Protecting children in distress
By Alex Gregorio
ILIGAN CITY, Philippines, 20 December 2011–Janella Delfino, aged 9, quietly sat on the front steps of the San Lorenzo Ruiz Parish Church in Barangay Hinaplanon this sunny afternoon.
On a clear day such as this, they might appear from a distance as a mother and child, waiting on the front steps of a church for mass to start.
But today is like no other. Arlene has lost both her children, aged 1 and 7 years old, to the murky floodwaters that raged through Iligan and nearby Cagayan de Oro cities on the night of December 16.
Women and children in anguish
“She cries every morning when she wakes up,” Arlene said, herself in tears. “Each day since we got here, she wakes up crying. She still looks for her mother each morning; even though she knows the truth.”
Janella survived the terrible tragedy because of the foresight of her grandfather. Correctly guessing that the coming storm would bring floods, the man took Janella to a house on higher ground before the storm arrived.
Child protection during disasters
When children are displaced because of natural disasters, they are also cut off from social support, family and schooling.
Providing a sense of normalcy through play and family involvement, even amidst all uncertainties, must be promoted in affected communities, such as those in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, to protect the psychosocial wellbeing of children.
UNICEF is mobilizing teams of child protection volunteers to work with children who have been affected by this disaster, particularly those exhibiting signs of profound stress. UNICEF has also dispatched tents and recreation kits to facilitate the creation of child-safe spaces in the evacuation centres, where children can meet, play and begin to get a sense of normality back in their lives.
Sexual and gender-based violence, moreover, can be a disturbingly common feature of emergencies. In times of extreme weather disasters, girls and women may be the target of sexual violence. UNICEF works to protect children and women from such acts, focusing its efforts in three areas: prevention; protection; and recovery and reintegration.
UN joint appeal
To help, go to http://donate.unicef.ph