What can INSPIRE achieve for children in humanitarian contexts?

Written by Nina Nepesova and Erin Joyce

One of the most promising solutions to address violence against children is a package of seven evidence based solutions called INSPIRE[1], led by the World Health Organisation in collaboration with number of its partners. They include implementation and enforcement of laws; building strong social norms and values; creating safe environments; supporting parents and care givers; strengthening income and economic development; ensuring available and accessibly of response and support services; as well as providing education and life skills to children.

Yet, implementing these solutions may face serious challenges in humanitarian crises where the context often dictates what can be done, how and at what level.

The crux of the problem is that ending violence against children isn’t possible without first and foremost ending wars and even when wars end other root causes of violence continue to persist. Another major issue is financial investment. A recent study of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA), commissioned by World Vision and its partners, shows that in 2015 states only spent 0.6% on ending violence against children.[2] So regardless of how good the programmes proposed by INSPIRE are, states must increase their political investment in preventing conflict in the first place and increase their financial investment to make INSPIRE programmes a reality.

INSPIRE notes that “interventions involving the enforcement of laws by functioning police and justice systems will be difficult to implement where conflict or natural disaster have destroyed or severely eroded those structures.” It also recognises that “self-contained programmes can be delivered in any setting” including parenting programmes, life skills training programmes, and services for victims of violence.[3]

This recognition implies that the implementation of INSPIRE strategies in humanitarian settings will differ from other contexts in terms of intervention designs, scale and delivery mechanisms, and even actors. But it is possible. And we must try.

Strengthening political will to end violence against children

Since 2000 we have seen gradual progress towards ending violence against children. Over 100,000 children associated with armed groups have been demobilised, 171 million fewer children are in hazardous child labour and detention rates in many of the world’s juvenile justice systems have fallen[4], and 52 countries have a legal ban on all forms of corporal punishment of children, up from 46 just two years ago.[5]

At the same time, the number of children affected by war and protracted humanitarian crises has grown to unprecedented levels. These children face unimaginable violence: use and recruitment by armed groups, sexual abuse, trafficking, labour, and child marriage. In addition to risks of death and injury, conflict is affecting children’s psychological wellbeing and impacting their long-term development. The highest global levels of forced displacement since World War II are pushing more and more children on the move. Nearly 50 million children have migrated across borders or been forcibly displaced. They too face incredible risks.

The UN Secretary General’s Agenda of Humanity, which led to the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, focused on addressing war and forced displacement. Several global compacts are attempting to address the rights of refugees and migrants. There is no shortage of meetings and agreements. But little political effort has been made to make these a reality for children inside Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, or the DRC. Even less has been done to think through the complexity of addressing violence against children in these contexts.

The scourge of conflict seems immune to international agreements such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, international humanitarian law, national constitutions, and it seems to our collective moral compass.

If conflicts do break out, investing seriously in mediation efforts to resolve them quickly and holding all perpetrators accountable for violations of international law, especially as it applies to the most vulnerable – children, must be a priority. Today, the burden of addressing violence against children in these contexts falls on families, communities and international or national humanitarian actors.

Making INSPIRE work for children in humanitarian crises

So what can we do when the state is bombing its own children, a non-state actor refuses to recognise the legitimacy of international law, or violence in communities becomes the ‘norm’? We can persist and we can mitigate the fall out.

The challenge of seeing if INSPIRE is effective in a crisis situation, is not just about making adjustments to INSPIRE. It is also about making adjustments to humanitarian action to enable us to work along INSPIRE like approaches – more joint up, more interoperable across sectors. We need to be invested in new ways of working. This means, among other things, linking humanitarian action with peacebuilding and longer term development.

As humanitarians, we rarely think beyond saving lives and yet many do not see protecting children as ‘live saving’. Mitigating violence against children will require more than that. We have an obligation to ensure that children are protected both during a humanitarian crisis, while also ensuring that they have a violence free future. This is what we need to be aiming for collectively - decision makers, donors and implementers alike. This is the objective of the Agenda for Humanity. This is the goal of Agenda 2030.

This is not a fanciful idea that is out of reach. This is not an unrealistic expectation. A number of interventions that are currently being implemented in humanitarian settings closely resemble INSPIRE already, such as World Vision’s Go Baby Go approach to early childhood development building parent and caregiver capacity to protect and promote their child’s physical and cognitive development in both development settings and situations of protracted displacement. Other interventions including peacebuilding approaches such as World Vision’s Empowering Children as Peacebuilders (ECaP) methodology, have a strong potential to prevent violence. The recognition of children and young people as positive agents of change and critical peacebuilders in their societies is essential. From Lebanon to the Central African Republic World Vision has seen the power of children and young people to bring an end to violence in their communities. 

Where nation-wide approaches are not possible, scale up can happen at the local level or at the level of communities, such as providing safe spaces for children in conflict affected areas of Syria including access to quality education and awareness on the risks associated with remnants of war and unexploded ordnances. Some practitioners assume that INSPIRE interventions will only be effective if they are implemented as a package. And even this challenge can be overcome. In recent years, humanitarian practitioners have been developing tools for protection mainstreaming across multiple sector interventions such as health and education in emergencies. In contexts, such as Lebanon, Myanmar and South Sudan we are starting to see positive results[6].

Undoubtedly, using INSPIRE to end violence against children in humanitarian contexts will require innovation and adaptation to the context, but we can start small and see what happens. Let’s do this with intentionality and invest in research to evaluate the impact.

So what can humanitarian actors achieve on their own with the INSPIRE package? Likely not a lot despite the most valiant efforts. But in partnership with others – civil society around the word, policy makers, children and young people, parents and caregivers, communities, faith leaders and even the private sector - we can really offer children affected by crises an escape from violence.

For this we need a global, moral movement that sees children as children - first and foremost. No more labels, no more us and them. We owe it to the next generation to do everything we can and that’s the bottom line.


 Read more about World Vision's work with children in conflict and fragile settings including our Education in Emergency programmes in Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Child Protection with refugee children in Uganda, and Nutrition programmes in South Sudan. See other pieces by Nina Nepesova and our World Vision thought leaders Read our report on the  Counting Pennies: A review of official development assistance to end violence against children  

[1] INSPIRE is WHO’s main contribution to the newly established Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children: http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/inspire/en/. INSPIRE identifies a select group of strategies that have shown success in reducing violence against children. They are: implementation and enforcement of laws; norms and values; safe environments; parent and caregiver support; income and economic strengthening; response and support services; and education and life skills.

[2] Counting Pennies: A review of official development assistance to end violence against children, www.wvi.org/publication/counting-pennies-review-official-development-assistance-end-violence-against-children

[3] INSPIRE: Seven Strategies for Ending Violence Against Children, page 29, http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/inspire/en/

[4] http://www.ecpat.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Int_NGO_Council_VAC_Report2016.pdf

[5] Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, www.endcorporalpunishment.org

[6] Protection In Practice (PiP) is a joint initiative between World Vision, IRC and Oxfam