Protection of children from violence, abuse and exploitation

Child Protection


UNICEF in action

What do we do to protect children?

Protecting children from violence, exploitation and abuse is an integral component of protecting their rights to survival, growth and development. UNICEF’s Child Protection actions are centered around:

  • Strengthening national child protection systems, including the set of laws, policies, regulations and services needed across all social sectors — especially social welfare, education, health, security and justice — to support prevention and response to protection related risks; 
  • Supporting social change;
  • Strengthening child protection in armed conflict and natural disasters;
  • Building evidence, managing knowledge and convening and catalyzing agents of change as priority cross-cutting areas.

Strengthening national child protection systems: UNICEF is working in the region to build or strengthen national child protection systems to better support the prevention of and response to protection risks and violations, including violence, abuse, exploitation and separation of children from their family. In Bhutan, for instance, following the 2011 Child Care and Protection Act, the government supported by UNICEF, has mapped and assessed the child protection system which will support operationalization of the Act. Pakistan has also embarked on a national child protection system mapping and assessment exercise and in Bangladesh, a draft of the outcome of the same exercise was finalized in 2011. India is rolling-out the Integrated Child Protection Scheme in almost all its states.

UNICEF is strongly engaged in efforts to enhance coordination and strengthen linkages between the national child protection systems and community-based child protection mechanisms. In many countries, Ministries, such as in India, and high-level governmental mechanisms, such as in Sri Lanka, have been mandated to coordinate activities on children and promote synergies across sectors, strengthen data systems on children and advocate for higher visibility for marginalized children. In India, UNICEF led the formation of the child protection coalition which brings together 20 national and international NGOs and contributed to a number of significant forums and discussions, including on policy (Child Protection in the 12th Five Year Plan), legislation (Juvenile Justice, Child Labour) and programme intervention guidelines (review of adoption guidelines). In Afghanistan UNICEF supported the set-up of the Child Protection Action Network (CPAN), a coalition of government, NGOs, communities and religious leaders working to provide access to services for children in need of protection. In India, Nepal and Pakistan close working relationships have been established between government and community child protection mechanisms and groups, to better prevent and respond to violence against children.

With regard to the strengthening of the set of laws and regulations needed to support child protection, all eight countries in the region have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), its Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Seven countries have also ratified the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. UNICEF efforts are on-going to support harmonizing national legislation and policies on child protection with these international legal instruments: in Afghanistan, for example, UNICEF is supporting the Human Rights Support Unit of the Ministry of Justice develop a rationale for a comprehensive Child Act, in Bhutan the parliament approved the Child Care and Protection Act in 2011, while in Sri Lanka, in the same year, the Ministry of Justice amended several provisions of ‘The Children and Young Persons Ordinance’, in line with international standards. In Bangladesh, a National Policy on Children was approved by the Council of Ministers.

Initiatives are also on-going to develop capacities of the social welfare and justice sectors in South Asia. UNICEF is engaged in building a cadre of professionally skilled social workers, in improving justice for child victims, offenders or witnesses of violence and crimes and in lowering the risk of separation, violence and exploitation.

In Karnataka, India, a Gender Sensitive Police Training Programme has showed particular success and is emerging as a model for other states in the country.

In Nepal with UNICEF’s support the capacities of Village-level Paralegal Committees, women’s federations and child clubs are being developed, in order to raise awareness of early intervention, reconciliation and mediation, and advocate against violence, exploitation and abuse in collaboration with young people and the media.

In Bangladesh, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Social Welfare, for a 18-month long cash transfer support programme to 2,058 Orphans and Vulnerable children: its assessment showed that 48% of households moved out of extreme poverty. Building on this success, a Social Protection Initiative for Vulnerable Children in Urban Areas was designed to target working children, using cash transfers as a mechanism to improve socioeconomic resilience, reduce vulnerabilities and empower families, lowering the risk of child exploitation, violence and abuse.

Finally, UNICEF works to support birth registration in the region: in some countries such as in Bangladesh and India results have been achieved by strategically collaborating with the health and IT sectors. In Bangladesh collaboration at the field level has allowed children to be immunized, registered and issued birth certificates at the same time. An Online Birth Registration Information System (BRIS) was also rolled out in 29 districts and the birth data of millions of children have been digitized in the countries: the Birth and Death Registration Project reported that 73 per cent of people of all ages had received a birth certificate as of June 2011.
In Delhi, India, birth registration and immunization were integrated and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi Health Department has computerized birth and death registrations since 2003.

