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Archive for the ‘VAC’ Category

As part of their efforts to reduce violence against children, Plan Benin is rallying motorcycle-taxi drivers to use SMS to report violence against children that they witness in the streets.

Florence Cisse, Plan West Africa’s regional communications officer, says:

The Zemidjan or “Zem” swarm the streets of Cotonou like bees. They are everywhere; silent observers to all comings and goings. Now, they have received training on how to recognize cases of child trafficking or kidnapping which often occur on the same busy streets. Using SMS texting on their mobile phones, they send information which is tracked and mapped by Plan using Ushahidi, an open source web-based technology platform. Plan then alerts authorities through partnerships with the Benin Central Office of Child Protection and ministries of Family, of Home Affairs and of Justice who begin the process of retrieving the children or investigating the abuse.

“The Zem are always working on the streets, which is where children experience the greatest risk,” said Michel Kanhonou Plan Benin Programme Manager. “The use of Ushahidi to track SMS texts and map the incidents of violence has helped to inform the authorities where, block by block, they need to invest greater resources to keep our children safe.”

The Zem join youth, heads of police squads, community and religious leaders and others who have received the training on how to recognize abuse and report it through simple SMS from Plan. Plan promotes a phone number that is used to collect the SMS on billboards and radio programmes.

This is the kind of innovation I think is most interesting – identifying existing networks and systems, and seeing how to enhance or expand them via new technologies. I’m looking forward to seeing how the program advances, and what Plan Benin learns from this effort to engage broader networks in preventing, tracking and responding to violence against children.

The team in Benin has created a video about the violence reporting system, which uses both FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi. The technology tools, however, are only part of the program. In addition, the team launched billboard and community radio campaigns to promote the violence-reporting number; engaged local communities, government, child protection agents, and NGOs; and trained children, families, teachers, school directors, parents and community leaders (and now moto-taxi drivers!) about violence, its impact on children and how to respond to it. Children and young people have been involved in program design and implementation as well, and there have been thorough discussions on how to manage this type of sensitive information in a private and secure way.

For some older posts that demonstrate the evolution of the project, which started off in early 2010, click here.

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birds 2I spent the weekend working on a paper about “Children on the Move.” I’m not even close to done with it yet, but the topic is fascinating. Some reports say that 1/3 of migrants are between the ages of 12 and 25, including millions of children under the age of 18. The number of children and youth who migrate is difficult to pin down with certainty, given that migration is often within country, seasonal, across porous borders, and because most child migrants don’t have legal means to migrate or they lack identification, leaving them under the radar and uncounted.

Children move for all kinds of reasons, from and into all kinds of situations. The push-pull factors that cause them to migrate vary a great deal from situation to situation. Often the movement of children is lumped under trafficking and child labor, and all children who move are considered victims, and all those who support children to move are labeled criminals or traffickers and all parents who allow their children to move are lambasted for not caring about them. If you read what children and parents involved in migration say, it’s clear that this is not the case.

One person I interviewed for the paper noted off the record that sometimes those working with children who migrate are forced to put them in the category of “trafficked” or “at risk of trafficking” because there is no real category (or funding) to support children who are “seeking better opportunity” or “fleeing domestic violence” or “scared for my life because of the gangs in my community, and traveling across several countries up to the US seems like less of a risk.”

Just like adult migrants, children often move of their own will to seek opportunity in other places. Their movement in and of itself is not negative, but moving without protection mechanisms and support can indeed put them at risk. Policies and systems that don’t talk to each other also put children and youth in peril, whether it is when children themselves move, or when their parents move with them.

For the report I’m doing, I’m looking at how ICTs are being used by children and youth to make their journey safer, and ways that communities, local child protection committees, institutions, governments and NGOs are using or could use some of these new ICT tools to better support and protect children and youth who move for any reason.

Some interesting efforts are happening, including some ingenious local networks in West Africa that work across communities to help ensure children’s paths and travels are as safe as possible; and a radio and SMS project in Tanzania that is building up a pro-child protection constituency by encouraging people to tell stories about when and where they have supported or helped a child.

It’s been heartbreaking to read about Afghan youth who are forcibly returned to a country they can barely remember because they have turned 18 and are no longer supported by the UK child welfare system, yet at least a tiny bit encouraging that a UK organization is working on a mobile app that could provide these youth with at least a map and some information about their ‘homeland’ so that they know where to go for help when they step off the plane in what is now a foreign country.

Reading about migrant parents in the US losing their children to foster care because they have been detained for migration violations and are unable to show up to court to keep their children, or they lack critical information about how the system works, or they are not allowed more than one phone call makes my blood boil. Having been married to a Salvadoran, I’ve experienced my own fair share of migration difficulties and horror stories. They are not pretty, and family separation hurts, no matter what color or nationality the family is. It seems that the root of some countries’ inability to deal with migration in a dignified way is an underlying devaluation of people from other places and an inability to see them as human. Can ICTs play a role in changing attitudes at the broad scale? Or can we at least enable migrants in detention more communication with families so that they don’t lose contact with their children? A few initiatives are looking at storytelling as a way to bring more humanity into the migration debate.

As both Duncan Green (Why is migration a Cinderella issue in development) and Owen Barder (Is migration too toxic for development) have written recently, migration has not been a hot topic on the development agenda, and it’s only now starting to get some play.

Why is that? I think Owen’s comment is pretty good to spark some thought:

Migration is a Cinderella issue in development because there is nobody to speak for the people who are disadvantaged by the current rules.  Domestic civil society organisations which work on migration are mainly focused on the rights of immigrants, not on improving the impact of migration on development or creating opportunities for people in poor countries. DFID is largely in retreat from non-aid issues. The big development NGOs at best speak for their own visions of development, and at worst promote the aid industry of which they are part. As a result, people in developing countries are denied some of the most powerful and inexpensive ways in which they could improve their lives.

