The Centrality of Children and their Protection in Humanitarian Action – An Introduction
The centrality of children and their protection in humanitarian action is a shared responsibility, to ensure the entire humanitarian system is actively and consciously engaged in realising broader child rights as well as children’s rights to protection in each step of humanitarian action.
On World Children’s Day 2023, the Alliance is deeply concerned about the devastating consequences of increasing conflict, climate-induced emergencies, and natural disasters, on children around the world. As their communities are flooded, affected by severe drought, or turned into battlefields, children’s lives are being turned upside down. On a daily basis, children are being torn apart from their families and loved ones, denied access to life-saving services such as health and education, and are exposed to horrific levels of violence and exploitation. Children constitute 41% of all forcibly displaced people despite being only 30% of the world's population (UNHCR, 2022) and due to the protracted nature of conflict, the majority of these children will spend their entire childhoods in displacement (UNICEF, 2023).
The unprecedented increase in children's rights violations, and in particular their right to protection, is alarming. Children are a significant group of rights-holders, yet the international legal instruments to protect them, first and foremost the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, are being flagrantly and increasingly violated with impunity. For children today, this is having a devastating impact on their right to survive and develop to their full potential. Dangerous cycles of violence are gaining momentum across many humanitarian contexts and are seriously jeopardising future peace. In a world without peace, the ability of the children of tomorrow to thrive in safe and protective families and communities is severely hampered.
The sharp escalation in the scale and intensity of armed conflicts and the deliberate and targeted attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure is of grave concern. International Humanitarian Law is being increasingly violated and the consequences are most heavily felt by children. Across Ukraine, Sudan, Ethiopia, and most recently Gaza, we are seeing life-saving services, including hospitals and schools, being directly targeted, distressing numbers of children being maimed and killed, life-saving humanitarian assistance being deliberately denied, children being recruited into armed groups and forces, and child marriage and child labour, amongst others on the rise. The physical, emotional and mental impacts these have on children are often devastating in the short run and can be irreversible in the long run.
Children have the right to a healthy environment, yet the climate crisis continues unabated. During 2023, climate induced disasters have continued to increase in scale, frequency and intensity, often against a backdrop of conflict and instability. From catastrophic flooding in Libya, to climate, conflict and poverty induced migration, along extremely dangerous routes, for example in Central America, children pay the heaviest price yet are the least responsible. Devastating earthquakes in Syria, Afghanistan,Türkiye, and Morocco have paid an enormous toll on children and their families. Social protection mechanisms, many of which are already reeling from the global pandemic and other crises, are only getting further away from meeting the increasing needs of the most vulnerable children and their families.
On World Children’s Day 2023, the Alliance would like to acknowledge the central role of children, families and communities, who remain resilient in the face of atrocities and continue to protect children. We also acknowledge the incredible efforts of the Child Protection workforce who continue to serve children and their families, despite mounting demand and often being directly impacted by crises.
As we reflect on the current global context, the Alliance calls upon the leadership of the humanitarian architecture, decision makers within humanitarian organisations, donors, and all humanitarian actors to fulfil their commitments to children and their protection as an integral part of the Centrality of Protection and central element of all humanitarian action. The concept of the centrality of children and their protection means considering the views, capacities, rights, needs, and vulnerabilities of children in all aspects of humanitarian response, within all sectoral interventions. By prioritising children's rights and participation, we can help to build a better future for all. Read more to explore actionable steps to transform the notion of the centrality of children and their protection into a reality.