Whether caused by armed conflict or a sudden onset natural disaster, an emergency is a time when children face significant protection issues. Children are at risk of injury and disability, neglect, physical and sexual violence, psychosocial distress and mental disorders. They may be separated from their families, recruited into armed forces and exploited. Refugee, internally-displaced and stateless children can be especially vulnerable.
Emergency situations can continue long after the initial crisis has passed, so child protection is delivered in a wide variety of humanitarian settings and by a variety of actors. International and national organisations, community groups and schools, family supports and the children themselves can all serve to enhance the level of protection children experience. Sustainable solutions build on and strengthen these existing protective factors so that children are protected in the short and long terms.
Experience repeatedly shows that when children are protected in an effective and holistic manner, other humanitarian efforts – including education -- are more successful. In turn, simultaneously strengthening child protection and education systems is proven to be one of the most cost-effective ways to build resilience and promote sustainable development. An intersectoral approach is therefore necessary to address the multifaceted challenges and risks faced by children in humanitarian settings.
The right child protection intervention at the right time can save a child's life.
Abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence against children can have long-lasting impact on children’s neurobiological development, learning and their capacity to self-regulate. The longer their exposure to toxic stress, the greater the risk may be.
- It is not sufficient to address risk and protective factors alone. Policies and programmes must also consider the interplay between macro and micro forces on children’s protection and how these forces impact their enabling environment.
- Safe access to quality education has been shown to be a preventive factor for family separation, recruitment into armed forces and groups and child labour. Teachers, school social workers/counsellors and other staff can function as an early detection mechanism for children who are starting to descend into a cycle of vulnerability. Schools and other educational environments can also provide children with a much needed social interaction that can help them deal with the consequences of distress and trauma.
- By engaging with children, families, communities and societies at large, the child protection workforce can strengthen protective systems at multiple levels to ensure efforts at the school-level are reinforced throughout. They can also support children’s access, especially excluded children’s access, to education through child protection programming such as case management, child friendly spaces, family strengthening, community-based child protection mechanisms and other initiatives.
- Despite the positive impacts, education can also pose potential protection risks. Classrooms can be sites that fuel intolerance and exacerbate existing injustice and discrimination (e.g. bullying, abuse by teachers, corporal punishment), harming children’s emotional and educational well-being. Educational infrastructure can also be adapted for military purposes, making schools prone to attack. Rigorous prevention and protection measures are therefore necessary to create a safe learning environment in emergencies.
- During a response, education in emergencies and child protection can support each other and coordinate their programming to best protect children’s physical, psychosocial and cognitive wellbeing.
- Ensuring access to quality, adaptive education in a safe, protected environment provides children with a sense of normalcy and security.
Ensuring access to quality education for all children and youth, especially those traditionally excluded, also helps to provide young people children with viable opportunities for their future and sense of self-efficacy as opposed to illegal or dangerous alternatives or even partaking directly in the conflict themselves. These initiatives are most effective when supported at the population level, and especially by the child protection sector
Collaboration across the child protection and education in emergencies can also minimize the risk of schools being used as an easy place to target children—either for killing and maiming or for recruitment (e.g. Sri Lanka, DRC, Somalia, etc.).