Solomon Islands Gives Children’s Welfare Top Priority
SUVA, 15 May 2007 - Children are the Government’s focus for protection efforts in the Solomon Islands after April’s devastating earthquake and tsunami. There is damage to schools, water systems, plantations and playgrounds. Whole communities have uprooted themselves in search of somewhere they feel safe. The top priority for the Solomon Islands Government is to make sure communities can support their children despite the new challenges.
Systems to ensure basic needs are met are currently being implemented throughout the Western Province. The National Disaster Committee are moving from the emergency phase to recovery efforts, paying particular attention to how children are feeling and being supported.
“When a disaster of this magnitude affects a nation, children are the first to feel the fear. In the Solomon Islands we take the care of our children seriously and it is with their best interests in mind that we are proceeding at this stage” said Aaron Olofia, Director of Social Welfare.
The Social Welfare Division is well aware of the importance for children to return to school, become involved in structured activities and instigating safe play, as these are the best ways to help children feel secure, come to terms with the event and aid in a return to normalcy.
A unique Social Welfare Division initiative with assistance from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Vision and Save the Children begun with the aim of creating a network of community welfare volunteers in as many communities as possible.
The Community Welfare Volunteers will assist communities build on existing strengths to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable, in particular children. They have been trained in welfare and child protection which further expands the network of protection and support the Government of Solomon Islands has created for its children.
The Ministry of Education is also working in with this system to help communities commence some form of education and routine to get schools started again as soon as possible.
An additional concern after disasters is the increased risk of sexual exploitation and child sex tourism, but the authorities in the Solomon Islands are sending a clear message that this will not be tolerated here.
Olofia said “local authorities are committed to ensuring our children are protected. The local police, who have been trained on this issue, are aware of the risk to children after events such as this and are fully prepared to act on accusations and follow-up on suspicions.”
The level of co-operation and the quick implementation of protection systems has signalled a deep commitment by authorities in the Solomon Islands to act in children’s best interests.
The systems have been designed to be long-term and sustainable so the work being done at present will keep protecting children well into the future.