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This post is copied from an email that my colleague Kelly Hawrylyshyn sent to me. Kelly works on disaster risk reduction (DRR) with Plan UK. If you work on DRR and gender, go on, get yourself on the map!

Women and girls make a major contribution to disaster risk reduction and yet their role and involvement often go unacknowledged. In recognition of this gap, the Gender & Disaster Network, the Huairou Commission, Oxfam International and Plan International are facilitating the greater visibility of women and girls as part of the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), October 13th, 2012.

Gender inequalities around the world mean that women and girls are most severely affected by disaster. However, they also have significant experience and knowledge to contribute to disaster prevention and to the resilience of communities.

With this in mind, our efforts aim to move beyond portraying women and girls as mere victims of disasters and to provide spaces and opportunities for women and girls to connect and partner freely with local governments and organizations. We aim to showcase how women and girls around the world are carrying out disaster reduction and prevention actions; engaging and leading in climate change awareness activities; taking part in demonstrations and simulations; promoting resilient cities initiatives; and mapping risks.

Using crowdsourcing and crowdmapping tools, we aim to generate greater visibility and recognition of local initiatives by women and girls worldwide for disaster risk reduction.

Visit our map and report your own examples, in advance of the International Day for Disaster Reduction, October 13th, 2012.

We need your help to “put on the map” the numerous research initiatives, media events, publications, training materials, advocacy, workshops, networks/associations, and other activities that are happening and need to be made VISIBLE!

Contributions from both individual women and girls and organizations engaged in DRR are welcomed.

And who knows, you may get to find out about some interesting work taking place in your country, or miles away from you!

Join Us to make visible Women and Girls on the Map!

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The use of social media and new technologies in disaster and crisis situations will likely be framed forevermore as ‘Before Haiti’ (BH) and ‘After Haiti’ (AH). The terrible earthquakes that devastated the country and the resulting flood of humanitarian interventions that followed mark the moment that the world woke up to the role that new technology and new media can and do play in the immediate local response to a crisis as well as the ongoing emergency response once international volunteers and aid organizations arrive to the scene.

Still left in the dark? How people in emergencies use communication to survive — and how humanitarian agencies can help,’ is a new policy briefing by BBC Media Action. It does a fantastic job of highlighting the ways that new media is changing disaster response and the fact that the humanitarian industry is not doing enough to keep pace.

The briefing asks: ‘Are humanitarian agencies prepared to respond to, help and engage with those who are communicating with them and who demand better information?’ As the report shows, the answer is ‘not really’.

Many humanitarian agencies continue to see ‘communication’ as something done to raise money or boost the profile of their own efforts, says the report. Yet the sector increasingly needs a clear, strategic focus that responds to the information and communication needs of disaster-affected populations. ‘While responders tend to see communication as a process either of delivering information (‘messaging’) or extracting it, disaster survivors seem to see the ability to communicate and the process of communication itself as every bit as important as the information delivered.’ Communicating with affected populations can improve programming and response, not to mention, as highlighted in the Listening Project and referred to in the BBC report, ‘Listening is seen as an act of respect.’

The briefing is not one-sided, however, and it does a good job of understanding some of the common perceptions around the use of new technologies. There is ICT and social media hype on the one hand (often the position of international ICT specialists, based on very little hard evidence). And there is strong questioning of the value of these tools at all on the other hand (often the position of aid workers who are turned off by the hype and want to see proven practice if they are to consider investing time and resources in new ICTs). The briefing paper provides examples that may serve to convince those who are still unconvinced or uninterested.

Many of us see the reality that social media tools are still quite out of reach of the poorest members of a community or country. But writing new media and technologies off entirely is ‘too crude an analysis,’ says the briefing paper, ‘and one that is being challenged by data from the field.’ In Thailand, for example, use of social media increased by 20 percent in both metropolitan and rural areas when the 2010 floods began. ‘Communities now expect — and demand — interaction,’ the paper emphasizes.

Throughout the paper there are good examples of ways that in the immediate aftermath of a disaster local individuals and companies are quickly creating and rolling out communication platforms that are more relevant, feasible and sustainable than some of the initiatives that have been led by international agencies.

An important point that the report makes is that the most successful use of new media in disaster response combines multiple communication channels — new and old — allowing information to flow in and out, to and from different populations with different media habits and levels of access. For example, local journalists and radio stations may pull information from Twitter and Facebook and broadcast it via the radio. They may also be broadcasting online, meaning that they not only reach their local population, but they also reach the diaspora community. ‘Good communication work,’ the paper notes, ‘is, by definition, multi-platform. It is about integrating media, non mass media and technology tools in a manner that is rooted firmly in an understanding of how communities approach information issues.’