We need to find a way to look at all angles and aspects of migration, including that of child migration, in a holistic way that involves all these different actors. I think that one reason migration is not talked about  enough in the development debate is because it is a touchy political issue that might make a donor base freak out. It also tends to makes agencies that work with children a bit uncomfortable – If we protect children who migrate, will we be seen to be encouraging illegal migration? Will we be seen as supporting child labor? Are we liable if we give children safety tips or information, and then something happens to them? How can we do no harm? What about unintended consequences?

More recently, many child-focused agencies have started to better come to grips with the realities that children are going to migrate, and it’s altogether possible that staying in their home community is actually not in their best interest. These are thorny questions, however, that are difficult to deal with, especially in the open when the political debate around migration has been so traditionally ugly.

Perhaps framing migration as an economic issue will help bring it into the debate, but I do hope we don’t lose touch with the human side of migration.

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On Tuesday, August 14@zehrarizvi and I will be hosting a Twitter Chat on the topic of new technologies and ‘children on the move.’

As I wrote in an earlier post, I’m working on some research at Plan International USA, funded by Oak Foundation. The research aims to compile a ‘State of the Practice’ report that will include examples and case studies of current ICT use by, with, among and for ‘children on the move’; applicable cases and lessons learned from other sectors; gaps, challenges, areas where ICTs may pose new or additional risk; and remaining questions and challenges for future exploration and collaboration.

In talking about this research with Zehra (who is working at the Women’s Refugee Commission on a project related to the empowerment and protection of displaced adolescent girls, also supported by Oak) we realized we are both quite interested in exploring the role of new ICTs in supporting and protecting children who are migrating, displaced or otherwise ‘on the move’. So we decided to collaborate on the Twitter chat.

We’re hoping to gather ideas and perspectives from people working in the areas of migration, working children, displacement, child protection, conflict settings, environmental migration, diaspora communities, ICTs and other related areas.

Please join us on Tuesday, August 14 from 9-10.30 EST. The hashtag will be #CoMandICT.

We will cover 4 key questions in this first chat:

  • Which organizations are working in the area of child migration or ‘children on the move’ and what are they doing?
  • Are new technologies involved? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • Are there existing youth networks that could provide insight into how new technologies are used by children/youth on the move?
  • What else should we know about? What are we missing in our thinking about this project? Who should we talk with?

Tips for a good Twitter Chat:

  • Login 5 mins ahead of time and be ready with a short introduction (eg, “Joe Garcia here, child protection at XYZ in Malawi, managing cross-border project w working children” or “Cathy Kramer, ICT specialist working on mobile data privacy issues at TechTechTechieFirm”).
  • Tools like TweetChat which automatically add the hashtag and refresh often are helpful to keep up with the conversation.

We look forward to chatting on Tuesday August 14th at 9 am EST and welcome any questions or comments before then!

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Over the next year, I’ll be working on some research supported by Oak Foundation* that will look at the intersection of ICTs and children who migrate, a.k.a. ‘Children on the Move.’ As part of the research, we will be conducting a Twitter chat on Tuesday, August 14, at 9h EST and an ongoing online discussion hosted by New Tactics from October 17 through 23.

I hope interested folks will join to share experiences, good practice, challenges, thoughts and ideas on the intersection of ICTs and Children on the Move.

Background

Globally, some 214 million persons are international migrants. In addition, there are an estimated 740 million internal migrants according to the Global Movement for Children. Youth make up a large share of migrants from and in developing countries. Shifts in demographic factors, economic disparity, violent conflict and state failure, natural disasters, resource and environmental pressures, especially climate change, and lack of opportunities for education or employment mean that this number is likely to increase. About one-third of migrants from developing countries are between the ages of 12 and 25, including millions of children under the age of 18. (Stats from here.) “Yet, in debates on both child protection and migration, children who move are largely invisible. As a result, policy responses to support these vulnerable children are fragmented and inconsistent.”

Drawing from the African Movement of Working Children and Youth’s report “Early Exodus and Child Trafficking in West Africa: What progress have working children and youth made?” Sept 2008

‘Children on the Move’

Children migrate and move for a host of reasons. They may move on their own will to seek improved opportunities. They may be escaping violence and abuse in the home or at school or running away from an arranged marriage or other cultural practice. They may move due to a lack of opportunity, reduced resources, conflict, or disaster. They may want to get away from life in a refugee camp, or flee other kinds of hardship. They might migrate together with parents or other adults, or they may go alone or with others their age. The migration decision may be made by children themselves, or they may be encouraged by their parents.

In the past, the phenomenon of child mobility has not been seen in its full scope. Children who migrated were often automatically lumped in with those who were trafficked against their will. Programs to support children on the move have not always addressed the variety of motivations and situations. This lack of understanding of the myriad of reasons for children’s mobility has hindered efforts to support and protect them in their different scenarios. More recently efforts have been made to better understand children’s mobility, for example this fascinating 2008-2010 regional study project, supported by a broad platform of child protection agencies, documented and analyzed the many forms taken by the mobility of children and youths in West and Central Africa.

The term ‘Children on the Move‘ has been suggested to describe this group of children under the age of 18 who have aims, motivations and different life circumstances. This is a group which transcends categories. These children may be in a ‘pre-mobility, mobility or post-mobility’ situation (either having arrived to a destination or having returned home). They may also be ‘children left behind’ by their parents or guardians, who, without abandoning them, have emigrated for work within their country of residence or abroad. They may be stateless children, who also suffer the risks and vulnerabilities of mobility.

