Solomon Islands Red Cross continues its focus on child protection

Published: 19 July 2016 3:55 CET

A recent training session on child protection has enabled the Solomon Islands Red Cross Society to look at how it can incorporate measures for the prevention of violence against children across all its activities.

The training, facilitated by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Violence Prevention & Response Advisor, Gurvinder Singh, was attended by 23 staff and volunteers from the Solomon Islands Red Cross, Australian Red Cross and French Red Cross.

It covered child protection in emergencies, the different types of violence against children and which children are most at risk, child protection laws in the Solomon Islands, and which projects and activities Red Cross can embed child protection measures into.   

Children make up almost half the population in the Solomons, and Save the Children figures show two-thirds of girls and women in the Solomon Islands have experienced physical or sexual violence. UNICEF statistics also show physical punishment is used against 72 per cent of children.

The Red Cross created a child protection policy in 2014.  Joanne Zoleveke, Secretary General for the Solomon Islands Red Cross says this was in recognition of the number of children the national society interacts with through its programmes across the country and a growing awareness of the risk of violence against children in communities and organizations.

“Our child protection policy has made so many of us reflect not only on the work we do with vulnerable populations but also on our own lives and our own decisions regarding how we treat children,” Mrs. Zoleveke said.  “The policy includes questions for staff from their very first interview with us, to mandatory screening of all staff, and regular education sessions.

“At the recent child protection training our personnel highlighted that all humanitarian organizations should understand child protection and that it is especially important for staff and volunteers representing the Red Cross in communities.”

As well as having internal organizational systems on child protection, the Red Cross is also working to mainstream the theme across its programmes in order to achieve the global minimum standards on child protection in humanitarian action.

Children are at particular risk of violence during emergencies. As Mrs. Zoleveke explains; “In disasters the stress on families can lead to things getting out of hand and adults harming children.”

In its emergencies programming, the Red Cross has in the past partnered with UNICEF on establishing child friendly spaces, such as in 2013 after a severe tsunami struck the remote Temotu Province. Child friendly spaces give children a space to heal and to be away from problems like gender-based violence that can take place in evacuation centres and homes.

The Red Cross and Save the Children are also running a hygiene project in 14 schools, with funding from the Australian Government. The project includes educating students on prevention and response strategies for physical, sexual and psychological violence.

The Red Cross’ Mitigation Coordinator, Hexley Ona explains, “For there to be behavior change we need to start with children so they can grow up and not hurt one another. Child protection education can give children confidence to stay safe from violence.”

One of the National Society’s most visible programmes, which has run for 39 years, is a school for children with disabilities, managed in partnership with the Ministry of Education. The school has 90 students aged 7-17 years who have a variety of disabilities.

Jiope Ralulu, the school’s principal, notes, “Sometimes people see the disability part of the children and assume because of that they are no good. But the Red Cross does not see it this way; we value the children and recognize their abilities and service to others.”

The Red Cross is now looking at ways to enhance education on physical, sexual, and psychological violence and neglect against children with the school’s students, teachers and parents. Studies around the world show girls and boys with disabilities are among the most vulnerable to violence. Ralulu emphasizes, “Education on literacy and numeracy is not enough. We must also educate on protection.”