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Ensuring a right to special protection for vulnerable child refugees in Chad

© UNICEF Chad/2008/Walther
Children attend a workshop on child rights at the Iridimi camp for Sudanese refugees in Iriba, Chad.

In the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – a landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children – UNICEF is featuring a series of stories about progress made and challenges that remain. Here is one of those stories.

IRIBA, Chad, 19 June 2009 – Children protecting the rights of children: That’s the idea behind the workshop being held in Iridimi, one of three camps in northern Chad for refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan.

Topping the agenda today is the establishment of a committee for child rights. Out of the 50 workshop participants ranging from 7 to 12 years of age, 10 boys and 10 girls will be chosen to monitor the situation of children in the camp – and to make sure their rights are respected and involved at all levels of the community.

These junior protection specialists will be the eyes and the voice of children in the camp. Their job is to convince adults and peers alike to act in the best interests of children on a daily basis, enforcing the fundamental right of young people to have a say in decisions that concern them.

‘Child-friendly spaces’
UNICEF funds protection activities like this at 12 refugee camps in Chad, fulfilling child refugees’ right to special protection.

UNICEF also sponsors games, sports, drawing sessions and similar activities in the more than 50 ‘child-friendly spaces’ it has established across eastern Chad. These centres benefit more than 50,000 children affected by displacement, either inside Chad or from Darfur. The objective is to give young children a sense of normalcy and security, and a place where they can simply be children.

In the camps, UNICEF provides psychosocial support for children affected by violence, and for girls and women who have experienced sexual violence.

Lighting the way to protection
Back at the workshop, the children must first learn about child protection. Mamadou, a facilitator with the Catholic Christian Fund (CCF), a UNICEF partner, leads them in a discussion.

“What is protection for you?” he asks.

"Protection means mom, dad and then the neighbours," replies Fatime, 13. After a moment, she also mentions UNICEF, the UN refugee agency, CCF and the Chadian camp police. “They are with us every day."

Mamadou says he is happy with how quickly the children have learned. "Imagine an oil lamp,” he tells them. “Glass, wick, oil – each element is necessary to have a flame and to maintain it alive. It is the same for the players that Fatime has just mentioned. Everyone must fulfil his or her role to protect the child. "

Hazards of child marriage
Displaced and refugee children in Chad need protection from a whole range of threats, including gender-based violence and exploitation. Many girls are forced to marry and bear children when they are as young as 12. Some die in childbirth, and those who survive must dedicate themselves to parenting instead of continuing their schooling – if they were in school to begin with.

© UNICEF Chad/2008/Walther
Children play in a kindergarten managed by UNICEF partner CARE at the Iridimi refugee camp in northern Chad.

Since the launch of a UNICEF-funded project in the three northern camps last year, the number of girls who refuse to marry when they are still children has been growing steadily. And so has the number of women who are willing to talk about domestic violence within their households.

Meanwhile, the number of men who complain about the ‘disobedience’ of their wives is soaring.

Issues of violence addressed
Felicity, head of CCF, says a group of young men in the Touloum camp recently threatened her team members and warned them to stop their activities. She tries to understand their motives.

“The men in the camps have lost all their belongings and their status when they had to leave Darfur,” she notes. “Their relationship with women is one of the only remaining stages to show their power.

"It is a very good sign that the women begin to speak out,” Felicity adds. “Now we, as humanitarian actors, are able to develop activities to confront these issues of violence within the community. An invisible enemy is impossible to catch – but a lion that can be seen can be shot. "



CRC @ 20

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