Risks Children on the Move face

When children move against their will, and /or in absence of protection services and actors, they become highly vulnerable to the worst forms of child labor, exploitation and other abuses. This vulnerability is present before they move, during their trip, once they reach a new destination or even after they return home, and therefore support and protection need to be considered from the time they are thinking about moving (or others are thinking about moving them), through the actual migration or ‘move’, upon their arrival, and in the case of their return. In addition, some children may be involved in a series of migrations or they may migrate seasonally. “During movement, a child can float from one sub category to the other. For example, an internally displaced child can be recruited by armed forces or moved across borders for the purpose of exploitation. The risks and opportunities differ per trajectory and conditions of movement,” according to the CoM website.

Captured from “Best practices in the fight against early exodus and child trafficking” as printed in the African Movement of Working Children and Youth’s “Early Exodus and Child Trafficking in West Africa: What progress have working children and youth made?” report, Sept 2008.

Children who migrate often face discrimination and marginalization due to beliefs and policies that treat migration as a problem and children who migrate as criminals, and therefore a great deal of work needs to be done to change perceptions and increase societal awareness around the situation of children on the move. Protecting children and reducing their risk of exploitation is a mandate, regardless of the reasons for which they move or migrate.

A systemic approach to protection

In order to improve support for and protection of children on the move, it’s important to look at the situation holistically and systemically and to include the aforementioned different phases of mobility. In addition, several areas need consideration, including children’s own needs and rights; children’s self-protection; community-based protection; government responsibilities and social services; advocacy and public policy and so on. Duty bearers and donors need to improve coordination across silos and borders in order to get better at information exchange, research and data analysis; the creation of prevention and awareness strategies and programs; monitoring actions during all stages; and feedback mechanisms and accountability. (See the proceedings from the CoM Conference for more details.)

How can ICTs help?

Alongside the growth in children’s mobility, access to new technologies, specifically the mobile phone, has exploded. Yet most often, when child protection and ICTs are mentioned in the same sentence, it is with regard to cyber security and protecting children from the Internet or potential on-line predators.

ICTs are playing a huge role in connecting diaspora with those ‘back home.’  The question arises: How are or how could ICTs be enhancing child protection initiatives and supporting children on the move.

The positive and empowering role of ICTs to support children’s self-protection, improve information and communication via new technology tools and enhance systemic approaches to risk reduction has not been fully developed with regard to child protection in its broader sense, or with regard to child mobility and child protection.

The research 

The research will aim to compile a ‘State of the Practice’ report that will include examples and case studies of current ICT use by, with, among and for CoM; applicable cases and lessons learned from other sectors; gaps, challenges, areas where ICTs may pose new or additional risk; and remaining questions and challenges for future exploration and collaboration.

Certainly new questions, frameworks and areas to explore will arise along the way, but at present, questions include:

  • What needs do children have in different categories and stages of mobility and how are these being (or how could they be) enhanced via better use of new ICTs?
  • Which new technologies are already accessible and being used by various stakeholders (e.g. children, parents and caretakers, intermediaries, broader communities, local child protection committees and ‘safe houses’, local institutions, social workers, experts, civil servants, governments, national and international NGOs, local and national law enforcement agencies), especially children, adolescents and youth; during pre-mobility, mobility and post-mobility, and upon return, endogenous or institutional, and for what purpose or to what end?
  • What information and communication systems are currently in use at child and family, community, district, national, transnational /regional and global levels for supporting or protecting children on the move and can these systems be improved, promoted or better accessed using new ICTs such as mobile phones?
  • Are there existing scalable, replicable or adaptable examples of the use of ICTs in this area we can learn from? What were the successes, challenges, failures and lessons/good practices?
  • Can new ICTs support communication for development (C4D) approaches and models to help children on the move protect themselves, inform them of available support, and/or change broader societal attitudes toward migrating children to more positive and supportive ones?
  • What can we learn from how ICTs are being used in other areas (health, human rights monitoring, data gathering / tracking, early warning systems, disasters and emergencies)? Which of these might lend themselves to use with, for, among and by children on the move? Are there relevant evaluations or case studies we can look at and learn from?
  • What are the specific challenges and risks in terms of children on the move that need special attention and exploration when designing programs or eco-systems that integrate ICTs? Security? Privacy? Connectivity? Cost? Context? Sustainability? Feasibility?
  • Where do we take it from here (what needs to happen next)?

Please join us for the Twitter chat on August 14 at 9 a.m. EST.  We’ll be using the hashtag #CoMandICT for the discussion and to keep track of future Twitter conversations on this topic. Stay tuned here at Wait… What? or contact me @meowtree or by email for more information.

Please also consider joining the broader discussion on “Empowering Communities with Technology Tools to Protect Children” the week of October 17-23 hosted by our friends over at New Tactics.

Some related resources:

The excellent 2008 report by the African Movement of Working Children and Youth: Early Exodus and Child Trafficking in West Africa: What progress have working children and youth made? 

The AMWCY’s 2009 report “From the gong gong to ICTs

The fascinating study by a consortium of child protection groups on Child Mobility in West and Central Africa.

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*This work is supported through a grant from Oak Foundation to Plan International USA.

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‘Breast flattening,’ also known as ‘breast ironing’ or ‘breast massage,’ is a practice whereby a young girl’s developing breasts are massaged, pounded, pressed, or patted with an object, usually heated in a wooden fire, to make them stop developing, grow more slowly or disappear completely.

