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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 cross-post of an article written by Shawn Hayward, who interns with Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) via the International Youth Internship Program (IYIP). You can read Shawn’s original post here.

It’s easy to get jaded seeing sign after sign in the streets of Accra pointing the way to one NGO or another. Despite the slew of development organizations here, people continue to live with poor drinking water, low incomes and lack of decent health care.

One NGO (besides jhr, of course) seems to be taking a step in the right direction. Plan Ghana has been working with children in the country since 1992. The goals, according to their website, are to provide quality education and teacher training, create awareness of children’s rights and ensure food security for children.

Anyone can state goals on a website. It’s much harder to find effective ways to achieve them. Plan Ghana held a forum this week as part of a week-long workshop on the status of children in the country. They flew in 80 youth delegates from all over West Africa. It had real results.

This wasn’t an event where adults tell kids what they should think. The young delegates posed questions to the forum guests, including the United Nations Representative for Violence Against Children, Marta Santos Pais, and the Ghanaian Minister of Sports and Youth, Akua Sena Dansua.

Most importantly, the kids got a chance to tell their stories to a wide audience, and the media and representatives from various NGOs had a rare opportunity to hear well-spoken, motivated youth describe their experiences with children’s rights abuses.

One girl from Cote D’Ivoire told us in her native French how girls in her country are beaten by child traffickers when they refuse to prostitute themselves, and how a three-year-old girl was sexually abused by a neighbour. Police jailed the man for 72 hours and released him.

Outside the auditorium, Plan Ghana displayed pictures made by West African children that illustrate the abuses they’ve seen during their young lives. There were images of people being beaten, stabbed, raped and murdered.

I remember drawing snowball fights and monster trucks when I was their age, maybe the occasional army tank. No one being murdered though, or raped—I was lucky enough to grow up far away from that.

The forum was effective because the kids were active participants, not mere objects to be educated. We learned as much as they did during the forum, if not more. These kids came away with the pride of knowing they played a role in shaping their future, and Plan Ghana distinguished itself as more than just another NGO with a bunch of goals posted on its website.

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Tweaking SMS based violence reporting system in Benin

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Our Tracking Violence Against Children in Benin project won first prize for Most Innovative Use of Technology or Social Media in Plan’s internal Global Awards contest. The competition was fierce and we were up against some really great projects.

Here’s a nice video overview of the project and where we hope to take the initiative as we go forward.

We still have some kinks to work out and we are still in pilot phase, but we are pretty happy about the award in any case. It helps motivate us even further to improve on the idea until it’s fully functioning and sustainable and we know that it’s resulting in more reporting of violence, helping to track trends and cases of violence, and being used by local and national authorities for responding and following up on those cases that occur.

Many many thanks to everyone who has helped the project get where it is, including:  Henri da Silva, Carmen Johnson, Bell’Aube Houinato, Amelie Soukossi, Eleonore Soglohoun, Morel Azanhoue, Victoire Tidjani, Alfred Santos, Jean Sewanou, Michel Kanhonou, Paul Fagnon, Camille Ogounssan, Anastasie Koudoh, Mika Valitalo, Ken Banks, Josh Nesbit, Patrick Meier, Juliana Rodich, Henry Addo, David Kobia, James Bon Tempo, Stefanie Conrad, Theresa Carpenter, Penelope Chester, Shona Hamilton, and community leaders, parents, school directors, local authorities, children and youth in the 2 participating communities.

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Fostering a new political consciousness on violence against children

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Finding some ICT answers in Benin

Tweaking SMS based violence reporting system in Benin

Community based child protection

New Plan report on ICT-enabled development

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Ending violence is not as simple as some people (and some famous-journalists-from-the-New-York-Times) might think. It’s not as easy as telling some personal stories of child victims of violence and getting people in the “West” to pay attention and care.  Ending violence against children will involve some very deep and profound cultural shifts that need to be owned by local communities who have decided that they want to end violence. Violence needs to be addressed on multiple fronts over time, taking into consideration very localized contexts that frame violence against children as an accepted norm, and that allow those who commit violent acts against children to continue with impunity.  Violence is not something in isolation of other currents running through a society, and much (most? all?) violence is rooted in unequal power relationships.

