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Nothing to do with the topic of this post, but the Kwale coast is gorgeous.

Last week I was in Kwale, at a Plan Kenya hosted workshop as part of the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media program. The team at Plan Kwale has been pointedly using ICTs in their community development programs since 2003 (not counting email and Internet of course) when they began working with radio and video as tools for raising awareness about children’s rights.

It’s really impressive to see how they’ve moved forward with very strategic ideas for integrating ICTs to help reach programmatic and development goals, especially in the areas of youth and governance, universal birth registration, and child/youth-led advocacy around rights and protection issues.

Over the 6 day workshop, the main things we wanted to do were:

  • look at the development context in Kwale, Kinango and Msambweni Districts (South Coast areas where Plan operates via the Kwale Office)
  • better understand the perspective of youth in the 3 districts
  • remind ourselves of rights-based approaches to community development
  • discuss youth issues, governance, advocacy, violence against children and gender within the local context
  • look at the ICTs currently being used by youth, communities and Plan in the Kwale Development Area
  • share and discuss new social media and ICT tools and ways they can be used
  • practice using new social media and ICT tools and see if they can be useful and sustainable in the 3 districts
  • determine next steps for integrating social media and new ICTs in specific local initiatives and plan for how to build on them in Plan Kenya’s overall work

Some elements that made the week positively brilliant:

workshop participants

Engaged and committed stakeholders

We were a group about 20, including staff and university student interns from Plan’s Kwale and Kilifi District Offices and Plan’s Country Office in Nairobi; Government District Youth Officers (‘DYOs’) from the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture; Youth Council members from Kwale, Kinango and Msambweni; 2 staff from Map Kibera and 2 youth mappers from Kibera.

This mix meant that we had a variety of perspectives and opinions, including those of youth from local communities, partner organizations, local government, frontline staff, protection and governance technical advisors, ICT managers, and senior level program managers. This helped to ensure that we were grounded in reality, technically and thematically sound, able to cross-pollinate and integrate new ideas with solid experience and practice, and take decisions immediately forward to a higher level.

Local partners and youth-youth networking

Peer-peer learning and exchange among all the participants was a big plus. Plan and Map Kibera have very similar visions and values, yet each has its own area of specialized technical expertise and experience.  The youth participants from local councils from the 3 South Coast districts and the youth mappers from Kibera brought different perspectives into the workshop which enriched the discussions.  We all learned a lot from each other. Combining expertise as partners brought the workshop to a whole new level, and will help to ensure that the efforts are sustainable and can be built on and expanded. The youth in Kwale can now extend their skills to more youth in their communities, the youth mappers from Kibera can take home new ideas to improve their work, the university-level interns gained practical experience, and the buy-in from the local government’s District Youth Officers (who manage government funds) in the 3 participating districts can help provide the necessary support to broaden the efforts.

Flexible workshop methodology

We had certain goals that we wanted to achieve and we were clear on that, but we let the agenda flow. We started by taking a deep look at the local context and resources. We heard from local experts in the areas that we wanted to focus on (youth and governance, child protection) as well as community youth and local authorities. We spent time getting to know some new tools and discussing the pros and cons of using them.

Hands-on with FrontlineSMS

Hands On Work

We had practical sessions and hands-on work on blogging, FrontlineSMS, Ushahidi, Map Kibera, and mGESA (a local application of the mGEOS mobile platform co-developed by Plan Kenya, Plan Finland, University of Nairobi and Pajat Management and being piloted in Kilifi).

This was important for helping participants feel confident about doing some of the work once the training team was gone. I imagine however that more practice will be needed during some follow up sessions, as most of the participants don’t have regular computer and Internet access for enhancing their skills on a daily basis with additional practice and exploration.

We spent one day mapping our Hotel on Open Street Maps, and another day in Kinango, mapping specific points in 4 teams.  Lessons learned during hands-on work included the importance of engaging and involving the community ahead of time, so that rumors about why people are mapping the community don’t fly. In my group, for example, we were moving around with George the District Youth Officer from Kinango. Someone that he ran into joked to him “Oh, now Kinango is going up for sale!”  A joke, but nonetheless if people don’t know why we were mapping, this or other rumours can quickly spread. (See the video about mapping in Kinango at this link and the background blog post here.)

End goals + new tools + back again

By starting with people’s expectations for the workshop, analysis of the local context, and an understanding of the goals that youth and staff wanted to achieve together, we could be sure that we stayed true to where we wanted to end up. At the same time, by learning about new tools, things that weren’t possible before became imaginable and people started to innovate and mix their existing knowledge and experience with some new ideas.

Combining the two, and having a good variety of perspectives in the room and a lot of space for discussion and practice means that next steps will be more achievable and sustainable, because people are clear and agree about where they want to go, and they feel capable of incorporating some new tools and ideas to get there.

The tools

We explored a number of new(ish) tools at the workshop. They had been identified over the past couple years due to their use by Plan or other organizations in areas such as: community development work, violence tracking, advocacy, governance and social auditing.  We talked about mobile phones, email, Internet, Facebook, Hi5, Google search and Google maps. We did a quick overview of Voice of Kibera, use of GPS, Open Street Maps, FrontlineSMS, Ushahidi, the YETAM project, the PlanYouth website, and a Plan pilot project in Benin using SMS to track violence against children.

The first day, the context analysis was very focused on youth and governance, transparency and social auditing, so we pulled out the 10 Tactics video by Tactical Technology Collective (which @hapeeg had given to me a couple days earlier). This video series talks about 10 tactics for turning information into action. It really sparked ideas among the participants for how they could use social media and ICTs in social accountability work and human rights/child rights work.  Map Kibera partners also shared a tool developed by SODNET (SMS for social auditing of the Constituency Development Fund).