Rebecca Tapscott* spent last August in the area of Bafut, in the Northwest, Anglophone region of Cameroon, where a 2006 study by the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) found an 18% prevalence rate of breast flattening. The practice has been known as breast ‘ironing,’ however, Rebecca opts to use the term ‘flattening’ to decrease stigma and encourage open conversation about a practice that remains largely hidden.** Rebecca wanted to understand the role of breast flattening in the broader context of adolescence in Cameroon, including past and present motivations for breast flattening; cultural foundations; relation to other forms of gender-based violence such as female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C); how and where it is practiced; the psychological and the physical implications of the practice on individual girls.

Rebecca published her findings via the Feinstein International Center in May 2012, in a paper titled: Understanding Breast “Ironing”: A Study of the Methods, Motivations, and Outcomes of Breast Flattening Practices in Cameroon.

She visited our office late last year to share the results of her work with staff at the Plan USA office, explaining that there is currently very little research or documentation of breast flattening. The GIZ study is the only quantitative study on the practice, and there do not seem to be any medical studies on breast flattening. It’s a practice that is believed to affect 1 out of 4 girls in Cameroon, more commonly in some regions than in others. Of note is that research on breast flattening has thus far only been conducted in Cameroon, thus creating the impression that the practice is uniquely Cameroonian, when in reality, it may be a regional phenomenon.

Organizations working to end breast flattening do so with the aim of protecting girls. However, the question of protection is an interesting one depending on who you talk with. Rebecca found that those who practice breast flattening also believe they are protecting girls. “Many mothers believe that unattended, a girl’s breasts will attract advances of men who believe physically developed girls are ‘ripe’ for sex. Breast flattening is seen as a way to keep girls safe from men so that they are able to stay in school and avoid pregnancy.”

According to Rebecca, breast flattening is practiced out of a desire to delay a girl’s physical development and reduce the risk of promiscuous behavior. Proponents of the practice consider that “men will pursue ‘developed’ girls and that girl children are not able to cope with or deter men’s attention. They see that promiscuity can result in early pregnancy, which limits educational, career, and marriage opportunities, shames the family, increases costs to family (newborn, loss of bride price, health complications from early childbirth or unsafe abortion).” In addition, there is the belief that girls are not sufficiently intellectually developed to learn about puberty, and therefore should not yet develop breasts. Another reason given for the practice is the belief that girls who develop before their classmates will be the target of teasing and become social outcasts. There is also, for some, the belief that large breasts are unattractive or not fashionable.

Rebecca cites a poor understanding of human biology as one reason that the practice persists. Some of the beliefs around it include: “Belief that sensitivity and pain during breast development indicates that the growth is too early and must be artificially delayed until the girl is older. Belief that when a girl develops breasts she will stop growing taller. Belief that puberty can be delayed by delaying breast development. Belief that for breasts to grow properly, the first growth should always be repressed (like baby teeth). Belief that if breasts begin growing at a young age, they will grow too large or be misshapen, resulting in a displeasing or disproportionate female form. Belief that breasts and other outward signs of sexuality develop in accordance with a girl’s interest in sex, and therefore a developed girl is soliciting sexual advances or is a ‘bad’ girl. Belief that when a girl develops breasts, she believes she has matured and subsequently, she becomes less obedient. Belief that it will improve breast feeding at a later age.”

“…For mothers there is the perception that we should delay the development of girls as much as possible, believing that physical development shows maturity. Men look at girls and talk amongst themselves and say, “she’s ripe for sex.” They are not looking for marriage prospects…Men are aggressive. In pidgin, they say “she got get done big,” meaning, she’s matured and ready for sex. I can go after her now. Women, on the other hand, know that their daughters are just kids.” ~ journalist that Rebecca interviewed.

Rebecca also heard explanations such as “A girl will stop growing taller because the weight of her breasts will hold her down. One can delay puberty by delaying breast growth. If the breasts hurt during puberty, they are developing too early.” There are also many beliefs related to a girl’s development and her sexual reputation. Some of these beliefs include that a girl with large breasts is a ‘bad girl’. This stems from the belief that breasts start to develop when a man touches them or if a girl is thinking about sex, going to night clubs or watching pornography. Rebecca found that many of these beliefs were held across all segments of society, from the very well educated to those with no formal education.

“The body responds to psychological ideas. If a girl looks for a “friend,” her breasts will grow faster. If she is interested in boys or watches pornography, her body will develop faster.” ~ Interviewee at the Ministry of Social Affairs

“If a girl is interested in sex and thinks about it a lot, she will develop faster. I saw two girls of 12 years, one of whom was very developed physically and the other was not. The one who was developed could speak very frankly about sex, showing that she was knowledgeable from some experience, while the other girl was very naive and shy.” ~ Teacher

Because of potential stigma or harm to girls who talked about undergoing breast flattening, Rebecca only interviewed a few teenaged girls directly during this phase of her research. Instead, she mainly interviewed older women, as well as a few boys and men. She found that most women who had experienced breast flattening didn’t seem to remember the experience as extremely traumatic; however, she commented, “most are remembering from back in the day. Most at first said didn’t really hurt but then after a while into the interview, they’d remember, well, yes it hurt.” Rebecca was surprised at the number of people who said that heated leaves were used, because the media normally reports that a grinding stone or pestle is used for breast flattening.