So ‘while aid agencies hesitate, local communities are using communications technology to reshape the way they prepare for and respond to emergencies.’ This hesitation remains in the face of growing evidence, according to the paper, that agencies who invest in meaningful communication with disaster-affected communities garner a range of benefits. ‘The communication process becomes central to effective relationships, mitigating conflict and identifying and preventing rumours and misunderstandings.’ Doing it right, however requires good program design, which in turn, requires aid agencies to focus time and expertise on improving communications with affected populations, which, of course, requires budget allocated to these kinds of activities.

For those agencies that want to look more closely at integrating some of these tools and approaches, the report gives several great examples. The recommendations section is also very useful.

One of the recommendations I think it is especially good to highlight is ‘analyse the communications landscape’ (see InfoAsAid’s materials). I would, however, have liked to see mention of involving members of local communities in a participatory analysis of that landscape. In addition to the technical analysis, it’s important to know who trusts which information sources, and why. For example, the information sources trusted by men may be different than those that women trust. The same goes for children, youth and adolescents. Access is also a critical issue here, especially in terms of reaching more marginalized groups, as the population affected by a disaster is not homogeneous and there will be hierarchies and nuances that should be considered in order to avoid leaving certain people or groups out. I would have liked more mention of the need to take a specialized approach and make a focused effort regarding communication with children and adolescents, with women, with certain ethnic groups or persons with disability, as they may be left out if care is not taken to include them.

Another recommendation I found very useful was ‘think of the whole population, not just beneficiaries.’ The paper cautions that working only with the population that directly benefits from an individual agencies’ funding is a positive angle for transparency and accountability, but it ‘seems to have a profoundly limiting effect in practice.’ Beneficiaries need information about more than just one aid agency, and those who are not benefiting from a particular agency’s programs also have information needs.

The report mentions that sometimes in the aftermath of a disaster, when people use new media to communicate, confidentiality and privacy risks are not fully considered. I’d like to see this aspect addressed a bit more in the future as there is a lack of documented good practice around privacy and protection. (Note: I’ll be involved in some research on ICTs, migration and child protection over the next year, so watch this space if it’s a topic of interest.) Humanitarian agencies may have strong policies here, but this is an area that others may not consider in their rush to offer support following a disaster.

Overall the report is extremely useful for those considering how to improve two-way (or multi-way) communication in a post-disaster situation and I very much enjoyed reading it as it sparked learning and fresh ideas, and documented some good work being done by local as well as international groups.

I don’t have a lot of pity or patience for aid agencies who are ‘left behind’ because they refuse to move with the changing times or because their approaches are not effective or relevant. There are several forces that are ‘disrupting’ humanitarian work these days, and  the report does a great job of identifying some of them. It also highlights the importance of local actors, local private sector and diaspora communities who have always played an important role in aid and development but have only recently been given more recognition.

International agencies still play a critical role in the humanitarian space, but they need to understand and adapt to the changes happening around them. This report can serve as a discussion piece and offer guidance for those agencies who want to use new media and technology to enable them to do a better job of listening to, working with and being accountable to disaster affected populations.

In summary, highly recommended reading!

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Members of the "Voces" Latin American youth media network.

I’m in Nicaragua this week for a regional meeting of youth leaders from 12 Latin American countries where the organization where I work (Plan) operates.  Well, actually only 11 countries are present, since our 5 person Haitian delegation (2 adults and 3 youth) was deported immediately upon arrival. What I understand is that they were missing a special type of visa permit required by Haitians that the Consulate in the Dominican Republic should have issued and didn’t, and the Haitian youth paid the price by having their hopes dashed.

To me it feels like adding insult to injury, but I guess no one cuts anyone any slack these days.  After 3 days running around, staff at our office in Nicaragua were unable to arrange for the team to enter the country.

I’m really disappointed that the Haitian team is not here this week because it would have meant a chance to hear first hand from the youth and my Haitian colleagues about their experiences over the past few months and to learn about how they have been participating in the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) process in Haiti.  The youth from the Latin American youth media network, “Voces” (“Voices”) here are extremely bummed as well.  One aspect of their strategy for the next few years involves working in solidarity their Haitian peers to ensure that their voices and opinions are heard in the building and negotiating of the PDNA as well as in the post-PDNA process when promises and commitments will be monitored.

