In some countries, children’s rights—including the right for protection—are not deemed a priority in society due to long-standing sociocultural practices. When national legislation does not include specific child protection laws, governmental authorities and law enforcement are not trained nor equipped to deal with cases of child abuse.
While SOS Children’s Villages has made a lot of progress in developing and improving child safeguarding policies and procedures, the organization faces challenges in fully implementing standards and procedures in these high-risk countries.
Based on our learnings from the past and as part of our response to the Independent Child Safeguarding Review (ICSR), 10 countries in Africa and the Middle East with a high child safeguarding risk have been identified for immediate support through training and capacity building.
Zeru Fantaw, Regional Child Safeguarding Advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa (ESAF) since April 2020, talks about the challenges in this region and what their action plan entails.
What are the reasons why some Member Associations were challenged to implement safeguarding procedures?
In my opinion, there is a big gap in people’s understanding of what safeguarding means. In certain societies in our region, there is a lack of sensitivity on the protection and safeguarding of children due to local and cultural norms. Often these are countries with a history of violence and conflict. It may be culturally acceptable to use corporal punishment to discipline children. As a result, this has seeped into our own programs where we find a gap in awareness of how essential safeguarding practices are in all of our work with children.
Child care, protection and safeguarding must go hand in hand. They must be mainstreamed and budgeted for as an integral part of our work to uphold the best interest of children.
What are the first steps that need to happen in these high-risk countries to address the safeguarding gaps?
We are targeting countries based on their number of reported incidents, their level of child safeguarding staffing and capacity and the quality of their reporting and responding procedures.
Our first steps is to ensure the implementation of the SOS Child Protection Policy and related child safeguarding procedures. We do this by conducting a risk assessment and setting up proper reporting and responding procedures to significantly improve their ability to deal with child safeguarding risks.
Isn’t there a high safeguarding risk in all countries?
Yes, even though they are not labeled as such. We must replicate our strengthening actions in every country.
In ESAF, for example, we will share best practices with the other countries in the region. They are already divided into clusters that hold monthly child safeguarding network meetings.
What are the shortcomings in high-risk countries and what is the action plan to address them?
One of the major challenges is the lack of ongoing education and training on child safeguarding for staff at a national and program level. There is also a shortage of staff members dedicated to working on prevention, raising awareness and incident management.
To address the challenges, we support these high-risk countries as they complete child safeguarding risk assessments. Based on the results, they hold workshops to analyze the outcome. Safeguarding experts from the region reviewed the assessments to help develop a one-year action plan.
What are the key elements of such an action plan?
Every identified risk or gap needs to be addressed with an action. If there are a high number of issues to be addressed, we then need to prioritize.
Typical examples of child safeguarding related actions are:
- Raising awareness through workshops with children and young people
- Implementing prevention measures, such as conducting background and criminal checks as part of recruitment, and clarifying safeguarding related roles and responsibilities of the different staff members
- Improving incident management by introducing new reporting channels and improving those that already exist
- Conducting trainings on various safeguarding topics and how to deal with reported child safeguarding incidents.
If you can name one crucial step that needs to be implemented today to improve child safeguarding, what would it be?
We need to immediately strengthen child safeguarding by ensuring that every member association has one child safeguarding focal person in place.
More actions to improve child safeguarding in high-risk countries
A total of 25 member associations with a high-risk profile will benefit from an investment in training and capacity building to strengthen child safeguarding over the next four years.
Additional resources are earmarked to improve prevention measures, strengthen incident management, boost mental health support, build resilience, and provide healing support for children and young people who experienced abuse.
Some actions on a national level may include:
- A training curriculum and online courses on how to implement the child safeguarding approach in high risk envrionments. child safeguarding risk assessments.
- Annual training of a global pool of certified child safeguarding investigators.
- Individualized training for senior staff and Child and Youth Practitioners on SOS Children’s Villages’ child safeguarding policy.