“When I was 11 years old, my grandmother did a form of breast flattening to me. This was in 1984. I was walking around with her shoulders hunched forward to hide my developing chest, so my grandmother called me to the kitchen. She warmed some fresh leaves on the fire and said something in the dialect, like a pleading to the ancestors or spirits. Then she applied the leaves to my chest, and used them to rub and pat my breasts flat. She would also rub and pat my back, so as to make the chest flat and even on the front and the back. It hurts because the chest is so sensitive then—but they are not pressing too hard.” ~ 38 year old woman from the community

“To do the practice, I warmed the pestle in the fire, and used it in a circular motion to press the breasts flat. I did it once per day for over a week—maybe 8 or 9 days. I massaged them well, and they went back for seven years.” ~ 53-year-old woman attending a maternal health clinic in Bafut, attending with a different daughter whose breasts she did not flatten

“Until about a year ago, I believed that when a girl is interested in sex, watches porn, or lets boys touch their breasts, her breasts will grow larger. I think my mother must believe this. My ideas changed when I saw my own friends—I knew they were virgins, but they had large breasts. Also when my own breasts got bigger, and it was not because a man was touching them.” ~ Journalist in Bamenda

There is currently no consensus on whether the practice is effective at reducing the size of a girl’s breasts or if it has long-term effects on breast size. “People told me completely different things gave the same result, or people cited the very same practices as yielding different results,” said Rebecca.

Rebecca’s findings indicate that the practice of breast flattening is not a longstanding ‘traditional’ practice. Many people reported that it became more popular with urbanization. “People [who immigrated to cities] didn’t know their neighbors and they were worried about the safety of their daughters. It seems that an old practice that was used for ‘shaping’ was repurposed and adapted. Breast flattening is a very intimate and personal thing between mother and daughter. It doesn’t happen to all daughters. It’s very difficult to track, and there is no association with ethnic groups, education, socioeconomic levels, religion, etc.,” she explained.

“Most men don’t know about it. One boy said he thought it was good to protect girls.” When she talked holistically with men about what they look for in a woman, Rebecca said, “an interest in chastity and virginity came out very clearly. In Cameroon the average age for girls to lose virginity is 13-17, and it’s the same for boys. According to studies, for most, the first sexual experience is unwilling.”

Most doctors that Rebecca talked to had never heard of the practice. One doctor in Yaoundé said he had seen first and second degree burns as a result. Some cite that edemia may be a result. Development organizations like GIZ say it can cause cysts, cancer, and other difficulties but also cited that only 8% of women report suffering negative side effects, while 18% report that their breasts “fell” or sagged at an early age.

Many women who Rebecca interviewed considered the practice a very low concern compared to other problems that impact on their development, such as illiteracy, sexual exploitation, poverty and unemployment. “The women that I talked to,” said Rebecca, “often asked me, ‘Why are you asking me about this? It’s such a small thing compared to other things we have to face.’”

Given that there is not much research or consensus around breast flattening in Cameroon and the broader region, Rebecca’s work may be of use to local and international organizations that are working to promote women’s and children’s rights. Rebecca emphasizes that most people who engage in what are commonly referred to as ‘harmful traditional practices’ including female genital cutting (FGC) and breast flattening, actually do so with their child’s best interest in mind, as a means of protecting and promoting the child within the community and following social norms. Therefore, frightening or berating people may not be the best approach to discourage the practice of breast flattening. Community input will be needed to identify the root causes of the practice for it to become obsolete. Better sex education and a reduction in stigma around talking about sexual reproductive health may also help. Men will need to be part of the solution, and so will mothers who currently feel the need to take protection of their daughters into their own hands. Like many similar practices, it’s not likely that breast flattening will end until other systems and environments that set the stage for it also change.

*Rebecca worked with Plan Cameroon for several weeks on the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) Project last June and July. She traveled to Bafut following her internship to conduct independent research.

**This distinction is similar to the difference between the terms female genital ‘mutilation’ and female genital ‘cutting.’

Read the full report.

Contact Rebecca for more information: rebecca.tapscott [at] gmail.com

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Starting yesterday (I’m late on writing about this one!) people from across the African continent are meeting at the Conference on Child Protection Systems Strengthening in Sub-Saharan Africa in Dakar, Senegal, to discuss how child protection systems work effectively in the African context. Follow the conference at the #cps12 hashtag or via @CPSystemsS and check out a day one summary on Storify.

“Dozens of African countries are engaged in strengthening child protection systems and mobilizing new sectors for child protection. For example, education and health sectors are engaged in violence prevention work, and social protection is becoming an essential part of efforts to reduce child labour and child marriage. Child justice initiatives are being embedded in broader national justice and security reforms and the health sector is supporting birth registration. Mobile technologies are being used for the reporting of violence, family reunification and rapid assessments. Donors are also increasingly supporting child protection systems….

“’Just the way a health system deals with many diseases, a child protection system addresses a broad range of violations of children’s rights. Children cannot be protected effectively unless social workers, police officers, justice servants, teachers and health workers and communities work together to prevent and respond to abuse and violence…. Investment in national child protection systems leads to better outcomes for children because of children’s improved access to protection services, new investments in frontline workers to identify and respond to children in need; and improved partnerships to mobilize and use resources for children, families and communities,’ according to Joachim Theis, Regional Child Protection Advisor, UNICEF, West and Central Africa.”

Key conference themes include:

  • Mapping and assessment of national child protection systems
  • Strategies and approaches to strengthening national child protection systems
  • Community based child protection mechanisms
  • Children as actors and partners in child protection systems
  • Social welfare workforce strengthening
  • Services delivery in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Aligning traditional child protection agendas with child protection systems
  • Strengthening monitoring and evaluation for child protection
  • Mobilizing resources for child protection systems

Resources and a discussion forum are available at wiki.childprotectionforum.org. Some relevant background papers include:

A few webinars are recorded here on the topics of systems strengthening, budgeting for national system and core competencies for better national child protection systems.

