Protection of Children from Violence
All children have the right to grow up in a safe environment
All children have the right to protection. They have the right to survive, to be safe, to belong, to be heard, to receive adequate care and to grow up in a protective environment. The family is the first line of safety and security for children. Outside the home, schools and communities are responsible for creating a safe and child-friendly environment.
The legal framework for child protection in Oman is relatively robust. Child Protection Committees (CPCs) exist in all 11 governorates to prevent and address child abuse. The Child Law of 2014 and 2019 executive regulations prohibits violence against children in all settings, including schools. That same law also makes the reporting of all child abuse mandatory and facilitates the removal of children from situations of violence.
Despite the laws and existence of CPCs, a significant proportion of children and young people remain exposed to violence in their schools, communities and families. In 2021, 1,507 cases of child abuse were reported to the CPCs.
Bullying in schools also remains a concern. The most vulnerable are children with disabilities, who are more likely than other children to be victims of physical violence. With children and adolescents spending more time learning and socializing online as a result of COVID-19 social distancing measures, anecdotal evidence suggests an increase in cyberbullying. Similarly, the anxiety, uncertainty and fear caused by the COVID-19 outbreak has taken a toll on people’s mental health.
As in other areas of work, the availability of comprehensive data is necessary to gain a full understanding of the situation. As there are currently gaps within the cross-sectoral data systems, the Government of Oman, with UNICEF support, is committed to capturing detailed data to better respond to and prevent violence against children.
UNICEF is working with the Government to develop the following initiatives.
Cross-Sectoral Case Management System
To strengthen systems and services for vulnerable children, UNICEF is working with the Government of Oman to establish a cross-sectoral case management system (CMS) for well-coordinated care covering integrated early childhood development (IECD), protection and the inclusion of vulnerable children. The initiative was endorsed by the ministries of education, health, and social development, and successfully piloted in two governorates. By enhancing coordination between the respective sectors and existing services, the diverse needs of vulnerable children and their families can be met with more effective and sustained impact. The CMS will ensure children are identified in various settings including schools and healthcare centres.
Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS)
The Government of Oman has added a mental health component to its COVID-19 response and recovery. UNICEF Oman is supporting the Government to improve and expantion access to MHPSS services for children and their parents.
UNICEF first assessed the capacity of social workers from the ministries of education, health and social development as well as school nurses to provide these services. Based on this assessment, UNICEF then supported the development of material tailored to the Omani context and trained 57 staff from these ministries in the basics of mental health and the provision of psychosocial support to children, either online or in-person.
The approach focuses on prevention, early detection, intervention and referral, and seeks to equip MHPSS service providers with the tools they need to help children, young people and their parents to overcome any challenges they may face or experience.
Following this training of trainers, the Government of Oman will roll out the programme across the country, thereby ultimately benefitting all school children. This contributes to a stronger overall care environment, which promotes the inclusion of the most vulnerable children and their families.
Child Friendly Education
UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Education (MoE) in introducing a child friendly education (CFE) approach in schools to further improve educational outcomes. The approach is based on child-centred learning and inclusion of all children. So far, CFE has been introduced in 28 schools in five governorates: five schools in Muscat, 11 schools in Dhofar, six schools in Musandam, three schools in Al Batinah South and three schools in Ad Dakhiliyah.
CFE schools promote a broader concept of quality, addressing the total needs of the child. These include health, nutrition, water and sanitation, safety and security, protection from violence and abuse, social engagement, and working for a better school environment (including facilities, services and supplies) to address these issues.
The CFE approach addresses the use of violence by teachers as a mode of discipline as well as bullying among students to provide safe and equitable learning spaces for all children. Following CFE principles, schools become an integral part of the protective environment.
Social and Behaviour Change Communication (SBCC)
The Government of Oman is committed to ensuring that families know how to give their children – including those with disabilities – the very best start in life and are able to access high-quality services within their communities. The government has developed a national policy and plan to achieve this.
In support of this, UNICEF assisted the government in developing a cross-cutting social behavioural change communication (SBCC) strategy to encourage good practices and uptake of available services; UNICEF is also supporting the implementation of this strategy. The work is guided and coordinated by the inter-ministerial SBCC Task Force which has representatives from the ministries of education, health, social development, the National Centre for Statistics and Information and the Ministry of Information, and is supported by UNICEF.
The SBCC strategy advocates for the enforcement of child laws especially rights in relation to positive discipline and providing a safe environment for children. It aims to ensure that teachers are aware of the dangers of bullying and are aware of the importance of using positive reinforcement when dealing with students in schools. And it encourages parents to discipline their children without physical or verbal punishments, and to monitor their children’s online behaviours. The strategy also focused on helping adolescents understand the dangers of bullying and work with their peers to stop all forms of bullying.