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Out of the shadows towards protection

South Asian countries take steps to end abuse of children in institutions

Kathmandu, 19 October - At a regional conference in Kathmandu to combat violence against children, government representatives from across South Asia pledged to reduce the number of children in institutions such as orphanages by preventing family break-ups and promoting other, alternative forms of care.

The aim of the conference, held at the end of September in Kathmandu, was to bring South Asian countries in line with international guidelines on care and protection of children in institutions.  Government representatives reviewed pilot projects and global best-practice with leaders in the field and drew up recommendations to align policies with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Recommendations included inputs from children themselves on policy, developing comprehensive monitoring systems and child friendly social services to keep vulnerable children out of institutions and either with their families or – if necessary - in good alternative care.

When the South Asia Initiative to End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC) meets again in May 2012 delegates hope to take decisive steps towards formulating national laws and policies under the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, which were endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 2009.

The principal behind the SAIEVAC process is that institutionalization should be a last - and temporary - resort for children whose parents are unable to provide adequate care. Solutions that support a child within the family are generally preferable. Institutional care remains the norm in South Asia, but research shows that children are most vulnerable to violence in such settings and abuse in children’s homes across the region is widely acknowledged.

To protect vulnerable children governments need policies, laws and trained social workers to assess individual children’s cases, support struggling families to keep them together or - if necessary - place children in alternative forms of care, such as with other relatives or foster parents.

Representatives from Bangladesh described how their government’s Department of Social Services, partnered with UNICEF, in an experiment where modest cash payments that helped struggling families keep and care for their children instead of institutionalizing them.

The Nepal delegation presented a pilot project which has supported families in difficult circumstances and also placed scores of children whose own parents could not raise them in kinship or foster care. Authorities are often reluctant to acknowledge difficulties around such sensitive matters but participants tackled the issues head on.

“These forums provide a valuable platform for countries to learn from each other, exchange information and become emboldened to take action,” said Ron Pouwels Child Protection Advisor from UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia. “South Asian countries now need to firm-up child protection legislation to keep pace with the pressing needs of children and develop and implement strong policies. The aim is to take this frank exchange forward and make a real difference for children who are deprived of parental care and often end up in institutions.”

The UN guidelines on alternative care were developed in a process led by Brazil and remain relatively unknown in South Asia. Fifty-eight countries worldwide now have national policies for alternative care in line with international standards, up from 36 just five years ago, but as yet there are none in this region. The Kathmandu Consultation, organized with UNICEF support, was a step forward for introducing the guidelines in South Asia.

Afghanistan and Bangladesh are working on legislation and policy that will form a foundation to protect children in care, and Bhutan is fine-tuning rules and regulations as part of its recently passed Child Care and Protection Act.

The Technical Consultation in Kathmandu produced eleven recommendations to take the process forward. Delegates particularly emphasized the need to “initiate national and regional level human resource development strategies to build and expand capacity for better appreciation and delivery of Care Standards and Child Friendly Services” and “ensure appropriate allocation of resources and their effective utilization for child protection systems”.

SAIEVAC is supported by the SACG (South Asia Coordinating Group on Action against Violence against Women and Children) currently chaired by UNICEF and co-chaired by Plan International and composed of about 15 regional partners such as UNICEF, Save the Children, Plan International, World Vision, Terre des Hommes, Ecpat (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) and several UN agencies including the ILO and UNFPA.

For more information contact:
Jean-Jacques Simon
Regional Chief of Communications for UNICEF South Asia






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