induction and ongoing supervision and training support.
- Processes for assessing child safety risk and monitoring mitigation at all stages of the response.
- Clear guidelines around the sharing of children’s information and images.
What if I don’t have direct contact with children or young people in my role? Why should I be thinking about child safety?
Child protection is everyone’s responsibility, regardless of whether you have direct interaction with children or if you work for an organisation with children in its mandate. The protection of children from violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect is an urgent priority for all of us working in humanitarian and emergency responses. For example, when we deliver a program or a service for a family, community or a government, a critical component of our work is to map all services involved with children and families. We consider all duty-bearers for children and the potential role they may play. This is what we call the spheres of influence. We would do a mapping across these to see where child protection should be included – or where it could be strengthened.
 UN 2019, 'Violence against children' , Sustainable Development Goals Knowledge Platform, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/topics/violenceagainstchildren
 Save the Children 2019, 'Stop the War on Children: Protecting Children in 21st Century Conflict', https://www.savethechildren.org/content/dam/usa/reports/ed-cp/stop-the-war-on-children-2019.pdf