Child Protection Committees: Bring Children Back to School in Quake-Affected Communities
By Sandra Bisin
“Parents are willing to send their children to school. We know the importance of education. We want our children to have a proper future. But teachers are not showing up regularly and the government is not paying proper attention. So we decided to recruit a teacher from a nearby village ourselves and to monitor that the teacher comes every day”, says Ikram Ullah
“It was not worth going to school before because our teacher was often absent”, she explains. Khushbakht Bibi lives in the mountainous village of Paimalsharif, a community nestled in the heart of Pakistan’s oldest and largest tribal societies: the Pashtun. Like in many villages in northern Pakistan, the “ghost school” phenomenon is a chronic problem in Paimalsharif.
“Parents are willing to send their children to school. We know the importance of education. We want our children to have a proper future. But teachers are not showing up regularly and the government is not paying proper attention. So we decided to recruit a teacher from a nearby village ourselves and to monitor that the teacher comes every day”, says Ikram Ullah, a member of one of the first Child Protection Committees set up by UNICEF and its partners in the region.
Following the 8 October 2005 earthquake, UNICEF and its partners supported the creation of community-based child protection groups. This initiative has helped to rebuild the protective environment for children and their families gradually returning from the internally displaced people (IDP) camps to their villages.
In the North West Frontier Province, because traditionally women do not interact with men that are not their close relatives, separate male and female child protection committees have been established.
“These committees comprise of teachers, religious and community leaders, health workers, police and parents. Their aim is to identify, provide referral as well as initial support and care to orphans and other vulnerable children and their families in their communities”, says Farman Ali, a UNICEF Child Protection officer.
“The model has been highly successful. In communities where such groups have been established, all school-going children have returned to school and the majority of the children who were out of school before the earthquake have now also been enrolled in school”, adds Farman Ali.
“Today, 115 girls are going to the Government Girls’ Primary School in our community. They were only 36 before the earthquake. This is a great achievement for our committee”, smiles Ikram Ullah.
Child protection committees also contribute to a quality education and to a more child-friendly learning environment necessary for tackling important issues. “Paimalsharif’s child protection committee meets twice a month”, explains Shah Faizal, a Community Mobilisation officer with Save the Children Sweden, UNICEF’s partner in Paimalsharif. “In recent months, the committee identified a number of sensitive issues that needed urgent action such as corporal punishment at school. Teachers are still emotionally stressed from the earthquake and corporal punishment has increased considerably following the disaster.”
“This was happening at the community’s boys’ school. When we found out about this issue, we decided we should talk with the teacher”, recalls Ikram Ullah. “Now he has changed his behaviour and children are no longer reluctant to go to school”.