There’s nothing more important to us at Luminos than safely shepherding our children towards their full potential. Making that a reality, especially in the difficult environments in which we work, takes real commitment.
Earlier this year, Luminos embarked on a six-month process of exploration and program development to identify proactive yet practical ways to improve the safety of the children we serve. I am writing this blog now to share news of our new practices, and to invite the global community to be a part of our collective, continuous improvement on the journey to ensure the safety of every child.
Luminos has had a child protection policy in place since inception. All staff who work on our programs are required to sign it. Every teacher in our program attends a specific training on putting the policy into action in their classrooms. As a fairly new organization, we’ve not yet had a reported case of abuse within our programs.
Nonetheless, for any program working with children, anywhere in the world, the risk of abuse is always present. As an organization that works with some of the world’s most vulnerable children, that risk is especially pronounced for us. In Liberia, 20% of students of both genders have reported being sexually abused by teachers or school staff (UNESCO, 2015). In Ethiopia, where corporal punishment is prohibited by law, about 75% of students report witnessing a teacher administer corporal punishment in the classroom in the last week (UNICEF, 2015). In Lebanon, Syrian refugees are at risk for trafficking and exploitation, with Lebanese NGO’s reporting the increasing prevalence of child marriages and forced child labor (US State Department, 2017).
Many of the easy ways to help keep children safe are simply not available in contexts without phone service, with weak legal systems, and with traditions of child rearing that can sometimes put the needs of adults ahead of children.
So, we’re up against a hard reality. But the challenges of the context cannot allow us as the global aid community to be complacent. On the contrary, the difficult environments we operate in need to drive us to think with new levels of creativity around how to truly protect the children we serve.
Luminos worked with a child safeguarding and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) specialist to review our child protection policy and practices. For this academic year, we have added some important new elements to our program in Liberia that seek to empower both children and their parents to know their rights and create avenues for confidential reporting of any incidents of abuse.
Children receive direct instruction on their rights to a safe classroom and are taught how to report abuse from an independent specialist in child protection. Child protection practices at classroom level are also reviewed by field supervisors.
Parents receive training from program staff on children’s rights and the importance of reporting abuse.
A local phone number for reporting abuse, which connects to our trained specialist, is posted in every classroom.
As the CEO of Luminos, I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken this year to strengthen our child protection practices. The shift we’ve made from a reactive to a proactive stance on child protection is vitally important. We know however, that there’s still more work to be done. We are eager to engage with the global aid community in pushing all of us to be better, and we invite all suggestions and ideas on how we might further strengthen our systems.
The crises in Bangladesh and Biafra in the seventies drove the creation of the modern humanitarian sector, with the realization of how much good could be done when millions are made vulnerable by conflict. The crisis in Goma twenty years later drove a revolution in the humanitarian community’s understanding of the potential to do real harm, as well as good, when stepping into complex emergencies. The crises of Oxfam and other organizations must serve as a wake-up call for all of us on the urgency of upping our game in keeping children safe. Let this be the challenge that spurs us to true breakthroughs in child protection across the humanitarian system.