Child protection is crucial in times of crisis

Children must feel they are surrounded by caring and supportive adults who will listen should they report abuse.
Sunday 11/03/2018
Two children play with a bicycle at the Azraq camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. (AP)
Needing protection. Two children play with a bicycle at the Azraq camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. (AP)

Issues of child protection are important in any context. However, there are extreme variations between contexts in the West and in the Arab world.

Faced with inflation, tax hikes and a refugee influx, the social dynamics of countries such as Jordan and Lebanon, among others, have changed, particularly in low-income households. How do changing circumstances put children in increased danger?

In Jordan, information available on child protection is difficult to access, to say the least. Due to cultural reservations on the topic as well as a shortage of effective protective mechanisms through which information can be accessed, the resources are slim.

For example, in 2015, one source placed the number of child abuse crimes at around 600. However, within the report is the statement: “The public security directorate’s family protection unit said in its annual report that the number was inaccurate, due to many attacks not being reported.”

Physical abuse has manifested in one of the multiple forms due to declining geopolitical contexts, notably in child labour. In 2016, the International Labour Organisation reported that, in Jordan, “the number of child labourers has roughly doubled to more than 69,000 since 2007, with around 44,000 engaged in hazardous work.”

As part of research on issues of child protection in Jordan, a number of findings have been made. With a combination of rising taxes and a heavy refugee influx, low-income households have seen a rise in the number of individuals sharing a home.

For example, large number families will share a room and often the parents will have intimate relations in the same room where their child is sleeping. This is problematic as the child does not learn nor understand that this is a private engagement and the act is normalised. This makes the child think that this action is “safe” and lowers their defences against sexual predators.

This is but one of several phenomena occurring due to the changing social dynamics and compounded with existing cultural tradition of child-rearing that put children at great risk.

A greater concern, an independent child development and parenting specialist based in Amman said, is that many children are unable to recognise what violence is. Due to generally higher levels of violence at schools and in homes, children allow unsafe situations to continue because they are unaware that what is happening is wrong.

That encourages violence among or directed towards children. An example of this, said a research participant working at Oxfam Jordan as well as the Jordan River Foundation, is encouraging young boys to use violence. Rather than reporting incidents of bullying, which is often viewed as cowardice, boys are encouraged to use violence against those attempting to intimidate them.

Key concepts that must be relayed to children in the region, particularly due to changing contexts and detrimental cultural teachings, should be done by skilled child protection officers, teachers, parents and other relevant stakeholders.

Children must feel they are surrounded by caring and supportive adults who will listen should they report abuse. They must learn that it is their right to say “no” to something that instinctively makes them feel at risk. These are a few in many strides that must be taken to protect the children of this region.

Finally, to better inform international agencies working to improve living conditions of vulnerable children, access to accurate information is imperative. Only then will we be able to provide

the safety and security a child needs to flourish in a difficult environment.