Supporting social change: Better child protection needs social consensus. The UN Study on Violence against Children noted that violence against children is significant in its scale, scope and underreporting, all of which are exacerbated by societal acceptance. Some forms of violence are rooted in discriminatory and unequal societal gender dynamics, and harmful practices can be deeply anchored within societies. The involvement of all stakeholders in society is crucial to bringing about change. Efforts are on-going in South Asian countries, to support social change for child protection. UNICEF is engaged in increasing knowledge to better support social change. In India for instance a formative research was conducted in 2011 to design interventions for changing social norms, together with the International Center for Research on Women.

Efforts are being made to strengthen the protective role of families and communities and promote meaningful child participation. Girls and boys, youths, women, parents, local leaders, frontline workers and other community members are being mobilized with UNICEF support.

In India at the district and village levels some interventions, led by NGOs and community based organizations, are facilitating a delay in marriage for girls (UNICEF, EU, ICRW, Delaying marriage for girls in India). A change in behaviours towards child marriage is taking place in some states in the country: “in the early 90s, nine of the 18 States for which data were available in National Family Health Survey-1 had a 50 per cent or higher prevalence of child marriage; five States had a prevalence over 60 per cent. By 2005-2006, only six of the now 21 States had levels of child marriage over 50 per cent; only Bihar and Jharkhand had a prevalence higher than 60 per cent. In particular, some of the high and moderate prevalence States experienced significant declines. Madhya Pradesh (20.3 per cent), Haryana (17.5 per cent) and Maharashtra (15.1 per cent) made particularly large advances in delaying age at marriage, experiencing high declines of more than 15 per cent. Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh all showed declines of 10 percent or more over the period.” (ICRW, Knot Ready, Lessons from India on Delaying Marriage for Girls, p. 5). Positive developments have been taking place although gradually also in Bangladesh and Nepal, where the median age at first marriage is rising, however remaining below 18.

Child protection in armed conflict and natural disasters: Conflicts and natural disasters affecting countries in South Asia create new protection risks for children and worsen existing ones. UNICEF strategic actions are grounded in international humanitarian and human rights law as well as UNICEF emergency experience. UNICEF is working to adapt the systems approach to child protection to emergency and transition contexts, to strengthen coherence and synergies between emergency and non-emergency child protection programming. The emphasis is more and more placed on preventing and responding to violence, exploitation and abuse rather than on particular categories of children.

In Afghanistan, UNICEF is the co-chair of the UN-led Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism Task Force that monitors and reports on and provides responses to six conflict-related grave violations of children’s rights: recruitment and use of under-18s, killing and maiming, sexual violence, attacks against schools and hospitals, abduction and denial of humanitarian access. In 2010, the Afghan National Security Forces were listed by the Security Council for the recruitment of under-age children. UNICEF has played a key role in engaging the government and the subsequent development of a formal action plan to end recruitment and use of children.

In Sri Lanka, where the emergency response was a priority during the conflict, the end of the conflict provided an opportunity for engaging in a more holistic child protection programme in the conflict-affected areas. Vocational training, apprenticeships and start-up support programmes are being supported for children formerly associated with armed groups, and other vulnerable young people. UNICEF also supports Mine Risk Education (MRE) and awareness at the community level and through the school system in areas that remain heavily mined and contaminated from explosive remnants of war (ERW). In Nepal, Mine Action interventions have been transferred to the Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation (MoPR), which continues to receive support from UNICEF. Moreover, UNICEF provided reintegration support to children affected by the conflict as well as children formerly associated with armed groups through support for school enrolment, vocational training and/or income generation support and psychosocial counseling.

Since July 2008, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Pakistan,have experienced significant population displacement as a result of insecurity. With UNICEF support Protective Learning and Community Emergency Services (PLaCES) have been set up and are operational in camps and host communities. These have allowed reaching children and women with protective services, including psychosocial and recreational ones. Child protection committees were also established to identify vulnerable children, refer them to services, and ensure active community support for child protection activities in host communities and camps. Finally, UNICEF has played a crucial role in supporting and protecting people affected by the 2010 and 2011 floods, especially children and women, during both the humanitarian response and recovery phases.

