A safe learning environment
Enhancing child protection in schools through psychosocial activities and school child-held desks
Psychosocial support activities and School child-help desk increase the protection of children, school enrollment, and a safe learning environment.
For Mary, a primary student at Don Bosco school in Juba, a newly established child-help desk is creating space for adolescent girls and boys to discuss issues affecting them while in school.
There have been a high number of drop-out of adolescent girls in upper classes due to many challenges like girls having to travel long distances to school, they are vulnerable to attacks and harassment. We have cultures that discourage education for girls, violence, and intimidation in and around the classroom.
Lokori Ben, head teacher at the school said “schools have a role in protecting children who experience abuse, neglect, violence or exploitation at home or in the community. Schools also need to respond when staff becomes aware of child abuse or other acts of violence being perpetrated on the school premises.”
While Teachers and other education personnel have a role in identifying children who may be in need of protection, providing an immediate place of safety and referring cases to child protection and appropriate health or other services.
The establishment of the child-help desk and psychosocial activities in Don Bosco primary school has created the space to ensure girls’ safety at school is improved and increase girls learning outcomes.
The child-help desk has helped provide life-saving information, strengthening children and teachers’ relationships and linking vulnerable children to further child protection services.
“The child-help desk is led by a student representative, a teacher/matron, and supported by staff responsible to provide induction for the children and teachers leading activities of the child-held desk. The school children were oriented when the space was established and children with concerns can seek support through the child-held desk focal points,” he said.
Through the child-help desk, MTT Child Protection staff can inform children about their rights, and how they can report any abuse within the school context. The child-held desk provides provide sessions on child rights, child participation, sessions on abuse, and how to report. Teachers can better understand what constitutes abuse and how to provide or refer a case of abuse happening in the school.
But to better protect children, all education facilities need clear guidance and procedures in place in the event of suspicion of child maltreatment, disclosure of an incident, and/or occurrence of a child protection incident. Step-by-step guidelines and procedures that are in place and developed with UNICEF and the Ministry of General Education and Instruction detail the process for identifying, responding, and referring child protection incidents and concerns, but need to be further implemented in schools.
Recent training of teachers on psychosocial support has a significant impact on teachers’ support and knowledge for addressing cases of abuse against adolescents in school.
The teachers including PTAs who oversee and work in educational settings have a duty to provide environments that support and promote children’s dignity, development, and protection. Teachers and other education staff have an obligation to protect the children they look after.
As children spend a significant amount of their childhood at schools and teachers have a ‘duty of care’ to protect them, schools should be places of safety and provide an environment where teachers and pupils can be sources of support.
Schools can help children to be and feel safer and more secure on their premises, particularly if obvious action is taken against abuse or misconduct by staff, such as the use of corporal punishment, bullying, or the perpetration of sexual abuse.
In addition to addressing these crucial dimensions of children’s rights, investing in protecting children has a direct positive impact on children and the long-term consequences of abuse. With an articulate view on the situation for girls in schools, Mary said:
Orienting education systems to child protection can lead to fundamental changes in the ways that schools function, the way children relate to their schools, their behavior when attending school, and the manner in which teachers relate to children and their families.
Continued specific training for teachers is required so that schools can recognize signs and symptoms of child abuse, neglect, or exploitation and make appropriate reports and referrals in line with procedures established by the child protection policy as guided by the South Sudan Child Act 2008.
In order to encourage school children to raise concerns and ask for assistance when they have experienced something that makes them feel uncomfortable or when they hear or know of a peer in need of support, awareness-raising activities could include the importance of speaking out, what constitutes inappropriate behavior, and how to make a report to a school teacher or other school focal point.
The opening of the Help Desk at Don Bosco is leading the way for further development of child-held desk programmes in approximately 45 schools in several States across the country. It is possible thanks to the generous support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through the German Development Bank (KfW) and the Joint Resilience Programme implemented by UNICEF and World Food Programme (WFP).