Disasters impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world every year. Half of those affected are children, who often bear the biggest brunt of humanitarian crises. Nowhere have we seen this more clearly than in the wake of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake. As a result of the disaster, hundreds of thousands of children lost a parent, caregiver or other family members. They lost access to essential services and resources including food, water, shelter, education and health care. Children who were separated from their families– orphaned or disabled– and those living and working as domestic servants were particularly vulnerable. Many more were exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.
This devastating event hammered home the need to provide children with timely and appropriate protection, care, and support when they need it the most. The need for child protection was clear in Haiti, and yet, despite the best of intentions and a wealth of resources, emergency child protection interventions were slow to start and inadequate for the scale of the problems. In reviewing what happened in Haiti, USAID and our global partners identified a need to advance our efforts for children in emergencies.
USAID is leading the charge in this effort by supporting the launch of the new Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action. These standards were developed by the Child Protection Working Group in response to the hard lessons we learned in Haiti. Specifically, these standards strive to strengthen coordination, increase accountability, improve the quality of protection programs, and enable better communication on issues involving children. These standards provide a common approach to the protection of children for the entire humanitarian community across sectors. Over the next few years, frontline humanitarian personnel will receive training on these new standards, and organizations will develop strategies to translate them into life-saving assistance on the ground.
While the standards are oriented to staff working in the field, I believe they also provide donors and governments with new opportunities to promote stronger child protection interventions especially in times of crisis. These new standards also compliment the commitments made in the soon-to-be released U.S. Government Action Plan on Children in Adversity. This plan emphasizes the need for the entire government to work together to ensure quality, coordinated, evidence-based programs to protect children. The U.S. Government is fully committed to seizing the opportunities presented through the release of these standards.
I had the opportunity to attend the launch of the minimum standards earlier this month in Geneva. In the more than 30 years I have spent working in this field, I have witnessed first-hand the struggles children in Rwanda, Mozambique, Indonesia, Darfur, Haiti and elsewhere face in the wake of conflict and disaster. I am heartened to see how far we, the humanitarian community, have come in efforts to assist these children, and the promise and hope these standards give us all to do even more going forward.
Dr. Neil Boothby is the U.S. Government Special Advisor and Senior Coordinator to the USAID Administrator on Children in Adversity