There’s also a good paper on community-based child protection systems that I summarized awhile back.

Coming up soon, a few of us from different organizations will be looking more closely at the role new ICTs can play in child protection systems. Some examples of ICTs and child protection systems are here.

(Thanks to Joachim Theis at UNICEF West Africa for sending over the info on this one.)

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This is a guest post by Alana Kapell. Alana has recently joined the Office of the Special Representative on Violence against Children as the children’s participation expert. As part of her work to further define a child participation strategy and identify key opportunities for learning and collaboration, she is researching projects and initiatives related to the UN Study on Violence against Children (UNVAC) specifically focused on involving children in preventing violence.

Six years after the UN Secretary General’s Study on Violence against Children (2004-2006) and in preparation for the 2012 Statement to the General Assembly, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Violence against Children is currently assessing progress made since the Study recommendations were released in 2006. This is a strategic occasion to gain perspective on progress achieved and to reflect on good initiatives, factors of success and define opportunities for further advancement.

Many initiatives, projects, networks and advancements were born out of the process, including continued efforts to support children’s participation. In order to gain further insight into children’s own efforts and perspectives, partners are invited to help inform the analysis of ‘progress made’ by sharing information (reports, publications, videos, research, etc.) about children’s own efforts to end and prevent violence.

Contributions should be current (e.g. developed from 2007-2012) and focus on ‘progress made’ with children or how children themselves perceive violence in their lives and communities.

Additional areas of interest include:

  • Research: any research or data collection done with children.
  • Links to UN Study: initiatives that were started as a direct result of the UN Study process.
  • New forms of Violence: material or details where children have identified and/or addressed new, hidden or emerging forms of violence.
  • Prevention: examples of initiatives undertaken by children to raise awareness in their communities and projects aimed at preventing violence against children.
  • Evaluation: information that measures the impact or outcomes of children’s participation and efforts related to ending violence against children.

In addition, there are numerous partners and networks supporting and facilitating children’s participation to prevent and end violence. Community, national, regional and international efforts exist to ensure children’s views, opinions, realities, recommendations and actions are informing and shaping our collective efforts.

We would also like to update our contact lists and map the individuals, organizations, children’s groups, etc. who are supporting children’s participation to prevent and end violence. We want to reconnect with groups who were involved with the UN Study process, including the follow up and to also identify new partners who are doing innovative and important work.

We are looking to connect with both adult led organizations and child led organizations and initiatives working on issues related to violence against children and children’s participation.

Please be in touch with me [akapell at unicef dot org] if you have any information to share!

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This is a guest post by Anna Shaw, one of my newest colleagues. Anna talks about how to be skeptical about Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign yet still get involved in the issues in a thoughtful way.  

I woke up yesterday, picked up my iPhone and almost immediately clicked on a link to Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video. Even before I ate my breakfast, Jason Russell was showing me how I could help stop the terror of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

My first reaction was “This is awesome!” The conflict in Northern Uganda has interested me since I first learned about it in high school, and helped spark my deep-seated interest in peace and justice in Africa. I was really happy that someone was trying to connect young people just like me to something that really matters. But almost immediately, Twitter filled up with people questioning what Kony 2012 and Invisible Children were doing. The rest of my day was filled with blog post after blog post of comments on the campaign, and just as quickly as I hopped on the bandwagon, I was jumping off. But why?

The problem really has to do with the story Jason Russell is telling. He’s made a twenty year conflict into a Disney Film, where the US can swoop in and save the day. But there is a lot more going on than that. No one is denying that Joseph Kony is the bad guy, or that the LRA has wreaked havoc all around the region. But there are some questions we should be asking before we launch into this wholeheartedly.

What is the rest of the story?

I don’t want anyone to think there is a ‘nice’ side to Joseph Kony. There isn’t. But there are other pieces to the puzzle which Invisible Children seem to have forgotten to mention. Conflicts and wars are never as simple as good vs. bad, and arresting Kony is not going to solve the problems for people in Uganda or the nearby countries that the LRA is affecting. There are a number of other groups, rebels and armies, that have nothing to do with Kony who continue to terrorize this region. On top of that, conflict has destroyed jobs, roads, schools, hospitals, and many other essential things in these areas. We need to look at how people can rebuild their lives and deal with problems that helped start the conflict to begin with. Before talking about ending the LRA’s rampage, we should understand more about the where and why of the conflict and how it’s really affecting people in the region. We should also think about what the goal really is: finding justice for people in Uganda and elsewhere is much larger than putting Kony behind bars.

Who is this really about?

It’s easy to forget while watching this video that Ugandans aren’t sitting around waiting for us to help them. They have managed to deal with the LRA for more than twenty years, so by intervening, the US would definitely not be saving the day for most Ugandans. We need to get out of the mindset that the US has all the answers, and instead listen to what Ugandans actually need from us. That’s what this should really be about, sharing the stories of Ugandans and the people from the many other countries affected by the LRA. Their voices are almost unheard in the video, giving them no room to express themselves or provide us a true understanding of their situation. In the end, they are going to be saving themselves and resolving their own problems, and we can only help them do that.

Where is our money going?

Another point many people have brought up about this campaign is whether or not Invisible Children will use your money well. Several people have questioned the way Invisible Children spends money, and how much they are actually changing the lives of people in Uganda. I believe this is something you should decide for yourself. Before you decide whether to donate money or buy a t-shirt, ask questions. There are many great organizations working in Uganda, all of which could benefit from your donations, so make sure you are happy with the one you choose. When choosing, think about the impact the organization is having on the lives of Ugandans and try not to get distracted by how cool its videos and swag are.

