Empowering refugee and migrant children to claim their right to health: Improving health literacy
“I have always had to behave ‘like a girl’ and I am not used to being asked for my opinion, but you ask me to say what I think during these workshops.” A 13-year-old girl from Syria describes the impact of empowerment workshops in Serbia Boy is drawing a picture. UNICEF-supported activities for children on the island of Lesvos, Greece The ‘RM Child-Health’ initiative has supported work across five European countries to improve health literacy among refugee and migrant children over the past year. As a result, they and their families have learned about key health issues, about the health services available to them, and how to demand health services as their right. Through its support for health literacy – the ability to find, understand and use information to take care of your own health – the initiative has helped to dismantle some key barriers to health services for refugee and migrant children and their families in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Serbia. This 27-month, €4.3 million co-funded initiative, which was launched in January 2020 by the European Union Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, works alongside young refugees and migrants to ensure that they have accurate health information in their own languages – information that reaches them via the channels they use and the people they trust. Importantly, the initiative makes them more aware of their right to health care in these European countries – welcome news for those who have fled from countries where good quality health care is either unaffordable or unavailable. With support from the initiative, UNICEF and its partners first worked with young refugees and migrants to identify gaps in the information available to them and in their own knowledge. This informed the health literacy packages that have been rolled out in all five countries over the past year, spanning a wide range of topics from immunization and nutrition to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and gender-based violence (GBV). The packages themselves have been backed by detailed plans to ensure that their messages reach their audiences and gain real traction. Great care has been taken to ensure that information materials are culturally appropriate, gender sensitive and child-friendly, and that they are suitable for the ages and backgrounds of their audiences. Cultural mediators and interpreters have helped to overcome language and cultural barriers, while materials have been made available in, for example, Arabic, Farsi and Pashto. Activities have often been led by trusted professionals, such as nurses, physicians and psychologists who are already familiar with the needs of refugee and migrant children and their families. Materials have been shared through channels and locations that are well-used by refugees and migrants, including asylum offices, temporary reception centres, health centres, Mother and Baby Corners (MBCs), workshops and discussion sessions, during outreach activities and via social media. As a result, health literacy is now embedded into existing activities with refugee and migrant children and parents across all five countries, and is based firmly on their views and needs.
Tackling sexual exploitation and abuse of children: Actions and commitments
– “Sexual exploitation and abuse of children under any circumstances is reprehensible. No organization is immune from this scourge and we are continuously working to better address it. When it comes to the protection of children, we are determined to act. There is no room for complacency. “As UNICEF’s Executive Director, I have put this issue at the top of our agenda and we are committed to strong action and transparency within UNICEF. “To make sure we are doing everything possible, we are commissioning an independent review of our procedures and I will make its recommendations public. “My team is also exploring ways to use technology to quickly assess the risks of sexual exploitation of abuse, and facilitate safe and confidential reporting by the victims. “Starting in locations where the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse is higher, we are implementing more stringent vetting of all personnel and improving safety and protection around children in our operations. “These new measures add to the strong and determined actions we have taken over the years to prevent the abuse of children and respond to the needs of those affected, building on the lessons we have learned and a regular assessment of our approaches: We have made the reporting of sexual exploitation and abuse mandatory, through a notification alert that reports information to me within 24 hours. We have scaled up our assistance to victims and are providing them with safe and confidential support; We are rolling-out community-based complaint mechanisms; We have strengthened our investigations unit; and We have made training on the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse mandatory. “We have zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse, and we remain committed to continually learning and improving. We want justice for the child victims and are determined to work with all partners to achieve it.” Statement by UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore.
Safeguarding the health of refugee and migrant children during COVID-19
, the initiative has supported UNICEF’s efforts to improve the immunization process for refugee children and migrants by strengthening the assessment and monitoring process. As a result of such efforts, refugees and migrants have been included in the national COVID-19 Immunization Plan.