We talked about the use of mapping and SMS in child protection work. One of the main child protection issues in the south coast area is the distance that a child, girl, family has to travel in order to report an abuse. Women’s lack of economic power, inability to own property and the importance of marriageability also mean that often women and girls feel unable to speak out or protest abuse when it’s happening. It’s still not certain what role ICTs can play in this context given the risks involved to those who report, but Plan’s child protection point person, Mohammad, is planning to host a series of meetings with local child protection authorities to discuss possible ways forward.

Digital mapping was immediately cataloged as an important tool for identifying resources, advocating for services and holding government accountable through social auditing. It was also recognized as a potential income generator once areas, shops and local businesses could be added to an on-line map, or if youth could purchase GPS units with funding from the District Youth Office and charge for their GPS services. George, the District Youth Officer for Kinango talks in this video about how mapping can be useful to the Kinango community, even if most members don’t have access to computers and broad band. (Click the link or watch below)

Information and communication gap analysis –> ICT integration plans

ICT integration for youth and governance program

Early on in the workshop, we worked in 2 groups to analyze the goals for the Youth and Governance and the Child Protection programs that Plan is supporting in Kwale. The groups discussed the information and communication gaps that needed to be filled in order to move towards the goals of the 2 initiatives. We looked at what ICT tools might best help reduce the gaps, from existing traditional tools (like meetings, face-to-face advocacy, drama, town criers, radio) to those new(ish) tools that we had discovered (see above paragraph) that might be useful to try out given the goals in the 2 key areas. The groups revisited this gap analysis on the last day after having had more hands-on use of the different tools and turned the gap analysis into an action plan.

ICT integration for child protection programs

Management buy-in and leadership

While the 2 groups worked on local action plans for integrating ICTs into their work, senior management from Plan’s Kenya office created their own action plan for how to build on the workshop experience, engage mid-level managers and other key staff in ICT integration, further develop partnerships and solidify cross-cutting incorporation of ICTs into Plan’s work in Kenya. The Kwale and Kilifi program units have been innovators within Plan for several years. Learning from, supporting and building on concrete work that they are doing on the ground allows for a solid and feasible country strategy based on reality. Having a strategy built from the ground up and with solid support and buy-in from national management means that there is less risk of donor led ICT funding, and more probability that new resources mobilized for ICT work go towards real needs and have better results.

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Group work at a regional consultation

Children and adolescent’s participation in decisions that affect them is key. More and more, decision makers are realizing that they need to consult with children when they are making decisions about children, meaning that children have more opportunities to weigh in on issues that impact on their lives.

Not knowing how to manage a good participation process or not listening to past lessons learned, however, can make it difficult for children and adolescents to take advantage of opportunities offered them to input into these decisions.

Children’s rights to participate

A child is anyone under the age of 18.  According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), in addition to survival, development and protection rights, children also have participation rights.

  • Children have rights to be listened to, to freely express their views on all matters that affect them, and to freedom of expression, thought, association and access to information.
  • Participation should promote the best interest of the child and enhance the personal development of each child.
  • All children have equal rights to participation without discrimination.
  • All children have the right to be protected from manipulation, violence, abuse and exploitation

from the “Minimum Standards for Children’s Participation 10th draft”, written by Helen Veitch,*drawing on Articles 2, 3, 12, 13, 17, 19, 34 and 36 in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

What are the principles of participation? (Summarized from the above document)

An ethical approach: transparency, honesty and accountability

Adults involved need to follow ethical and participatory practices and put children’s best interests first. Because there are power and status imbalances between adults and children.  An ethical approach is needed in order for children’s participation to be genuine and meaningful.

A child friendly environment

The atmosphere should be safe, welcoming and encouraging.  Because in order for children to feel comfortable participating they need to feel safe and supported.

Equality of opportunity

Space should be ensured for those groups of children who typically suffer discrimination and are often excluded from activities. Because children, like adults, are not a homogeneous group and participation should be open to all.

Participation promotes the safety and protection of children

Child protection policies and procedures are an essential part of participatory work with children. Because organisations have a duty of care to children with whom they work and everything should be done to minimize the risk to children of abuse and exploitation or other potentially negative consequences of their participation.

Child participation in national, regional and global consultations

Children’s right to participate is key. However in practice, a safe and open environment for child participation at national, regional and global events can be difficult to ensure. It requires resources as well as a great deal of preparation.

Over the past several years, I’ve participated in some disappointing events where:

  • lessons learned about effective child participation and child protection were ignored
  • those tasked with ensuring child participation and protection were powerless to influence event organizers to ensure quality and safe participation
  • those organizing the event or sending children to it simply had no idea that there are standards and protocols and plenty of lessons learned that they should have taken into consideration.

Minimum standards for child participation

For example, back in 2005, several organizations in East Asia and the Pacific* collaborated to produce minimum standards for child participation in national and regional consultation events. These were initially developed for the UN Study on Violence against Children.

They offer a comprehensive overview of how to manage child participation and can be used as a guide for other national, regional or global events where children participate.  They should be considered whenever organizing, hosting or participating in an event where children are being consulted or their participation is desired.

You can have the most amazing and wonderful children present and the very best intentions, but fall very short of your goals of quality child participation because logistics and organization are poor and/or child participation and protection protocols are not followed.

What often goes wrong?