Evidence-based child protection and systematic data collection on violence: UNICEF works in South Asia to strengthen analytical capacities, improve monitoring of child protection issues, strengthen research and diagnosis of child protection challenges.

Many studies are produced every year with UNICEF support in South Asian countries, to strengthen knowledge and base programmes and policies on evidence. A regional study on equity and data gaps in child protection is being finalized by the UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia, to strengthen evidence-based child protection and support equitable child protection work in the region. Work is also on-going in the Maldives on a national Child Protection Database with the purpose of incorporating different agencies' work on child protection issues including areas of child abuse, justice and gender-based violence.
Efforts in monitoring and evaluation are also being strengthened: recent evaluations and assessments highlighted several good practices for child protection strengthening in the region, as the ones from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan mentioned above.

Partnerships and South-South Cooperation
Child protection results can be accelerated and maximized by leveraging the full potential of partnerships with United Nations agencies, International Financial Institutions, Governments, civil society including children and youth organisations, the private sector and faith-based communities. UNICEF acts as an advocate, convener and partner. It also has a useful catalytic function in brokering the potential assistance and engagement of partners, in both advocacy and support and action on the ground.

Partnerships have been developed and strengthened in the last years in the region.
Efforts towards the strengthening of South-South cooperation have also been made both through the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and other initiatives. 

One of the biggest achievements with regard to partnership and regional cooperation on child protection in South Asia was the establishment of the South Asia Forum for Ending Violence against Children (SAF), as a result of the 2005 Regional Consultation on Violence against Children in South Asia, Islamabad. In parallel to this, a regional South Asia Coordinating Group set up by United Nations agencies and International Non-governmental Organizations in 2004 against Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Children and Women in South Asia was renamed as “South Asia Coordinating Group on Action against Violence against Women and Children (SACG)” to respond to a broadened scope of issues.

Following an endorsement of the SAF Ministerial meeting in 2010, SAF changed to ‘South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children’ (SAIEVAC). SAIEVAC is composed of representatives from the governments of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, representatives of children, CSOs and the SACG Chair. It is coordinated by a Permanent Regional Secretariat set up in Kathmandu and has adopted a 5 year regional strategic workplan to end violence against children in the region (2010-2015). The Workplan is a common regional strategic framework to coordinate and monitor progress. With the continued support of the SACG, chaired by UNICEF ROSA and co-chaired by Plan International in 2011-2012, SAIEVAC has created an important forum for dialogue, collaboration and information exchange on child protection between governments, children, civil society, UN agencies and international NGOs. The initiative has also gained the support of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC): at the 17th SAARC Summit in November 2011, SAIEVAC was awarded Apex Body status within SAARC. SAIEVAC’s proposal to the SAARC Development Fund was also approved in 2012, leveraging USD 2.6 million for three years, for the strengthening of both regional and country-level activities on child protection from violence in South Asia.

Efforts towards the strengthening of South-South cooperation have also been successfully made: a High-Level Meeting on Cooperation for Child Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region was held in Beijing, on 4-6 November 2010, with UNICEF support. The meeting resulted in a final declaration and a series of recommendations for the strengthening of South-South Cooperation for Child Rights, Child Protection and Child Welfare, Achieving the MDGs with Equity, and the work on Children and Disaster Risk Reduction. The Meeting made the following specific recommendations to improve child protection:
i) Explore the possibility of establishing a regional forum on inter-country exchange on inter-sectoral delivery of child protection services across technical disciplines, such as among social welfare, law enforcement, justice, health and education;
ii) Develop a regional dialogue on approaches to child welfare and child protection services which focuses on prevention and encourage the mobilisation of local resources and cultural assets;
iii) Enhance inter-country exchange and the sharing of good practices in the development of a social work force and their critical role in multi-sectoral approaches to preventing and responding to child protection concerns within a systems-based approach.

Click here to read more on the Beijing Conference. 


Young participants at the 'South Asia Regional Consultation on Violence against Children' held in May 2006 in Pakistan.



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