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Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Experts urge international community to improve the standard of care for vulnerable children

© UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0319/Noorani
Iste Mui holds his five-year-old daughter Sterling and speaks with UNICEF’s Marie de la Soudière. Father and daughter were reunited after more than a month of separation.

NEW YORK, United States, 11 October 2011 – Sterling Vincent was just five years old when she was separated from her family in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. A family found the little girl wandering in the rubble and took her in. When asked, Sterling was unable to provide information about her parents or the location of her home.

As a way of gathering information about her past, UNICEF’s emergency team employed a special technique utilising art therapy. Soon after, the five-year-old was drawing pictures of her house and its surroundings. The exercise eventually helped to bring back memories which enabled UNICEF’s team to find her family.

Filling the gap

“What would have happened to Sterling without the family tracing effort?” asked UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director Officer-in-Charge, Rima Salah, at an event held at United Nations Headquarters, marking the second anniversary of the ‘Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children’ – the first international framework that help governments, civil society and international organizations, prevent separation of children from their parents and develop child protection systems.

© UNICEF/2011/Markisz
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Officer-in-Charge, Rima Salah, speaks at the panel discussion on The Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, at UNHQ.

Concerns over children who are without adequate parental care or at risk of separation due to conflict, natural disasters, disability and poverty, were discussed by a panel of experts convened by the Permanent Mission of Brazil to the United Nations.

“While the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the child’s rights to be cared for in a family setting, and sets out the States Parties’ obligations to provide suitable alternative care, until recently international instruments offered only partial and limited guidance on steps to prevent separation and to ensure adequate care,” said Ambassador Regina Dunlop, Deputy Representative of the Permanent Mission of Brazil. “So the guidelines, I think, are the first of their kind to fill in this gap.”

Alternative care for children

Today, millions of children are in need of out-of-home care due to their parent’s inability to care for them. They live with relatives, in foster care, in residential facilities, or on the streets and are exposed to the risk of violence and abuse. Speakers at the event urged the international community to improve the quality and standard of care for vulnerable children.

© UNICEF/2011/Markisz
UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais, speaks at the panel discussion on The Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, at UNHQ. On her right is UN Deputy Permanent Representative of Brazil, Ambassador Regina Dunlop.

“Providing alternative care for children away from their parents is not a one size fits all process. It should in the first place be necessary,” said Ms. Salah. “And, secondly the care then provided should be a form of care that is the best possible option for the child concerned.”

Ms. Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence Against Children, emphasised the need to raise awareness about the guidelines and promote its implementation. “The value of the guidelines will only be acknowledged when they are effectively mainstreamed at the national level,” she stressed. “So far, only 58 countries around the world have developed care standards in light of the guidelines.”

‘Joining hands’

The resolution, tabled by the Brazilian government along with co-sponsors, was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2009.

“We can’t afford the implementation of the guidelines or the implementation of the convention or the fight against violence without joining hands with young people,” said Ms. Santos Pais. “They know best what can work, what is the planning process required, what are the alternatives and how they seem to fit better, to have the bright future that they dream of.”



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