Child participation holds tremendous value, but when it’s not properly facilitated or supported; results can be negative on many levels, including:

  • Children are tokenized or used
  • Poor organization gets in the way of participation
  • Important opportunities are missed
  • Children become frustrated
  • Children are put at risk
  • Money and time are wasted

Oh, the things I’ve seen…

Mistakes those new to organizing events or supporting child participation in events often make:

  • Having singing and dancing in traditional costumes be the main role for children
  • Setting up totally new groups to participate in an event rather than working with existing groups
  • Not understanding the concept of ‘representativity’ and not ensuring democratic and fair selection processes of those children who participate
  • Not realizing (for global events) that the visa application process takes a very long time, and requires visa invitation letters and appointments in advance
  • Forgetting to get children their required vaccines
  • Not realizing that children may not have birth certificates or passports, meaning the visa process takes even longer
  • Not preparing children well for visa interviews, including the possibility that their visa request will be denied
  • Not allocating time and budget for travel necessary to obtain visas, permission from parents who do not live with the child (child trafficking laws often require this now) and other documentation
  • Not obtaining permission slips, medical histories, media releases from parents and/or not obtaining travel insurance for children
  • Not getting the above materials translated into a language parents can understand
  • Not having child protection policies in place and adhering to them
  • Not doing background checks on people who will be working with children
  • Thinking it’s OK to send children overseas without a chaperone, not budgeting for chaperones
  • Forgetting that not all children speak a major language like English, Spanish, Portuguese or French and will require translation of all materials before the event as well as constant translation during the event, and support following the event if they will continue to participate in event follow up

Children's responses on what they feared at an event.

Mistakes that even experienced child participation facilitators make:

  • Influencing too much on what children will say
  • Using children to promote the sponsoring organization or INGO’s agenda
  • Having children represent an NGO or INGO rather than representing themselves, their own groups or their communities
  • Having children wear NGO/ INGO t-shirts, caps and other branded items
  • Asking children from some countries (usually those from countries deemed ‘exotic’) to bring traditional costumes and share their culture, but not asking the same from other countries
  • Creating/building up ‘professional’ child participants and creating child star speakers
  • Relying on the same children all the time to represent because they have passports or visas or prior experience
  • Only bringing children who speak a major language or live in the capital to events
  • During sessions, not organizing group work in ways that facilitate communication across different languages
  • Sending any adult as a chaperone, rather than sending the best or the right adult as a chaperone
  • Not planning ahead on how children will be supported when they get back home to continue inputting into global networks and processes
  • Not ensuring a space for children to share their experiences with home offices and groups
  • Making children work long hours to fit everything in
  • Not giving children pocket money so that those with less means can also purchase small things for themselves or for family members
  • Housing children in fancy hotels with fancy food that they may not be used to; (not cooking enough good quality rice at lunch and dinner!)
  • Not realizing children may need to be shown how to use things like hotel showers, air conditioning, toilets
  • Not realizing that children may not want to sleep alone in a room
  • Not providing additional warm clothing for children if the conference climate is colder than their own
  • Not realizing that a trip overseas creates culture shock, children may feel lonely for their families
  • Not ensuring that children have the means to call home as soon as they arrive to an event and periodically during their stay
  • Not realizing that those facilitating child participation or working on child protection may not have the power to influence event organizers, especially if events are being organized in hierarchical ways with governments and high level committees involved
  • Not establishing at what point enough is enough, and children shouldn’t participate because conference organizers simply haven’t created favorable conditions, and children are put at risk or their participation will not be of good quality or have any real impact

Mistakes I’ve seen conference and event organizers repeat over and over:

  • Focusing on number of children participants rather than quality of participation
  • Not providing information with enough lead time for it to be translated and shared with children, or for good planning and selection processes to be done
  • Segregating children in parallel events where they don’t interact with adults
  • Not giving children space to lead sessions or engage with adults; offering them the last spot in the opening /closing speeches, and giving them a small percentage of the time that the adult speakers are given; or reducing children’s participation time because adults have gone over their allotted time
  • Patronizing children by clapping every time a child says something, or saying “oh that’s such a great idea!” not treating children respectfully as equals
  • Encouraging adults to get their photos taken with ‘exotic looking’ children in costumes
  • Not balancing the number of local participants and global participants
  • Not understanding that they need certain conditions to be available to fulfill child protection protocols (eg., children and adults need separate rooms; boys and girls as well as older/younger youth need to have separate rooms; the venue selection needs to have a measure of safety/security to prevent outsiders from taking advantage of any of the participating children, etc.)
  • Packing too many activities into the day and leaving children no time to rest
  • Not allowing any time for sight-seeing or recreation
  • Thinking all children have access to internet and computers to fill out registration forms, etc. and to participate in networks post conference
  • Not realizing that they need to listen to child participation and protection committees and adjust their ideas for their event so that children can effectively participate and are not put at risk
  • Thinking they can hire just anybody to manage child participation at the event
  • Not including a child participation/child protection point person in the organizing committee

So, what then?

I do honestly believe that children should participate and have a say in these issues, and that only by listening to children can decision-makers ensure that they are coming to the best decisions that benefit, resonate with, or have the best impact on children’s lives.

However unless proper organization, logistics, preparation and care are taken, these opportunities can be frustrating or a waste of an opportunity for everyone involved, and the validity of the efforts can easily be questioned.

Child participation needs to be taken seriously, not as an add-on or nice to have or cute to have. Unless and until regional and global events can ensure that this is happening, it might be a better investment to work with children at local and national levels.

Event organizers and child participation facilitators need to look at existing protocols, documentation, minimum standards and lessons learned and use them. Organizations shouldn’t be coming up with the same ‘lessons learned’ after every event and repeating the same mistakes at the next one. Surely we can do better than that.

What guidelines does your organization have? What mistakes have you made and learned from? What recommendations can you give? How can we get it right? Please share your thoughts in the comments section…

Download

Minimum Standards on Child Participation

Protocols and documents to use to help ensure good quality participation

*The following organizations participated on the steering committee that elaborated the Minimum Standards: UNICEF East Asia Pacific Regional Office, World Health Organisation, Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ILO IPEC Asia and the Pacific, NGO Advisory Panel on the UN Study on Violence Against Children, Save the Children Alliance, Child Workers in Asia, ECPAT International, World Vision International APRO, Plan International, Terre des Hommes Germany, ASEAN Foundation.

