Children at school in Ajari camp, Nigeria. Photo: Samuel Ochai, European Union | Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

How do we build protective environments for the world’s most vulnerable children?

6 December 2018
Author: Stacy Stroud

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child upholds children’s rights to life, survival, development, protection and participation. It is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, but although there is near-universal support in principle for children’s rights, this is not reflected in practice. 

Over a quarter of the world’s children live in countries affected by conflict, natural disasters and epidemics. Children’s rights are violated by violence in homes, schools, institutions and on the streets; by poverty and discrimination; and by migration and displacement. However, child protection programming receives just 2% of global humanitarian funding.

On Universal Children’s Day 2018, the Bond Child Rights Working Group, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Overseas Development Institute’s GAGE Programme brought together professionals from across the humanitarian and development sectors to discuss how to create protective environments for the most vulnerable children. 

The event opened with a speech delivered on behalf of Harriett Baldwin, minister of state for Africa and for international development, outlining DFID’s approach to developing sustainable child protection systems around the world. Practitioners then discussed how marginalised children are often failed by “formal systems” - the police and social welfare authorities, for example - and by “informal systems” such as communities and families.

Delegates also heard directly from those with first-hand experience of growing up in difficult circumstances. Mimi, a War Child youth advocate, shared her experiences in Libya during the reign of Gaddafi and through the Arab Spring. Rukhiya Budden, ambassador for Hope and Homes for Children, spoke powerfully about the neglect and abuse she experienced while growing up in an orphanage in Kenya. Their message was clear: children need care and protection, but they also need to be empowered to stand up for their rights.

How do we as a sector respond?

Three key themes for overcoming these challenges emerged from the event:

  • We must support children to learn about their rights so that they can stand up and advocate for themselves. We must also support children to develop their own protection strategies and actively involve them in child protection initiatives. By doing this, we recognise and reinforce their resilience.
  • It is important to strengthen child protection systems that already exist, rather than seeking to start from scratch. We need to pay attention to both formal and informal systems, including by helping families and communities to meet children’s needs.
  • Civil society cannot do this alone. We need to collaborate with other actors in society: governments, businesses, donors, media and the public. The UK government can lead by example by making child protection systems strengthening a priority across all its departments and by establishing a cross-government child rights strategy. 

To truly leave no one behind, we must work together to ensure protective environments for all children. On behalf of the Bond Child Rights Working Group, I invite you to join us in building a safer world for children.

About the author

Stacy Stroud
Consortium for Street Children

Stacy Stroud is advocacy officer at Consortium for Street Children and steering committee member of the Bond Child Rights Working Group.