What else can we do?

The Kony 2012 Campaign does a few things exceptionally well. It tells a simple, moving story that captures our hearts and makes us feel powerful – like we can actually do something to help. And we can! In fact, there are a lot of things we can do beyond liking something on Facebook or re-Tweeting a tweet.

  1. Educate ourselves. If you don’t get anything else from this whole blog, take this away: learn about these issues. Read books. Google stuff. Look it up on Wikipedia. Understand what is going on and pass on that knowledge to your friends, family, everyone. Find people who know the situation in-depth, contact them and ask them for their take on the issues. Don’t let one campaign be the only source of information you get. Be curious and ask questions. Look at a variety of sources, and see if you can find a variety of respected voices and independent commentary by people from the country you want to help too.
  2. Focus on Positive Change. When it boils down to it, Kony 2012 focuses on stopping the bad guy. But what can we do to help the good guy. Or even just help the regular guy or gal. And their kids. And their kids’ kids. Think about what will be most effective in the long-term to reduce instability and support people’s well-being.
  3. Talk to our representatives in Congress. One thing Kony 2012 did right was making it easy to contact Congress and encourage young people everywhere to engage in public policy. But, instead of asking for military intervention in Africa, why not talk to Congress about addressing the needs of people on the ground? Talk to Congress about doing something positive: supporting schools, hospitals, agriculture, drinking water – and the many other things that can impact the lives of people in this area.
  4. Get Involved. Like I said earlier, there are a lot of incredible groups working to help those hurt by the LRA, and they can all benefit from your greater involvement. Changing the world takes more than hitting the “Like” button, and unless people like you are willing to step up and take action, not much is really going to change. Do some research and find out who is doing good programs on the ground and how you can support by donating.

I am not here to tell you not to support Kony 2012. In fact, I plan on supporting it in my own way. I think its important that Americans are more aware of the world we live in, and this is a powerful way to do that. But I want to make sure the world changes for the better in the long run, not just the next nine months before 2013 rolls around. If you want to jump on a bandwagon like I was about to, it’s really important to understand what you are supporting first.

And certainly don’t take my word for it.

Here is a list of the commentary on Kony 2012 if you want to read more.

Here is Invisible Children’s response to the criticism against them.

Afripop has pulled together some African reactions to the Kony 2012 campaign.

[LR note: And here is a beautiful response to the whole discussion from Teddy Ruge]

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This is a guest post from Jamie Lundine, who has been collaborating with Plan Kenya to support digital mapping and governance programming in Kwale and Mathare.

Throughout October and November 2011, Plan Kwale worked through Map Kibera Trust with Jamie Lundine and Primoz Kovacic, and 4 young people from Kibera and Mathare, to conduct digital mapping exercises to support ongoing youth-led development processes in Kwale county. One of the important lessons learned through the Trust’s work in Kibera and Mathare is that the stories behind the mapping work are important for understanding the processes that contribute to a situation as represented on a map. To tell these stories and to complement the data collection and mapping work done by the youth in Kwale, the Map Kibera Trust team worked with the Kwale youth to set up platforms to share this information nationally and internationally. Sharing the important work being done in Kwale will hopefully bring greater visibility to the issues which may in the longer term lead to greater impact.

Sharing stories of local governance

To support their work on social accountability, the Kwale Youth and Governance Consortium (KYGC) mapped over 100 publicly and privately funded community-based projects. The projects were supported by the Constituency Development Fund (CDF), Local Area Development Fund (LATF), NGOs and private donors. As one channel of sharing this information, the Consortium set up a blog called Nuru ya Kwale (Light of Kwale). According to KYGC the blog “features and addresses issues concerning promotion of demystified participatory community involvement in the governance processes towards sustainable development. We therefore expect interactivity on issues accruing around social accountability.” This involves sharing evidence about various projects and stories from the community.

One example is the documentation of the Jorori Water project in Kwale; through the mapping work, the Governance team collected details of the constituency development fund (CDF) project. The funding allocated to upgrade the water supply for the community was 6,182,960 ksh (approximately 73,000.00 USD). From their research the KYGC identified that the Kenya Open Data site reported that the full funding amount has been spent.

A field visit to the site however revealed that project was incomplete and the community is still without a stable water supply, despite the fact that the funding has been “spent.”

Jorori Water Project, built using approximately 6.2 million shillings (73, 000.00 USD)

Read more about the questions the team raised in terms of the governance of CDF projects, including the detailed the project implementation process and some reflections on why the project stalled. This is information on community experiences (tacit information) that is well-known in a localized context but has not been documented and shared widely. New media tools, a blog in this case, provide free (if you have access to a computer and the internet) platforms for sharing this information with national and international audiences.

Addressing violence against children and child protection

Another blog was set up by the Kwale Young Journalists. The Young Journalists, registered in 2009, have been working with Plan Kwale on various projects, including Violence against Children campaigns. The group has been working to set up a community radio station in Kwale to report on children’s issues. Thus far, their application for a community radio frequency has encountered several challenges. New media provides an interim solution and will allow the team to share their stories and network with partners on a national and internal stage.