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The basic premise of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (referred to as the ‘CRC’) is that children are born with fundamental freedoms and the inherent rights of all human beings.

According to the CRC, the 4 main categories of rights that children have are survival, development, participation and protection. The CRC’s guiding principles help further shape the way that child rights should be interpreted. These are non-discrimination, the best interest of the child, right to life, survival and development, and respect for the views of the child.

Child protection concerns a child’s right not to be harmed and to protection from violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.  It involves the duty of care placed on those that work with children or that come into contact with children.  It encompasses the responsibilities, measures, and activities that must be undertaken to safeguard children from both intentional and unintentional harm.

Child protection encompasses many different areas, such as juvenile justice systems and a child’s right not to be tried as an adult or incarcerated with adults; special care needed by unaccompanied children; protection from sexual exploitation and dangerous forms of child labor; prevention of trafficking and harmful traditional practices such as female genital cutting; support for children in emergency and conflict situations; prevention of exploitation by the media; the right not to be abused or taken advantage of by family, caregivers or institutions; and so on.  This link gives an explanation of a protective environment, and this one offers an excellent broad overview of child protection.

Child protection policies and strategies create mechanisms to prevent any type of harm to a child.

Child protection in youth media programs

The organization where I work frames its efforts within the CRC.  Most of the programs that I focus on are related to child participation and child protection.  These two areas go hand in hand, because good participation initiatives need to take child protection into consideration, and good protection initiatives are only successful when children participate in designing them and in protecting themselves.  Children should both know what their rights are and take an active part in achieving them and in protecting themselves.

This week, for example, I’m at a workshop with a small group of colleagues, teachers and local partners from the Upper West Region of Ghana. We’re preparing for a youth arts and media project that they will implement in June. By the end of this facilitator workshop, we will have a localized training plan that fits the context of the community and the youth participants, and the facilitators will have learned some new media skills that they will train the youth on when the project starts.

As part of the facilitators’ training, we cover the CRC, going in depth on child participation and child protection.  There is always a certain tension between these two areas. We want to encourage children to participate to their fullest, yet both children and adults need to be aware of potential risks that participation can bring with it, and know how to mitigate and manage them.

Three child protection risks that we are focusing on with facilitators at this week’s workshop are:

  • Intentional or unintentional abuse by staff or local partners
  • Retaliation or harm to a child who appears in a media story or art piece on a sensitive issue
  • Retaliation or harm to a child who authors or creates media or arts on a sensitive issue

Internal child protection policies

To begin our sessions on child protection, my colleague Joyce covered our organizational Child Protection Policy, which clearly states our intention to protect children from harm and advises that we will take positive action to prevent child abusers from becoming involved with the organization.

Joyce explained that child abuse is never acceptable:

  • Child abuse in our case is defined as:  All forms of physical abuse, emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse and exploitation, neglect or negligent treatment, commercial or other exploitation of a child and includes any actions that result in actual or potential harm to a child.
  • Our child protection policy applies to staff at all levels, including board members, volunteers, community volunteers, supporters, consultants, contractors; partner organizations, local government people who have been brought into contact with children via our organization, visitors, donors, journalists, researchers and any other type of person or institution associated with us.
  • We recognize that child abuse may be a deliberate act or it may be failing to act to prevent harm. Child abuse consists of anything which individuals, institutions or processes do or fail to do, intentionally or unintentionally which harms a child or damages their prospect of safe and healthy development into adulthood.
  • We follow through on cases of child abuse to the fullest extent of the law.

Point three, unintentional abuse, refers to situations where someone has good intentions but their lack of planning, knowledge, foresight, or their recklessness puts children in harm’s way.  As Joyce explained, “It’s  like an excursion that is not well planned.”  The good intention is to take children out so that they could have some fun.  But if proper care is not taken to plan the trip and ensure children’s safety during the trip, then unintentional harm could be done. A child could be lost, a vehicle could be unsafe, a child could drown.  Though the good intention of the person planning this event is not in question — they wanted the children to have fun and enjoy themselves — if proper planning is not done and something happens that causes harm to a child, it is still considered child abuse.  Good intentions are not enough.

Here are some resources on institutional child protection standards and an excellent overview on minimum participation and protection standards when working with children and residential events.

Use of children’s images in the media

Since this is a youth arts and media project, we need to think about the use of children’s images and identities in the media: print, broadcast, radio, internet or visual arts. The CRC asserts that every child has the right to privacy, and this extends to the right not to have their image used for any purpose for which they have not given consent.

Key points related to the use of children’s images and working with children’s stories include:

  • If the person is below 18, you must seek the consent of the parents/guardians
  • Consent forms must be kept securely for future audit or proof purposes
  • A child’s real name should not be used in publication or broadcast unless they would benefit from increased self-esteem by seeing their name in print
  • The information given about the child should not allow their precise location to be identified (either directly or indirectly)
  • A story should not be published, with or without names or identities altered, if it could put a child, siblings or peers at risk
  • The best interest of the child comes above all else

Helping people see the implications

Expanding on the aspects above, Joyce offered ideas on how to discuss and ensure that children and adults that might portray others, or be portrayed in media, are aware of all the implications and potential risks:

  • Today’s media is global and can be accessed anywhere in the world through the internet.
  • When you talk to the media nowadays, you are talking to the world. The story may not reach everybody in every country, but you can be sure that it will reach further than you can imagine.
  • Ask yourself the following:
    • How would friends and family react if they saw the story, or found out that it had been published?
    • Think through who might be harmed.  Would the subject of the article, artwork or video be at risk of any harm if someone saw it?  Could this story or artwork put anyone in danger?
    • This story can stay documented for years. How would the person feel if their children were to read the story in a few years?
    • There is no guarantee that this story cannot be seen by people whom you do not want to know about it.  Help people thoroughly understand the implications of sharing their stories. This protects not only the subject of the story, but the person who is authoring the story.
    • Are there people we need to protect when telling our story? Friends that we need to protect?  What needs to be edited out so that nobody is implicated in the presentation of the work?