Around half of the population in Haiti is under 18, yet young people were not initially given a space to input into the PDNA process, even though it will decide the framework and funding for reconstruction of their country.  In order to bring those voices into the process, Plan worked in partnership with UNICEF to consult with 54 groups of children and youth (around 1000 kids in total) across the country (West, North East, South East, Artibonite, Nippes, South, North West, Grand Anse and Central Plateau) to find out about their current situation and their plans and ideas for the future. Issues of gender, disability, vulnerability, access to services, disaster risk reduction, participation in decision making, and accountability mechanisms for the PDNA were considered in the consultations. Plan has been working in Haiti for several years and has an active local network on the ground. These consultations were a lot of work, but not impossible.  (Read more about the process here.)

But the effort to fully involve children and youth does not stop at the consultation stage.  Plan and UNICEF are currently working to ensure that the input from the children and youth will be incorporated into the upcoming donor conference in New York on March 31, 2010 where representatives from the Haitian government, international organizations and representatives from the World Bank will decide Haiti’s future.  My colleague in the US office is working right now to try to secure visas for 2 youth to attend the March 31 meeting.

Interestingly enough, much of the input from the youth consultations fits right into the categories that will be discussed in these meetings:  education, housing, telecommunications, transport, energy, boosting the effectiveness of government and macro economic recovery.  If you ask me, it would be vital for decision makers to hear it.  The most common point made by children and youth during the consultations was education and getting back to school.

Here in Nicaragua, the 40 or so youth from the “Voces” network who did make it through immigration to participate in our meeting this week have been following the Haiti situation since it began, offering solidarity and support from afar.  The group is composed of young media veterans, all part of youth networks and media groups in their home countries. They have been doing local, national and global level advocacy work for years; some for 10 years, since they were pre-teens.  They write blogs, host television and radio shows, publish newsletters, make videos, produce music, and are generally involved and powerful voices for their generation.

I really like their vision for supporting their Haitian peers’ primary efforts in getting a seat at the table and being heard by decision makers around the PDNA and post-PDNA reconstruction process in Haiti. They are planning to use their contacts in their own governments and ministries and their existing media platforms to bring the opinions and voices of their Haitian peers in “through the back door” so to speak. They want to advocate with their own country governments, youth commissions, Ministries, etc., to influence their positions so that when they interact with the Government of Haiti, they are doing it with opinions and positions of Haitian youth in mind. In this way they want to help the voices of their peers to be heard directly and indirectly on various fronts and from all sides.

On the ground in Haiti, Plan is working to find and revive all the youth media groups that were its active partners before the earthquake.  These groups have been working in their communities and at the national level through various media around themes of importance to youth.  In fact Caroline and Fritz, 2 of the youth that I have met in the past at other youth encounters are at the forefront of the children and youth participation in the PDNA process right now.  These and other groups of  young people can play a vital role in the post-disaster reconstruction process in many ways, including monitoring the gap between commitments made and commitments fulfilled.

The knowledge, motivation and spirit of the youth here at this regional encounter, are a real inspiration. I can only imagine how disappointed their peers are, back in Haiti, after all the preparation that they did to attend this week. But our regional media encounter is of  much less significance than the March 31 meeting.  How will the youth who are planning to attend that meeting feel if they are not allowed in.  Why is their voice less important in that context, less of a priority than other voices?  I’ve been in this world long enough to know the answer to that question, but it will never cease to upset me.

So here’s hoping that the 2 Haitian youth who are slated to participate in the PDNA Meeting in NYC are given a seat at the table and permission to attend the donor meeting and to enter the US.  Here’s hoping that Haitian youth and their voices will not go missing again.

Related Posts on Wait… What?

Children and young people’s vision for a new Haiti

Children in Emergencies:  Applying what we already know to the crisis in Haiti

An example of youth-led community change in Mali

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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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In early 2005, following the Tsunami, I collaborated with a cross-section of people at the organization where I work to put together a summary of lessons learned and some short guidelines for working with children and communities in emergencies.

All of us had been directly responsible for supporting and/or coordinating disaster response with communities, staff, local and national governments, international and national NGOs, children, youth, schools and teachers, or some combination of the above, in the countries where we lived and worked.  We discussed preparedness as well as relief and recovery phases. We talked about how child focused community development organizations, like the one where we worked, should look at children’s survival, development, participation and protection in a disaster situation and we created some internal guidelines.

Some of the most important things that stayed with me from the weeks we spent talking with each other, with peer organizations, and with our colleagues who were dealing with the 2004 Tsunami are related to the importance of child participation and protection during emergencies.  These recommendations can be applied now to the crisis in Haiti.

