'There is a girl who sleeps in the street and there were a group of people in the streets who decided to make money off of her. They took her to a man who works for an NGO. The man took her and raped her. In the morning the little girl could not walk.' (Young boy, Haiti)
No child should ever have to face the horrors of war but an estimated one billion children live in countries or territories affected by armed conflict and wake up to fear and uncertainty every day.
Millions of children are killed or disabled as a consequence of war and many more are likely to be in situations of extreme physical and emotional risk.
Fifty-million children have been forced to flee their homes by humanitarian disaster and conflict, and experience horrifying levels of trafficking, exploitation and abuse.
These children are in already desperate and terrifying situations, but tragically, they are also at risk of being abused by staff in the organisations sent to protect them.
In conflicts and crises across the world, humanitarian staff and peacekeeping personal have subjected children to rape, trafficking, violence and abuse, demanding sex for the basics of survival - food, shelter, education and medicine.
Too often, children have no way of reporting the abuse, no medical or psychosocial care and no access to justice. The organisations that fail to protect children continue putting them at risk and the abusers go unpunished.
'People don’t report it because they are worried that the agency will stop working here and we need them.' (Teenage boy, Southern Sudan)
Holding organisations to account
The vast majority of peacekeeping personnel and staff in humanitarian organisations perform their jobs with courage, dedication and professionalism. Yet those who abuse children bring shame on the entire humanitarian system and betray the trust of those that they have been sent to protect.
All organisations have the responsibility to protect children, but the extreme imbalance of power between humanitarian aid workers and peacekeeping personnel, on the one hand and the children whom they have been sent to protect on the other, makes it essential that robust systems are in place.
Thousands of organisations all around the world are doing all they can to protect children in line with International Child Safeguarding Standards, but many more are putting children at risk and there is no single, international, legal framework or justice system in which they may be held accountable.
A key problem in conflicts and crisis is that laws and practices operate across different scales, from international to local. For example, definitions of ‘child’ and ‘child abuse’ may differ according to national and cultural understandings. This is particularly difficult when those organisations must deploy quickly into an emergency setting or when the rule of law has broken down within a society. In those most fragile contexts, the opportunity for an abuser to commit crimes with impunity is significantly higher.
'The challenge of impoverished children being exploited and people going to conflict zones to identify and exploit vulnerability needs a global effort to tackle it. People will identify vulnerability in a conflict zone, or an area hit by natural disaster. It’s a trait of their character that they will almost sniff that vulnerability out and then prey on it.' (Robert Jones, National Crime Agency UK)
Keeping Children Safe is calling for:
- All organisations to safeguard children in line with international standards
- Donors to insist that the organisations and initiatives they fund implement robust child safeguarding measures
- World leaders to champion the safety of children at the highest levels by tabling a UN Resolution on child safeguarding.
This would recognise that a child is a child with the same rights to protection, regardless of where they live, and that it is the duty of every organisation to uphold those rights, regardless of where it operates.
How you can help
Keeping Children Safe works to influence organisations serving children in conflict and crisis situations throughout the world. This includes NGOs, donors, governments, private sector and research institutions as well as organisations involved in peacekeeping: UN entities, Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs), Peacekeeping Training Centres (PTCs) and implementing partners. But we need your support to continue to hold them to account. You can help by:
- Staying in touch to receive updates on the campaign
- Downloading our tools and resources to make sure your organisation is doing all it can to keep children safe
- Advocating for children in conflict and crisis situations. Share our social media posts and campaign graphics with your followers to spread the word far and wide. If you are active in your local community, become an ambassador for our campaign. You could distribute our materials, leaflets and posters, or spread the word by giving a talk to local schools or groups and associations
- Making a donation to KCS online
- Fundraising for KCS. Whether you are fundraising as a group, or at work or school, or you are going it alone, we can offer lots of support to make your fundraising a success. We can send you our fundraising guide which is packed with lots of inspirational ideas and useful fundraising guidance.
Keeping Children Safe has developed the Safeguarding Children in Peacekeeping Project in partnership with the University of Reading to design and implement evidence-based interventions to safeguard children from exploitation and abuse in the context of peacekeeping missions. Read our special report on safeguarding children in the context of UN peacekeeping operations.
The project team has conducted field research and training in Argentina, Brazil, Ghana, Haiti, Liberia and Uruguay:
In March 2018, the project team held a child safeguarding workshop in Buenos Aires with the central aim of exploring TCCs best practices and ways for them to further improve safeguarding children from sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping operations. The TCC perspective is crucial for understanding how to implement child safeguarding on the ground in peacekeeping operations. Argentina is one of more than 120 countries working with the United Nations to help keep the peace around the globe. It is a major TCC that is widely lauded for the professionalism of its soldiers, the role it plays in the protection of civilians, and its levels of deployment to some of the worst conflicts in the world.
In December 2016, a child safeguarding workshop was held in Brasilia with the central aim of exploring TCCs’ best practices and ways for them further to improve safeguarding children from sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping operations. Bringing together government and military actors from Brazil and the UK, together with UN staff, enabled early exploration of good practice and gaps to be addressed. Download the Seminar report here.
In May 2017, the project team ran a workshop in Accra at the Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Centre. The central aim was to explore PTCs’ best practices and ways for them further to improve safeguarding children from sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping operations. The workshop enabled early exploration of good practice and identified gaps to be addressed.
The UN presence in Haiti recently changed from a stabilisation mission to one focused on human rights and rule of law. Our research took place at the end of MINUSTAH’s lifespan in 2017 and at the beginning of MINUJUSTH’s development in 2018. The field research included interviews with a broad range of actors, including UN entities, troop and police contributing countries, implementing partners, government actors and local civil society. During the second mission, the team presented the child safeguarding toolkit to a broad range of actors and entities, including conducting a basic assessment of current child safeguarding and explaining how the toolkit can strengthen existing practices, remedy weaknesses and provide a mechanism to fill gaps in child safeguarding.
In 2001 and 2002, responding to allegations of widespread sexual exploitation and abuse of children by peacekeepers in West Africa, the UN conducted an investigation into those allegations in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Secretary-General’s 2002 report, based on those investigations, prompted UN action to address the causes and consequences of sexual exploitation and abuse. In particular, the definitions of sexual exploitation and abuse provided the basis for the UN’s zero-tolerance policy contained in the Secretary General’s 2003 Bulletin. Key recommendations included identifying areas where policies, procedures and practices should be put in place to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse. Our field research in Liberia, in September 2017, focused on the UN peacekeeping operation in Liberia – UNMIL – and followed up on the 2002 reports of widespread sexual exploitation and abuse of children within that peacekeeping operation. Using desk and field research, we analysed the changes that have been made to policies and practices within the peacekeeping operation and UN country team over the past fifteen years since those initial reports. A report of the research was launched at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office in November 2017. Download the research report here.
In March 2018, the project team held a child-safeguarding workshop in Montevideo with the central aim of exploring TCCs’ best practices and ways for them to further improve safeguarding children from sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping operations. Uruguay is one of more than 120 countries working with the United Nations to help keep peace around the globe. It is a major troop-contributing country that is widely lauded for the professionalism of its soldiers, the role it plays in the protection of civilians and its levels of deployment to some of the worst conflicts in the world. The safeguarding toolkit is now being implemented in Uruguay’s armed services. The decision to work with Uruguay to trial, test and implement the safeguarding toolkit stems from the fact that Uruguay is a high-calibre TCC that provides leadership within UN peacekeeping operations and a global champion on human rights. The report from that workshop can be found here.