Here is an excellent resource on use of children’s images in the media, and a guide for journalists reporting on children, and guidelines for reporting on children in the context of HIV/AIDS.

Stories that cause unintentional harm

To illustrate some of the points above, we used 2 examples.  A New York Times/Nick Kristof article that identifies a child from the Democratic Republic of the Congo who was raped and his opinion piece on why he believes that was OK, and a scenario where a film is made of a girl who reports that her mother beats her and doesn’t allow her to attend school.

General consensus from the group in our workshop on the New York Times case was that child protection and media guidelines were not followed, and that Kristof was reckless and unintentionally put the girl at risk.  Workshop participants felt that appropriate respect for the child was not shown. “The journalist would never be able to do that in the US”.  One participant exclaimed “So, he didn’t feel that any Congolese would ever be enlightened enough to access the story?”  It was recognized that “his intention was good, that people should know about these terrible crimes, but there is no need to share all the specifics.” Participants wondered whether this was in the best interest of the girl, and how she would feel in the future if someone she knew found the article.  “In our culture, this type of thing can be very stigmatizing.”  Participants asked why technology wasn’t used to cover the girls’ face and disguise her voice, or why she wasn’t filmed from behind to conceal her identity.  The conclusion was that this story could have been told in a way that protected the child and had equal impact on readers.  [Update: Laura over at Texas in Africa has a great post on Connectivity and Child Protection which comes to the same conclusions.  You can also find related posts from awhile back on Wronging Rights.]

In the second scenario, consensus was that the story could create difficulties for everyone involved.  One participant commented that the mother might get angry and beat the child even more.  Another said that it the whole village might feel betrayed by the child exposing the story. “When a child does something, people ask – from which village are you? From which house?  From which family?  Whatever you do to a member of the village you do to the whole village. This can cause a threat to the child by the whole village.  Those who give out the story, if they are known by the village, will also be at risk.”  Another issue was that the community might say that the children are given too much power. “They will wonder who is behind it and may not wish to work any longer with the organization that is supporting the project.”  It was suggested that if a story like this were filmed, it should show a resolution, a happy ending, so that it could be used as an example. “That way you can favor all who are involved.”  The group concluded that when topics are quite sensitive or individuals are implicated, the story should be altered to protect identity and the same situation could be brought out using simulations, song, theater or drawings.

As we are training children as citizen journalists in this project, case studies that highlight the potential risks and impact of a story are critical learning tools.

In conclusion….

Child protection needs to be considered whenever children are involved.  Adults and children need to be aware of potential risks and thoroughly discuss how to mitigate them. Mechanisms need to be in place to address any intentional or unintentional harm that could be caused to a child or children.  There are plenty of good resources around on how to do this, so there is really no excuse not to.

————————–

The Child Rights Information Network provides excellent all around resources on child protection and child rights, and a list of over 1000 global resources on child rights

Keeping Children Safe offers a toolkit for developing your organization’s internal child protection policies

The International Federation of Journalists has created Guidelines and Principles for Reporting on Issues Involving Children

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Henri from Plan Benin training on SMS reporting.

In February I was in Benin to support staff to pilot the idea of using SMS reporting (FrontlineSMS) and digital mapping (Ushahidi) to strengthen local and national systems for reporting, tracking and responding to violence against children.  We conducted 2 workshops in mid-February with youth leaders, frontline staff, community members, local authorities from the Center for Social Protection (CPS) and representatives from the Ministry of the Family to get things started.

For some more background, check out my previous posts on the Violence against Children (VAC) project, the questions we asked ourselves before getting started on the SMS and mapping initiative, and the February workshops in Benin and what we learned there.

Since February, staff in Benin have been following up with workshop participants and with local authorities and institutions, including: the Prefect, the Mayors, community supervisors, animators of the children’s/youth media clubs, headmasters and other school authorities and the CPS.  The youth in one community did a radio program about violence against children and talked about SMS reporting. They also designed an information sheet that’s been hung up all over the town to encourage the population to report cases of violence.

Henri, Plan Benin’s ICT Director who facilitated at the Benin workshops, went to Togo to replicate the training with staff and youth there.  He and Carmen, who manages the overall VAC project in Benin, have also been observing and collecting feedback on the system to see where it needs tweaking.  They have put a project plan together for the next 6 months or so.

Carmen the VAC project coordinator in Benin.

Observations that Henri and Carmen shared and some thoughts we have about resolving them:

Issue:

  • Most people call instead of sending SMS

Hmmm….

  • Why?  Habit?  Literacy?  Unclear indications of what to do or unclear expectations of what the system is for?  We need to find out more about this.  It would be good to know exactly what kind of volume we are talking about total in terms of SMS vs calls. (I will update this post when I find out.)
  • Should we start taking calls too then? And are there resources and capacity to manage calls in addition to FrontlineSMS (which is automated)? How are we linking with the Child Help Line in Benin?
  • Could both calls and SMS be administered in the Ushahidi system?  Eg., Just as an administrator needs to review any SMS’s that come into Ushahidi  before approving them, someone could be tasked with inputting information from a phone call into the Ushahidi back end to then trigger the rest of the process (verification, response, etc). And how would that impact on pulling data out of the system for decision making?  (See this post for more information on how the system is currently conceived)

Issue:

  • Some people are sending a re-call SMS (asking us to return the call)

Hmmm….

