Why children need to be at the centre of emergency responses – in their own words

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Leaders gathered at the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey must put child well-being at the centre of discussions, but take into account the voices of young people themselves.

That’s the view of World Vision who over the past ten years has spoken to more than 11,000 children in various emergencies about their experiences and what they need after a disaster or crisis. Six distinct themes emerged which continue to inform the aid agency’s work in emergencies and the months and years after. The most prominent of these are children’s demands for education and protection.

“Heartbreakingly, children tell us time and time again they don’t want to hurt anymore; both emotionally and physically. In addition to the increased chance of injury during an emergency, children lose their normal community support networks and must adjust to new, often dangerous living conditions,” says World Vision’s Senior Director for External Engagement, Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs Ian Ridley.

“This is why comprehensive child protection programming is so essential, but shockingly, less than three per cent of humanitarian money is spent on this.”

The children who participated in the surveys also spoke of being separated from their families, going hungry and not having safe places to play.

“They told us that being able to go to school was one of the most important things to them. Children wholeheartedly believe education is the path to a positive future for themselves and their families. They get upset when they talk about not being able to go to school and what that might mean for them,” says Ridley.

“And yet, once again we see the funding completely disproportionate to the need. Less than two per cent of humanitarian money is spent on education in emergencies.”

World Vision is feeling this lack of funding on the eve of the World Humanitarian Summit, says Ridley.

“Without ongoing commitment from our world leaders to fund humanitarian programmes for children, agencies like World Vision will be forced to close successful education and child protection programmes. Programmes like the Let Us Learn project in Iraq, a country where more than three million school-aged children have experienced either a disruption to, or complete lack of, access to education,” says Ridley.

Programmes like the Let Us Learn child-friendly learning space in Iraq provide a safe place for children to learn and play in an environment free from violence and exploitation.

“For these children education is not only about classrooms and books, it is also about safety and protection,” says Ridley. “This is why we are asking leaders gathered for the World Humanitarian Summit to ensure children are put at the centre of decision they make, and to address the continual underfunding of education and child protection after an emergency.

“We want to make sure no child falls through the cracks and suffers after an emergency.”


Six things children need after an emergency – in their own words

Over ten years, after emergencies in 15 different countries, World Vision spoke to more than 11,000 children aged 5-17. This is what they told us.

1.    I don’t want to scavenge for food.

Children say the lack of food meant they would have to scavenge, eat spoiled food, beg and steal. Their health suffered from a lack of nutrition, and they were forced to work so they could help pay for food for their families.

2.    I want to go to school so I can get a job.

Schools are destroyed, access to schools is cut off, education costs skyrocket, families need children to work. Children believe education is the best way for them to help their futures and their families. They get upset when they talk about not being able to go to school, and worry about what this will mean for them.

3.    I need somewhere to play.

Children say they don’t have enough places to play or do not have any fun activities to participate in after an emergency. Being able to play is a chance to escape and ultimately adjust to their new lives.

4.    I want to be safe when I go to the toilet.

Pressure on resources and facilities mean it can take longer to access vital water and sanitation services, they may be further away, crowded, used by groups of people who make children feel unsafe. They talk of being injured, attacked, robbed or raped when travelling to collect water or to use the latrine.

5.    I want to hug my mum and dad. 

Children talk about feeling stressed or anxious after a disaster. Many lose or are separated from their families, others experience an increase in tension at home as the family struggles to adjust. Receiving affection from their parents or caregivers is something children say made them feel better.

6.    I don’t want to hurt anymore.

Children suffer increased risk of injury after disasters due to a lack of secure shelter. They talk about struggling to adjust to their new living conditions, and the upset it causes them. 

This is why we should involve children in the decisions that affect them, and why they must be at the centre of decisions made at the World Humanitarian Summit.