Strengthening child safeguarding in high-risk countries: What is happening in Eastern and Southern Africa

SOS Children’s Villages operates in more than 130 countries around the world, some of which have a higher safeguarding risk than others.

In some countries, children’s rights, including the right for protection, are not deemed a priority in society due to long standing sociocultural practices. National legislation does not include specific child protection laws and governmental authorities, including law enforcement, are not trained nor equipped to deal with cases of child abuse.

While SOS Children’s Villages has made a lot of progress overall to develop and improve child safeguarding policies and procedures, the organization faces challenges in these high-risk countries to fully implement our standards and procedures.

Based on our learnings from the past and as part of our response to the Independent Child Safeguarding Review (ICSR), 10 countries with a high child safeguarding risk in Africa and the Middle East have been identified for immediate support through training and capacity building.

Zeru Fantaw, Regional Child Safeguarding Advisor for Eastern and Southern Africa (ESAF) since April 2020, talks about the challenges in this region and what their action plan entails.

What are the reasons why some member associations were challenged to implement safeguarding procedures?

In my opinion, there is a big gap in people’s understanding of what safeguarding means. In certain societies in our region, there is a lack of sensitivity on the protection and safeguarding of children due local cultural norms. Often these are countries with a history of violence and conflict. It may be culturally acceptable to use corporal punishment to discipline children. As a result, this has seeped into our own programmes where we find a gap in an awareness of how essential safeguarding practices are in all of our work for children.

Childcare and safeguarding must go hand in hand, and must be mainstreamed and budgeted for as such as integral part of our work to uphold the best interest of children.

What are the first steps that need to happen in these high-risk countries to address the safeguarding gaps?

We are targeting countries based on their number of reported incidents, their level of child safeguarding staffing and capacity, and the quality of their reporting and responding procedures.

Our first steps are to ensure the implementation of the SOS Child Protection Policy and related child safeguarding procedures. We do this in part by conducting a risk assessment and setting up proper reporting and responding procedures to significantly improve their ability to deal with child safeguarding risks.

Isn’t there a high safeguarding risk in all countries?

Yes, even though they are not labelled as such. We must replicate our strengthening actions in every country.

In ESAF, for example, we will share best practices with the other countries in the region. They are already divided into clusters that hold monthly child safeguarding network meetings.

What are the shortcomings in high-risk countries and what is the action plan to address them?

One of the major challenges is the lack of ongoing education and training on child safeguarding to staff at a national and programme level. There is also a shortage of staff members dedicated to working on prevention, awareness raising and incident management.

To address the challenges, we supported these high-risk countries to do safeguarding risk assessments. Based on these, they held workshops to analyze the outcome. Safeguarding experts from the region reviewed the assessments to help to develop a one-year action plan.

What are the key elements of such an action plan?

Every identified risk or gap needs to be addressed with an action. Of course, in case there is a high number of issues to be addressed, we then need to prioritize.

Typical examples of child safeguarding related actions are: 1) raising awareness through workshops with children and young people, trainings with staff on various safeguarding topics; 2) implementing prevention measures such as conducting background and criminal checks as part of recruitment, and clarifying safeguarding related roles and responsibilities of the different staff members; 3) improving incident management by introducing new reporting channels and improving those that already exist, and conducting trainings on how to deal with reported child safeguarding incidents.

If you can name one crucial step that needs to be implemented today to improve child safeguarding, what would it be?

We need to immediately strengthen child safeguarding by ensuring that every member association has one child safeguarding focal person in place.

More actions to improve child safeguarding in high-risk countries

A total of 25 member associations with a high-risk profile will benefit from an investment in training and capacity building to strengthen child safeguarding over the next four years.

Additional resources are earmarked to improve prevention measures, strengthen incident management, boost mental health support, build resilience, and provide healing support for children and young people who experienced abuse.

Some actions on a national level may include:

  • A training curriculum and online courses on how to implement the child safeguarding approach in high risk envrionments. child safeguarding risk assessments.
  • Annual training of a global pool of certified child safeguarding investigators.
  • Individualized training for senior staff and Child and Youth Practitioners on SOS Children’s Villages’ child safeguarding policy.

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