  • We need to find out why people are sending re-call messages instead of SMS’s.  Because in the current set-up, text messages are not free?  Literacy issues? Because our system looks like something else they’ve done where re-call was the norm?  Something else?
  • If it’s due to low literacy or language issues, how can we open the system to those who cannot read/write or who do not use French?
  • Plan Benin is discussing with the GSM provider to find a way to send back an automatic reply SMS informing people not to call but to send a message, and to take this opportunity to indicate in the message what is expected as information.  But if literacy/language is the issue, we will not have solved anything by doing this…. Sounds like we really need to make sure calling is an option, and that good integration with the national Child Help Line is a real priority.
  • Plan Benin is also negotiating getting a “green line” or free short code, so that might resolve part of this.

Issue:

  • Many people are not using the key word ‘HALTE’ (stop) at the beginning of the message, meaning that the commands don’t trigger the messages to automatically send the information to Ushahidi.  (In the current system, each SMS should include the key word ‘HALTE’.  This key word triggers a “thanks for your message” automatic response from FrontlineSMS, and the forwarding of the message to the Ushahidi back end for subsequent management and follow up by local authorities.)

Hmmm….

  • Staff noticed that most (but not all) of the messages without the key word ‘’HALTE’’ contained the word ‘enfant’ (child). Henri has added ‘enfant’ as a key word in addition to ‘HALTE’ — and says it is working fine.  So we will assess if this helps.
  • Another alternative would be to not use any keywords – we will need to look into whether we can set FrontlineSMS up so that any SMS that goes to that number gets auto forwarded to Ushahidi.

Early draft of a poster promoting violence reporting by SMS

Issue:

  • Most of the messages are too vague to find the place and the victim for responding (and people do not have GPS enabled phones).  We have suggested that an SMS report should contain certain information [HALTE+type of violence+where it’s happening (eg., school, home, etc)+village name+district+age+sex+name of child if known], but people don’t follow the suggested format.

Hmmm….

  • How can we simplify it or better explain the type of information that’s needed?  Something we need to dig deeper into and consult with users to figure out.  Carmen’s take is that we are at the beginning of the process and we need to be patient and sensitize a lot so that people get used to the idea and understand how things work.

Issue:

  • Compatible FLSMS phones and modems are very difficult to find.  We were only able to find one phone that was compatible in Benin (a used one) because newer phone models are not compatible and the modems we found refused to connect.

Hmmm….

  • We really need to get this resolved since the entire system in Benin rests on one phone. What if it stops working?  It’s really difficult to expand the project without a larger set of phone/modem options.  We’ll work with the FrontlineSMS forum or staff (both are always super helpful on this kind of thing) in the next couple weeks to figure out how to resolve the compatibility issues, because there are modems available in West Africa that should be compatible, but that we couldn’t get to function.

Issue:

  • We planned for community response teams to be able to subscribe to alerts on Ushahidi, so that when there is an incident reported in the zone where they work, they would be alerted by SMS and could set the follow up process in motion.  But we haven’t been able to get the alerts working on Ushahidi or set up email reporting there.

Hmmm….

  • We discussed with the Ushahidi team and the problem was that not all the strings of code in Ushahidi had been translated into French yet.  Thanks to @theresac and @penelopeinparis, who volunteered to translate a load of strings, we are getting everything into French, and Henry at Ushahidi is helping get alerts working.  We still need to finalize all the elements on our Ushahidi page however and get everything working.  We’d also like to customize our Ushahidi page to make it our own, similar to the customizing that Voices of Kibera has done with their Ushahidi instance.

Any additional thoughts or help on the above issues are most welcome!


As for next steps, Henri and Carmen shared their plans:

  • Present the system to political and administrative authorities, including: head of the Brigade for the Protection of Minors, juvenile judges, Ministry of the Family’s Director for Children and Adolescents, Director of Family Programs, Minister of ICTs, cabinet and authorities who regulate telecommunications, Ministry of the Interior and Public Security, National Assembly, mayors and prefects, schools and teacher-parent committees, community authorities, media
  • Train staff, government partners, school and parent committees, and local NGOs on the reporting system, including a 1-day workshop with all Plan staff and a 1 day workshop with local NGO partners, schools and government staff
  • Accompany child protection committees and organized youth groups to use the system.  This will be done by holding sessions with organized children and youth groups at village level to reinforce and raise awareness on the reporting system; training child protection committees to use the new reporting system; holding one day sessions each month with the village level child protection system staff to discuss follow up on reports that have come in, and installing FrontlineSMS in each local site and adding local focal points as Ushahidi administrators
  • Strengthen awareness in the public and with leaders to support violence reporting by developing a communications plan to generate awareness on the issue of violence, the importance of reporting, and the mechanisms to report via SMS; supporting youth to use arts and theater to raise awareness on the issue of violence against children; talking with religious leaders and village chiefs; creating television, radio, newspaper and web advertisements to reach the general public and decision makers
  • Secure a free short code (target:  by May)
  • Conduct a national level evaluation workshop with involved local and national actors (in 6 months)

As we move forward, more questions will surely come up and we’ll need to continually tweak things. But I feel that we’re off to a good start. The fact that people are calling in and SMS’ing in is a good sign already that the program has some potential, and that people are willing to report violence against children.

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Related posts on Wait… What?

Breaking it down: violence against children

Fostering a new political consciousness on violence against children

Seven (or more) questions to ask before adding ICTs

Finding some ICT answers in Benin

Meeting in the middle

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There is a lot of talk about “Child Protection” these days and an increased awareness of the vulnerability of children who are separated from their parents or who have lost them due to the Haiti earthquake   But what exactly does “Child Protection” mean?  What does a child protection system look like on the ground?  How can child protection mechanisms be set up during an emergency phase, and how can they be turned into a sustainable mechanism post-crisis?

Jose Francisco de Sousa (“Quico”), a co-worker of mine at Plan Timor-Leste, sent me written information on Plan’s child protection work in the 2006 crisis response there and talked me through some of details below. Photo:  Quico.

