Print Edition - 2015-05-24  |  Free the Words

Remembering the children

  • In the post-earthquake response, children simply must not be forgotten
- MATTIAS BRYNESON, DELAILAH BORJA & LIZ SATOW
Remembering the children

May 23, 2015-

About two weeks ago, parliamentarians in Kathmandu unanimously passed a Resolution Motion committing the Government of Nepal to meet the needs of all Nepalis in the wake of the two powerful earthquakes that struck the country on April 25 and May 12.

We at Plan International, Save the Children, and World Vision, as child-focussed international NGOs, welcome the commitment and determination expressed in the parliamentary motion. We commend the Parliament and the government for recognising the needs of Nepal’s most vulnerable in the wake of this earthquake—including the groups mentioned in the Resolution, such as orphaned children, pregnant and lactating mothers, and people with disabilities.

Kinship care

Children who have lost their families are incredibly vulnerable, and it is important to seek alternative care rather than placing these children in institutions and orphanages. Many children in such institutions experience neglect, violence, and abuse and end up losing their family ties. Communities have to be empowered and provided with support to care for children in kinship care, formal or informal foster care, or other community-based mechanisms. The Government of Nepal should not encourage the setup of new orphanages, should temporarily ban international adoptions, and should ensure that existing institutions follow a minimum standard of care and support.

Ensuring care for children who have lost their parents is critical, and we also need to recognise the profound affect that the twin earthquakes have had on all children.

Children are too often forgotten when disaster strikes. But they are also some of the most vulnerable. They carry the burden of stress and anxiety felt by their families. They suffer from the disruption of having to live outside their homes and of no longer being able to attend school. They are vulnerable to forms of exploitation and abuse, such as child labour. Girls are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, forced prostitution, sexual violence, forced labour, and increased early and forced marriage. And all girls and boys are living with the fear and worry that comes with ongoing aftershocks.

Listen to the children

Children simply must not be forgotten. In this earthquake response, all government agencies and civil society actors have a role to play in ensuring the safety and protection of children. The delivery of early psycho-social support programmes for girls and boys must be prioritised while homes, livelihoods, and schools are rebuilt. Together, we must ensure that affected children are protected from potential violence and abuse and have the ability to access specialised child protection services. Interventions such as ‘child friendly spaces’ must be context appropriate and linked to related interventions with local community protection systems to ensure quality support for children.

And children must be able to return to school as soon as possible. While the safety of school buildings are being assessed, temporary learning centres must be established, providing children with a safe place to learn and receive support. We know that the longer a child is away from their classes, the more likely they are to drop out of school altogether; this is especially true for girls. We must not accept the bleak future that a lack of education can invite, not even for a single child.

So as response plans are developed and implemented, the needs of all children are critical. We must listen to their views and act on their opinions, regardless of gender, caste, ethnicity, or family political views.

To do this, children must be more visible in both the immediate response and in the longer term reconstruction and preparedness. While we welcome this resolution, we call on the government to ensure children’s perspectives are taken into consideration when the new high-level authority plans for disaster preparedness, management, and comprehensive rehabilitation and reconstruction, including in the drafting of any new laws. The views of children must also be considered by the all-party mechanisms at the district, municipality, and VDC level, by the National Reconstruction Advisory Committee, and by the National Disaster Management Monitoring and Directive Committee, which will monitor the implementation of the 27-point Resolution.

A better future

Listening to children’s voices from the very beginning helps to ensure that Nepal can build back better, integrating disaster risk reduction to protect children and communities from future crises, as well as from secondary emergencies such as potential floods and landslides. This is particularly urgent with the monsoon season just around the corner. It’s not only the right thing to do—it’s the smart thing to do. And it’s absolutely vital if we want to achieve the vision unanimously agreed to by parliamentarians this week: to build a future for Nepal’s children in which they feel safe and secure and can fulfill their potential.

Bryneson is Country Director of  Plan International Nepal; Borja is Country Director of Save the Children; and Satow is National Director of World Vision International Nepal

Published: 24-05-2015 07:00

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