The Kwale Young Journalists worked with Jeff Mohammed, a young award-winning filmmaker from Mathare Valley. The YETAM project not only equips young people with skills, but through peer-learning establishes connections between young people working on community issues throughout Kenya. The programme also provides young people with life skills through experiential learning – Jeff reflects on his experience in Kwale and says:

Jeff and the Kwale Young Journalists shooting a scene from “The Enemy Within”

“My knowledge didn’t come from books and lecturers it came from interest, determination and persistence to know about filmmaking and this is what I was seeing in these Kwale youths. They numbered 12 and they were me. They are all in their twenties and all looking very energetic, they had the same spirit as mine and it was like looking at a mirror. I had to do the best I could to make sure that they grasp whatever I taught.”

Jeff worked with the Young Journalists on a short film called “the Enemy Within.” The film, shot with flip-cameras, tells the story of 12-year-old girl who is sold into indentured labour by her parents to earn money for her family. During the time she spends working, the young girl “falls prey of her employer (Mr.Mtie) who impregnates her when she is only 12 years old.” Jeff reflects that “early pregnancies are a norm in the rural Kwale area and what the young filmmakers wanted to do is to raise awareness to the people that its morally unacceptable to impregnate a very young girl, in Enemy Within the case didn’t go as far because the village chairman was bribed into silence and didn’t report the matter to higher authorities.” This is a common scenario in Kwale, and the young journalists plan to use the film in public screenings and debates as part of their advocacy work in the coming months.

Jeff and the Kwale Young Journalists shot the film in four days – they travelled to Penzamwenye, Kikoneni and also to Shimba Hills national park to shoot 7 scenes for the movie. Read more about Jeff’s reflections on working with the Kwale Young Journalists on his blog.

Sharing ecotourism resources

The Dzilaz ecotourism team – a group that encourages eco-cultural tourism in Samburu region of Kwale county — also integrated social media into their work. During the last week (November 8th-12th) the group set up a blog to market the community resources, services and products. They also plan to document eco-culture sites and the impact that eco-tourism can have on the community. As of November 10th, 2011 the Dzilaz team had already directed potential clients to their website and thus secured a booking through the information they had posted.

The importance of telling the stories behind the maps

One important component to mapping work is to tell the stories behind the map. The three groups in Kwale are working to build platforms to amplify their grassroots level work in order to share stories and lessons learned. The information documented on the various platforms will develop over time and contribute to a greater understanding of the processes at a local level where youth as young leaders can intervene to begin to change the dynamics of community development.

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Charles Suglo, Bestway Zottor and Francis Diamenu from Radio Tongu

Sometimes among all the ICT4D hype, we forget about one of the biggest and oldest ICTs there is:  radio.

Last month while in Ghana, I visited Radio Tongu in Sogakofe. The compound where this community radio station sits also serves as a community center, with computer training, a press center and Internet access for a discounted rate.

Plan Ghana staff was meeting with the radio director, Bestway Zottor, and two of the managers, Francis Diamenu and Charles Suglo, to discuss the idea of offering internships for 6-8 youth from the nearby school-based Girls Making Media (GMM) program Plan Ghana and Plan US are supporting.

Charles explained to us that the station gets some 70% of its news from the Internet. The other 30% is sourced from local communities, and recorded on the ground wherever the news is happening. ‘The voice is reality,’ he said. ‘It’s what promises that the news is real. It’s what makes people believe.’ The station broadcasts in 3 languages: Ewe, English and French.

If the youth in the GMM program want to be radio hosts, according to Charles, they need to be well trained and professional, especially since the topics that the youth are bringing up — violence against children and bullying — are sensitive. ‘We have our credibility as a radio station,’ he said. ‘So they need to be well-trained on radio program hosting, know how to manage on air, be skilled on how to ask good questions and follow-up questions.’

There are all kinds of jobs that the youth can do at the radio station, including news, marketing, voice, or running the cafe. Having job skills such as these can begin to give the youth some experiences that will serve them later in life. The training and work they’ve done through the GMM project over the past year give them a foundation for the internship positions at Radio Tongu.

Following the visit to the radio station, we went to the school to meet with the media club. It’s called the  ‘Eye Media Network.’ The group’s slogan is ‘Our eyes are always watching.’

The GMM program began last year with a workshop for 20 of the students on media skills and gender. Following that the Club received a small media kit consisting of digital cameras, voice recorders, a radio, a notice board and Flip cameras. The girls work with 2 advisers and now several boys have also joined the Club. The club plans its own programs and actions, and does a school-wide newscast every Wednesday during the school assembly.

A student reads us the news they've posted on the Notice Board

As part of the program, the Club meets and interviews local and national figures, with a focus on women journalists, government officials and businesswomen. The group has covered school elections and put into place a ‘Walk your Talk’ Accountability initiative.

They conducted a bullying campaign with the goal of reducing the incidence of bullying by 30%. After the campaign, which included posters, educational sessions and other outreach, the Senior Housemaster claimed that bullying had been reduced by 90% compared to the year before. They will begin a campaign against sexual harassment in the coming year.

Some of the challenges that the group faces include posters being ripped down, friends trying to discourage them, boys suffering discrimination for belonging to the “Girls Making Media” club, and not having enough equipment. The club hopes to obtain their own modem, computer, printer and more cameras.

The first week of August, select students from the GMM group participated  in social media training, where they learned how to shoot video, subtitle, access different social networking sites to post their content, and stay safe while online.

The girls in the club said the project has helped them to build confidence and take up leadership positions. ‘We learn how to find information and to bring out problems and get solutions,’ said one girl.

Another said ‘We took bullying as a normal thing. Now we know that bullying is not normal. Now when we see something, we are alert.’

‘I used to walk around without seeing,’ added another ‘but now I see everything because I am looking for news. My mind has been opened.’

The Girls Making Media program covers 7 schools in Ghana. Several other groups in Togo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone also participate in the GMM program.

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