Plan was active in the broader emergency response in Timor-Leste following the political crisis of April 2006 through work in over 40 camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). (For some deeper insight into Timor-Leste, check out this post by my twitter pal @giantpandinha).

In Timor-Leste, Plan was one of the first agencies to respond as Site Liaison Support (SLS), responsible for the coordination, operation and management of camp activities within days of the crisis. Plan’s specific focus was on addressing the needs of children in the camps, covering service provision such as the delivery of potable water to 15,000 IDPs, addressing hygiene and sanitation issues to improve health, and training youth in conflict resolution skills to aid the nation’s peace building process, and child protection.

Plan’s child protection approach included identifying, monitoring and protecting children at risk, setting up referral systems, training communities in child rights and child protection strategies and mechanisms, and ‘seconding’ Quico as an advisor to the government to strengthen its child protection systems.

Quico was “loaned out” to the Ministry of Social Solidarity (MSS) to build upon existing capacities in the Ministry of Social Solidarity (Child Protection Department) and to ensure a strongly coordinated sectoral, systems-building approach to the child protection response. Through this process, the government came to see child protection as a priority in the long term and eventually established a Child Protection Department under the MSS. So, in other words, the emergency child protection mechanisms established during the crisis were successfully built into a sustainable child protection system in the long term, and services are now available in the district and sub-district levels across the country.

“When the crisis began in Timor Leste, it was very difficult for us to get any resources on how best we could assist internally displaced people. During the emergency, there were many NGOs and other organizations trying to support the internally displaced through different approaches. The focus was mainly to provide the basic needs. There was no proper coordination strategy/mechanism that included broader child protection issues.

I would say that if we look at the nature of the disasters in Timor-Leste and what is happening in Haiti right now, It’s different,  but I imagine (correct me if I’m wrong) that the impact of the disasters might be same, where instability is created in different sectors leading to broader child protection issues.

Plan responded to the emergency in Dili (the Capital of Timor-Leste) with immediate practical child protection measures focusing on the prevention of family separation, and the promotion of safety, and health and hygiene in camps. We also prioritised co-ordination of child protection actors by initiating a Child Protection Working Group. This filled a leadership vacuum whilst building the capacity of the Government  to gradually take over leadership responsibility.”

Keep reading for an overview of the Toolkit…..or download it here.

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Plan Timor-Leste’s Child Protection Emergency Toolkit is divided into 7 parts:

1. Overview of Framework & Standards Related to an Emergency Response in Timor-Leste
This section aims to give an overview of the international, national and organizational laws, policies, standards and approaches to child protection in emergencies in order have clear guidance on how to create an appropriate framework for a potential response that is in line with global, national and internal organizational laws and policies on Child Protection in Emergencies. (If replicating the toolkit, these documents would need to be adapted to the country context).  Users of the toolkit should read this section before they go on to use the other sections in the toolkit.   These overviews are important to integrate into Child Protection in Emergency trainings and orientation for new staff recruited in the event of an emergency.

Some of the legal instruments and Humanitarian Principles Applicable to Child Protection in Emergencies in Timor-Leste included:
  • Overview of Approaches and Guidelines in Child Protection in Emergency
  • Timor-Leste Structural Framework of the Current System for Child Protection
  • Timor-Leste Legal Framework for Child Protection
  • Plan’s Approach to Emergency
  • Summary of Learning and Recommendations from 2006 Emergency Child Protection Response

2. Emergency preparedness
The section includes an overview of steps that should be taken to ensure that Plan offices are prepared for an emergency. It’s divided into two areas – programmatic preparedness and administrative preparedness.  It also includes the practical internal financial codes for general emergency preparedness activities so that these are compiled and readily available to support and inform activities and rapid proposal writing in the event of an emergency. These are also useful for Country Offices to be prepared for emergency in the long term.

Programmatically, the tools include government and Child Protection Working Group contingency planning, risk analysis and scenario planning, child protection activity mapping and definition of roles and responsibilities.  They also include tools developed specifically for the geographical areas where a child protection response might potentially be needed, such as contact lists for child protection actors at the municipal level, and community-based hazard, risk and capacity maps developed by children and their communities as part of Plan’s on-going mitigation activities.

The administrative tools cover generic job responsibilities, a general child protection in emergencies orientation session for newly recruited staff or those who are new to emergency response.  The human resource structure of a response is defined and responsibilities are allocated within the current staff organigram.  Advocacy and media standards and a stock list of necessary items for the first phase of an emergency response are also included.

3. Initial emergency response
This section contains the basic tools relevant to an initial emergency response.  The emergency planning tools included in the previous section are also relevant to ensuring the most efficient response possible, in line with Plan’s community-based approach.  The shape of the response will depend largely on the type, scale and location of the emergency, and any tools need to be adapted according to this context.

“One of the tools here is a child protection message to Camp Managers.  During the emergency period, Plan was assigned to be responsible for a certain number of IDPs. One of our focuses was to establish and ensure that the structure in the IDP was functioning to assist the IDP’s and that we established the camp. But we also wanted to make sure that child protection was understood and prioritized in displaced persons camps. This meant that we discussed children and child centered programming with camp managers, and they worked to ensure that there would be no discrimination towards children and their families during the emergency.”

This was difficult for us to introduce in the beginning of the crisis, as people tended to have different thoughts and priorities, and it gave additional works to the IDPs.  In addition to that, some organizations did not have a mandate for “child centeredness.” So we started facilitating child protection focused workshops for camp managers and other NGOs, and getting their commitment to be involved in process.  Aside from that we also guided the camp manager on using the checklists as well as we assigned Plan, government and other NGO staff  (who were also in IDPs) to support throughout the process, and it worked.

