CRIN Newsletter 20: Child Rights and Emergencies

[LONDON, 23 February 2007] - The Child Rights Information Network (CRIN) has just published its new thematic Newsletter on Child Rights and Emergencies. This edition draws together some lessons learned, creative ways of working, as well as practical tools and case studies for overcoming the challenges of working in a rights-based way and helping children to better prepare for and recover from humanitarian crises.

In recent years the humanitarian community has seen an active debate about the place of human rights in emergency settings. This reflected considerable concerns about departing from a tried-and-tested set of humanitarian principles that were seen as having enabled agencies to deliver aid to those most in need. The introduction of human rights perspectives was seen as threatening some of these traditional approaches e.g. by jeopardising access to areas and people in extreme need.

For similar reasons rights-based approaches to work have, until recently, taken something of a back seat in emergency relief operations and in work in chronic emergencies. In part this arose because of perceptions that such approaches could not work in an emergency setting where, for example, there is a strong imperative to prioritise immediate survival needs and where the participation of beneficiaries was perceived as something of a luxury.

However, the last few years have been a time of reflection and learning. Some of the toughest challenges the humanitarian community has ever faced have brought a new will to alter the way it works: the failure to protect disaster-affected populations in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 (and the current situation in Darfur) and then the unprecedented experience of the tsunami in 2004, which affected many countries in South and South East Asia and beyond and tested the humanitarian infrastructure to the maximum. It is in this context that this edition of CRIN’s newsletter aims to reflect on some of the challenges of working within a child rights framework in emergency situations.

In his introduction, Hugo Slim, Chief Scholar at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, spells out some of the reasons, in terms of political risks in particular, why humanitarian professionals have been slower off the mark than their development colleagues to adopt a rights-based approach to their work.

Christine Knudsen, IDP Protection Adviser at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, explains what the current humanitarian reform process means for children’s rights and what opportunities it raises for strengthening the accountability of humanitarian agencies for the protection of child rights.

Heidi Peugeot and Fred Spielberg from UNICEF look at how new ideas in risk education can empower and protect children in disaster situations. In a case study, Orestes Valdés Valdés, from the Cuban Ministry of Education, and Pedro Ferradas Manucci, a Programme Manager for Practical Action, describe how, through the inclusion of risk education in the school curriculum, children play a vital part in Cuba’s emergency response programme – a model, which they say, is ripe for adaptation elsewhere.

Erin Patrick, a consultant at the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, describes the dangers that displaced women and girls face in carrying out daily household chores – such as collecting water and firewood for cooking – in conflict ravaged countries where rape and assault are used as ‘weapons of war’. She underscores the international community’s responsibility to protect the rights to physical and sexual integrity of refugee and internally displaced women and girls, and explains what must be done to protect these rights in the case of Darfur.

The chances of children falling into the hands of sexual predators increase dramatically in times of emergencies. Anthony Burnett and Stephanie Delaney, from ECPAT, outline some simple strategies that can be used by communities and children themselves to guard against sexual abuse and violence in all phases of an emergency. Harendra de Silva, a Professor of Paediatrics in Sri Lanka, describes how drawing parallels between sexual abuse and the conscription of child soldiers in Sri Lanka has become an effective tool for child rights advocates.

A recent earthquake in Indonesia devastated the education system across a large region of the country. Deborah Haines, Emergencies Education Adviser at Save the Children UK, explains how a joint effort has prioritised getting the education system back on track and enhancing it to help children prepare and recover from emergencies.

Alex Crawford, a Sky News TV Asia correspondent, gives some pointers for NGO media officers and the media on working together during an emergency to put children’s best interests first. Colin McCallum (Plan International) reveals how listening to children’s own priorities for relief and recovery is helping them to overcome memories of the tsunami and describes some tools which have been developed from this experience to give children a say in wider community activities.

Telecommunications suppliers are teaming up with relief agencies to improve emergency responses. Dag Nielsen, Director of Ericsson Response, explains what makes these partnerships successful and explains how new technology is being developed to save lives in the future.

Finally, Emma Roberts, Save the Children UK’s Humanitarian Affairs Adviser, tells us about her vision of child-led evaluations of emergency responses and programmes. She outlines a way of ensuring that children – as key stakeholders – can hold agencies to greater account for their work and impact.

Hard copies of the Newsletter will be sent to all CRIN members in the next few weeks. The newsletter will soon be available in Spanish and French. Those interested in receiving extra copies are invited to contact CRIN by email at info@crin.org or download it at: http://www.crin.org/docs/CRIN_news_20_En1.pdf

pdf: http://www.crin.org/docs/CRIN_news_20_En1.pdf

Countries