We Need To Do Better: Policy Brief for Enhancing Laws and Regulations to Protect Children in Disasters

Originally published



While much progress has been made to improve the protection, participation and survival of children around the world, despite all the advances, violence, abuse and exploitation in disasters remain a stubborn and profoundly harmful reality for children.

This is all the more concerning when we recognize that children make up nearly half of the people affected by disasters. In 2018 alone, nearly 50 million children needed protection in disaster settings.

As our planet heats up, disasters, including floods, fires, droughts, food insecurity, population movements and public health crises, increase in scope, intensify and become more frequent. The need to protect children has become all the more pressing. However, globally our investments in child protection are inadequate. We are failing to put in place the necessary systems. Countries do not have child protection mechanisms built into their disaster laws and systems. We need to do better to get child protection in disasters right. We need a transformative approach.

This policy brief, “We Need To Do Better”, seeks to improve knowledge of and evidence for strengthening child protection elements within laws and regulations related to disaster risk management. Specifically, this study calls on governments and disaster agencies to counter the lack of attention, systems and inadequate investment in child protection and to recognize the consequences of disasters—including those increasingly influenced by climate change—on girls and boys around the world.

Moving forward, it is essential to have domestic laws and regulations that enable children to live in safety. This approach moves us from a focus on response to a muchneeded emphasis on prevention. It underlines the responsibility of governments to ensure systems are in place and adequate funds are available. It also provides clarity as part of disaster preparedness on what is needed, who is responsible, and what measurements need to be applied to protection of children.

The IFRC and its National Societies, through our local volunteers around the world, stand ready to support governments to continue striving to meet the best interests of each child affected by a disaster; to better protect children; and to defend against the consequences of climate change. Now is our time to act. Let us do so together.

Jagan Chapagain IFRC Secretary-General

Executive Summary

1 Children are at higher risk than other age groups of encountering violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in disaster settings, including those disasters driven by climate change. Disasters often hamper children’s access to education, health care, birth registration and other critical governmental services. All of these risks could be reduced through specific preparedness activities prior to a disaster.

2 While international law does not explicitly refer to child protection in disasters, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other human rights instruments have set out rights that are applicable to all situations of crisis and that are relevant to the most important protection gaps that children face in disasters. This is true of the requirement that all actions concerning children must be taken according to the principle of the “best interest of the child.” The Convention on the Rights of the Child also enshrines each child’s right to express his or her views and requires that these views be given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

3 Different national contexts and legal traditions will determine whether legislative, policy or planning tools (or a combination of all three) are best suited to ensure that child protection goals are achieved. Because disaster management professionals often come to their work without clear guidance on children’s rights and special needs in disasters, these issues can easily be overlooked. Law and policymakers and strongly encouraged to ensure that measures and responsibilities for child protection are adequately formalized and disseminated to ensure the right action at the right time.

4 Moreover, law and policymakers are encouraged to consider gender-responsive, rather than gender-blind approaches, as better adapted to diverse needs related to gender. In order to meet children’s best interests, law and policy relating to children also needs to reflect the varied needs of children of different ages and different abilities.

5 Responding to requests from the state parties to the Geneva Conventions in resolutions of the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have a growing capacity to support governments to gather feedback from communities, communicate disaster preparedness messages and implement child protection activities, as well as to support interested law and policymakers in the design of laws, policies and plans that promote child protection in disaster settings.