One of the problems that we encountered was related to volunteers.  Since we were establishing a new system, we needed people to take responsibility at different levels. Camp managers already had additional child protection tasks for the whole camp, so they were supported by child protection focal points and child protection teams in each block of IDPs.  I wouldn’t say it all worked perfectly.  There were issues among volunteers that were brought to the Child Protection Working Group to discuss. Some NGOs who were also assigned in the IDP camps had a policy of paying camp managers and teams, which created jealously and conflict between them and the volunteers. But in the end, we developed guidelines for volunteers, establishing from the start that we would not give them cash but rather give them recognition and reward such as:

· identification cards recognizing them as volunteers
· training and continuing refresher courses
· certificates for every completed training course
· promotional t-shirts, hats, umbrellas & bags, whenever available
· public acknowledgment
· certificate of community service for every 3 months of services rendered
· access to information about suitable job vacancies in NGOs”

4. Child protection assessment
This section contains tools for use in assessing child protection-related needs.  It draws heavily from the Inter Agency First Phase Child Protection Resource Kit developed by the IASC Child Protection Working Group. The assessment contains generic questions relevant to a range of child protection issues common to emergencies.  They are adapted and modified according to the context of the emergency and the child protection issues that are identified as emerging. Training on ethical considerations and assessment methodologies should be conducted as necessary.

“There are 8 main focus questions in the Questionnaire for Children, for example.  To find out about children’s psycho-social well being, we ask the questions:

· What are the things/activities that you like the most?
· What kind of things makes you happy or comfortable?
· What are the things/activities that you dislike?
· What kind of things makes you angry or sad?
· What kind of activities would you like to have here?
· What are the main problems that you face now?
· What would help you solve these problems?
· What are your biggest concerns or worries about the future? What do you think would help?
· Which people make you happy in the community?  Why?
· Which people make you unhappy in the community?  Why?”

5.      Building a Child Protection System in an Emergency
The section looks first at developing child protection systems in the context of displacement.  It then looks at supporting district, sub-district and village child protection systems to respond to the needs of displaced people living in host communities and other disaster-affected communities.   It goes on to look at the implementation of the Child Protection Policy and ensuring the effective management of individual child protection cases.  This sub-section contains guidelines on monitoring and reporting grave violations of children’s rights.

6. Key issues for children in emergency
This section looks at some of the issues that children commonly face in emergencies and appropriate child protection responses in line with international standards and according to Plan’s mandate and experience.  The three key issues covered in detail are: Family Separation, Sexual Violence against Children, Psychosocial Support for Children. Each of these three issues has a sub-section containing a summary of standards and guidelines, process for prevention and response, necessary tools, and a training module for staff.

7. Monitoring and Evaluation
This section contains the tools used to monitor and evaluate child protection in emergencies interventions.   These are based on tools already used by the Plan Timor-Leste Office.  They are adjusted according to the needs of an emergency context and are supplemented with additional tools in line with good practice.

“In Haiti, I would say that children separated from their parents will need to be especially considered, while people will also need to be alert for the effects that the crisis may have, for example, increased violence.  This will be a special concern if there were any political issues before the crisis. Psychosocial activities are very, very important too, the other key areas are likely to be water and sanitation, heath problems and education.  Coordination mechanisms between aid organizations must be considered, as each organization will have their own approach but in this situation each organization needs to think about the wellbeing of children and the community.”

More resources:
The Child Protection Working Group in Haiti has created the following Guiding Principles for Unaccompanied and Separated Children Following the Haiti Earthquake, 2010.

These principles represent the views of the following agencies: the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Save the Children, Terre des Hommes (TdH), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Vision International (WVI), Plan International, War Child UK.  Organizations wishing to work on behalf of separated children are strongly encouraged to endorse these principles.


Plan International: Children and the Tsunami


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Related posts on Wait… What?:

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Mid week the first week of the community youth training, the youth chose what they wanted to do: arts or video/photos, and they split into groups for more focused training. The media group further split into 6 small groups of 4-5 people (one for each set of equipment) to then develop their interviews and ideas for their short films, based on the list of topics that had been created earlier by the youth and community members. The arts group chose topics from the list also to develop out. Photo: Some of the arts group.

The first Saturday (after 4 days of theory and practice) we did a community field visit to get a better sense of what to film and to make appointments with resource people for interviews. The arts groups did rough sketches of the things they wanted to draw. On Sunday the groups started filming and working more closely on their chosen drawings. We filmed for about 3 days in small groups, and by the 2nd day had some groups stay back to learn editing, then switching and going to film in the afternoons while another group stayed back to edit. The arts group worked in watercolor and gauche to finalize their works. By the end of the week we had 15 films and about 12 really nice drawings! Photo: Filming on Birth Registration

The films that we finished included:

· Meeting Places/Community Resources

· Alcohol Abuse

· A quick trip around the rural areas

· Forest resources

· Universal Birth Registration (and issue of not declaring births)

· History of Mva’a

· Installation of the church in Mva’a

· Water

· How mud houses are constructed

· The market

· Raising pigs

· The long walk to school

· Relationships between parents and children

· Agriculture

The drawings were really powerful, touching on themes that went deeper than the films, due to the nature of the two media. Drawing topics included Alcohol Abuse, A family losing their home to high winds/storms, Church, Long walk to school, Education, Hunting, Distance to health centers, People working on Sundays instead of attending church, Water, People not using latrines, Dangers of transport means, Recreation, Well/water sources, and Child abuse/Child labor

We closed out with a community film showing where the Mayor and community members and parents were invited to see the work of the youth. The youth, teachers and community members worked on an action plan to determine how they will follow up via concrete activities in the coming 6 months. Plan Cameroon is hoping to expand the program to additional communities, so it was important that the Mayor’s office attended as maybe they would have funds to support project expansion….

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