  • Don’t assume children or their families can’t do anything for themselves. Local coping mechanisms are often overlooked and underestimated by central governments or aid organizations, creating unnecessary dependency.  Participating and taking control of their situation can actually help people return to normal sooner. I clearly remember an example of an IDP camp where all the services (food, water) were at first centrally coordinated by the municipal government.  A manager from our organization was able to convince the government to engage camp ‘residents’ and organize children and youth into smaller groups who handled particular responsibilities. Suddenly the trash in the camp was picked up and time spent in the food line went from 2 hours to 20 minutes, tempers lowered and people relaxed a bit and got on with things.  The Children and Participation: Research, Monitoring and Evaluation with Children and Young People by Save the Children is a general guide that can help staff think through and orient participation of children and young people in emergencies.  Child-Oriented Participatory Risk Assessment and Planning (COPRAP): A Toolkit developed by the Center for Disaster Preparedness (CDP) in the Philippines is another excellent resource. Both were adapted and used by Plan during the conflict in Timor Leste, for example.
  • Child protection is critical during an emergency and after. During a disaster the typical social patterns and groupings that protect children may be challenged or broken. Children can be further harmed, abused and exploited by those who take advantage of the chaos.  Unaccompanied children can be preyed on if mechanisms are not established quickly.  Personal information about children is often shared or published widely in the interest of helping find parents or relatives or find missing persons, yet it can also help unscrupulous people to identify unaccompanied children and prey on them, especially now when published on the internet.  Birth registration and restoration of lost identity and other civil registration documents are critical to halt trafficking, as is close coordination among organizations, governments, communities and local agencies/staff.  Community members and the affected population can play a strong role in protecting their children, as can older children themselves.  The Interagency Guiding Principles on Unaccompanied and Separated Children, put together by the International Committee of the Red Cross, International Rescue Committee, Save the Children UK, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and World Vision, gives an excellent overview of protection.  Further resources are available at Better Care Network’s website which has materials on separated children in emergencies, how to prevent separation through good relief and response efforts, registration, documentation and tracing, emergency care arrangements, verification and family reunification.
  • Unaccompanied children should not be given up for foreign adoption during the emergency phase. Experience in many past emergencies and conflicts has shown that this is just not the way to go.  In the emergency phase there is no way to ascertain which children are orphans with no other family at all, versus children who might be orphaned but have family somewhere who could take them in.  Taking children out of the country to feed them without a long-term, sustainable plan for them can end up being more complex than finding a way to feed and care for them in country.  Supporting removal of children from their own country during a time of upheaval can also engender a negative reaction among the affected population, who may come to see every external face that comes into the community or camp as someone coming to steal their children.  Interim and emergency care should be consistent with the long-term goal of family reunification.  More background on this can be found at the International Foster Care Association’s website.
  • Participation and protection go hand in hand. The greater the amount of knowledge and ownership that children, youth and their families and communities have, the safer they will be and the sooner they will recover. When the affected people have more input in the relief, recovery and reconstruction, efforts are more successful.  This means linking and coordinating with existing community organizations and structures, local government mechanisms, local non-governmental organizations.  Though it may appear that everything is wiped out in a major disaster, leaders will emerge and regroup.  Plan’s publication “After the Cameras have Gone:  Children in Disasters” offers some examples and insights on protection and participation in disaster situations.
  • Report ethically. The media will undoubtedly look for the ‘best’ story in the interest of raising the most funds possible for the emergency.  In media-speak, unfortunately, that often means the hardest hitting story, the most emotional story, and some journalists/media folks will go extremely far to get it.  However, journalists and agencies bringing journalists to affected communities should obviously not further harm children or take advantage of affected persons in their drive to get the best story.  Journalists should not ask children to relive traumatic experiences or to make them tell stories that upset them just to get a shot of a child crying.  The golden rule applies – how would you like it if that were you or your child?  Children or other community members may be too polite or unsure of whether they can say ‘no’ to a journalist, especially if that journalist is foreign or comes with an aid agency or entity that is linked with emergency aid.  Those working regularly with children and their families should ensure them that they can refuse to talk, they can halt an interview, or not have their picture taken. Local staff managing media visits should feel empowered to intervene on behalf of children in these cases. UNICEF’s “Child Rights and the Media” Guidelines for Journalists and Media Professionals, published by the International Federation of Journalists, gives a background and guide for ethical reporting on children in general.  These guidelines include things like striving for sensitivity when reporting on issues involving children and avoiding use of stereotypes and sensational presentation to promote journalistic material involving children, and they should apply in emergency situations as well.

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