Next Sunday, I’m heading to Benin for a couple weeks to work on a project aimed at ending violence against children.  I’ll be training colleagues from Benin and Togo on setting up an SMS based system of collecting incident reports on violence against children and mapping the incidents out. This information should allow for better tracking and understanding of what kind of violence is taking place, and for more informed thinking about sustainable solutions/responses to the violence.

My colleagues and I will then train youth in 2 communities in Benin to use the system.  We’ll also train youth to do some basic audio and video testimonies. Our Togo colleagues will return to Togo to replicate the training with some youth groups there.  This is all part of a larger Violence against Children (VAC) project that has been ongoing since 2008.

One thing that I like about this VAC project is that it trains and engages children and youth themselves as advocates and agents of change to end violence, together with adult community allies.  As those who are experiencing this violence, it’s vital that children and youth are prepared and able to take part in stopping the cycle – it’s in their own best interest.  They also need a critical mass of people locally who are aware of the negative impacts of violence, and a system that can apprehend and mete out consequences for those who commit acts of violence.

After its 4 year running period, the VAC project will have trained some 200 children and youth on the causes, manifestations and consequences of violence; ways to communicate effectively with different audiences to get the message of stopping violence across; the use of cartoons, comics, social media, radio and television to talk about issues of violence; and how to respectfully yet confidently lead intergenerational dialogue around the issue.  After my 2 weeks in Benin, the youth, project staff and other participating community adults will (I hope!) be able to use mobile phones to collect information, pictures, videos and audio testimonies about violence in their communities to share locally, nationally and globally to speak to publics and decision makers.

As part of the preparation for the upcoming workshop, I’ve been reading through some reports and documentation about the project.  One report stated that all children participating thus far in the project have said that there has been a concrete reduction of violence in their lives. They have consciously broken the cycle of violence themselves and have been able to talk to their families and peers, who now exercise less violence against them.  Most of the youth in the participating groups have themselves been victims of violence, sometimes severe, at home on a regular basis.

The pain, the marks on my skin, swelling and wounds are the consequences of violence against me…I lose my composure and all ability to complete a task. Then there’s also the doubt, fear, stress, not wanting to talk about it and shyness. –  female participant, Togo

They in turn they were often also violent towards their siblings and their peers.  Participating in the project has strengthened their “be the change you want to see” mentality around violence.

“The knowledge I have gained from the project has helped me put an end to the violence that I used to carry out against my sisters, brothers, and sometimes other children. My parents have also changed – they are no longer violent towards me.” female participant, Togo

In addition to the personal changes at the level of the participants, the VAC project has built a civil society of youth who engage politically with their peers, families, schools and communities around issues of violence.  The youth have also made violence against children part of the public agenda by partnering with media sources who feed their media into mainstream channels.

Participants are fostering a new political consciousness on violence against children by educating other children and youth about the UNVAC study and how violence compromises their rights. They’ve been able to create alliances between youth and adults to advance their cause and youth have been able to share their experiences and opinions with high-level policy makers, including government officials and the UN Special Representative on Violence against Children.

This project is a great example of how engaging with young people can begin to offer solutions to very complex problems, and how looking at youth, and at people in general, as participants and stakeholders and subjects of rights rather than victims, or beneficiaries, or objects of pity can have much better and more sustainable results.

The United Nations Violence against Children Study examined the violence that children around the world experience on a daily basis and documented children’s own experiences of violence in their homes, school, communities, workplace and institutions. A Child Friendly Version of the report is also available.

The VAC project is co-implemented by Plan and Save the Children in West Africa and takes place over 4 years (2008-2011) in seven countries: Togo, Ghana, Benin, Guinea, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and Gambia in partnership with Curious Minds (Ghana), Child Protection Alliance of Gambia, youth and children’s clubs in all these countries, the African Movement for Working Children and Youth, and Planet Jeunes (a popular magazine for youth in West Africa).   Through the project’s work with children, youth, parents and communities, the achievements of the VAC project to combat violence against children are directly helping to realize the UN VAC Study’s recommendations. Several action plans developed by children and youth seek the support and commitment of the UN Special Representative on Violence against Children to continue lobbying governments for change. Young people engaged in the West African VAC project are a valuable resource for the UN Special Representative, ready to support her work in Africa and beyond.

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