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«Action for the Rights of Children (ARC) Critical Issues Abuse and Exploitation CONTENTS BRIEFING NOTES FOR FACILITATORS Page Introduction Topic 1: ...»

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Physical abuse is the most visible form of abuse. It is sometimes revealed when the explanation of a child’s injury is inconsistent with what is observed. Certain types of injury should always lead to a suspicion of child abuse - for example, bite marks (consistent with adult human teeth marks), cigarette burns, evidence of old but untreated broken bones, and signs of severe and long-term bruising, especially to the face, which cannot be explained by an accident such as a fall. A particularly serious type of physical abuse is the shaking of a small infant, which can cause extremely serious injury (brain damage, spinal injury, retinal haemorrhage and rib fractures caused by grasping the chest while shaking the child).

It is, however, important (and often difficult!) to check for medical conditions which might partly explain the child’s condition, for example, a bleeding disorder which may explain signs of severe bruising.

Emotional abuse is extremely difficult to detect. In some cases the child will show no obvious signs of abuse and evidence is most likely to come from friends or neighbours who observe the parents’ behaviour to the child, or from school teachers who may gain clues from the child’s behaviour or emotional state. Slow physical development, learning problems, speech disorders, difficulties in forming relationships, withdrawal, disruptive behaviour, insecurity and poor self-esteem can all be possible results of emotional abuse. In many cases, the effects may only become evident in the child’s later development stages. The availability of a trusted adult is often the most important avenue for the child to reveal the abuse.

Sexual abuse is also difficult to detect. Young children have been known to endure sexual abuse for many years without realising that what they experience is abnormal, and only realise its significance during early adolescence when they learn about sexual behaviour. For obvious reasons, it will generally occur in private, and again it is the availability of a trusted adult that may provide the opportunity for the child to reveal what is happening.

With all forms of abuse, the child’s demeanour may provide clues. Children

experiencing chronic abuse may reveal one or more of the following:

–  –  –

• “Frozen watchfulness” - the child sitting passively and watching his/her surroundings passively

• Persistent avoidance of eye contact with adults (but this needs to be considered carefully in relation to cultural norms). A wariness of adults or flinching when there is a sudden movement may provide clues.

• Physical symptoms that appear to have no medical cause may also provide clues e.g. persistent stomach pains, headaches etc.

• Sexually abused adolescents sometimes appear to be nonchalant and submissive However, care must always be taken in jumping to conclusions too quickly. Where abuse is suspected, it is important to carefully and sensitively look for other evidence before concluding that abuse has occurred.


This is an exceptionally difficult area in which to intervene. This Topic offers only a brief introduction to a large and complex area.

Intervening in cases of child abuse and neglect require formal working arrangements with local police and social welfare authorities which may be charged with responsibilities of formal investigation of allegations, initiating child protection plans for children and possibly initiating criminal proceedings against perpetrators. Where such authorities lack the resources or capacity to undertake these responsibilities, UNHCR may assist to facilitate investigations.

Intervention requires the utmost skill and sensitivity: on the one hand, failure to intervene when child abuse or neglect is alleged or suspected can leave the child (and possibly other members of the family) in a highly vulnerable situation; on the other hand, insensitive intervention can leave the child even more vulnerable than before. In situations where abuse is occurring in the family, a recurring problem is that children may be highly resistant to being removed from that family, especially if this means facing an uncertain future. An added problem is that abuse, especially sexual abuse, usually occurs in private and may be extremely difficult to prove, especially in cultures in which adults are more likely to be believed than children. Authorities may be unwilling to act if there is no corroborating evidence.

Many of the points raised in Topic 8 will apply also to interventions in respect to child abuse within the family - see particularly the section on ‘Important Principles in Responding to Incidents of Sexual Exploitation’. It must always be borne in mind that child abuse within the family raises particular protection issues by virtue of the fact that the people who have the prime protection and care responsibilities for the child are failing to exercise them.

It is not possible to provide universal guidelines on how to intervene, as many factors will need to be taken into consideration, some of which will be specific to the local situation. However, an intervention strategy will probably have some of the following elements.

–  –  –

• Systems to facilitate the identification and reporting of allegations of child abuse and neglect. These may involve health workers, teachers, community leaders, women’s groups and so on.

• Investigation of allegations of child abuse and neglect by the appropriate bodies, which may include the Police, Social Welfare Departments, UNHCR Protection Officers etc. Very careful thought needs to be given to the question of how to proceed if it is a case of the child’s word against an adult’s - there may be no independent witnesses, and if there are they may be unwilling to provide information.

• Investigation should result in the formulation of a protection plan for the child and other members of the household, which may necessitate the removal of the child or the perpetrator. Removal of the child can be extremely frightening, and the child may prefer to stay in an abusing situation rather than face an uncertain future away from the family.

• The provision of sensitive and skilled medical examination and care where this is required. The insensitive examination of a child who is thought to have been sexually abused, especially if undertaken by a male doctor or nurse, can be experienced by the child as a further violation.

• Mediation, personal support and/or counselling by community leaders, members of women’s groups, Community Services Officers or government social welfare workers.

• Appropriate follow-up to ensure the continued well-being of the child and other members of the household.

A recurring problem is that of gaining an accurate picture of the incident and ensuring an appropriate protection strategy for the child. Very often, mothers are unwilling to side with a child against their husbands and may collude with them.

They may fear for their own safety, while their dependence upon their husbands may make it difficult for them to speak out in defence of the child. A sense of fatalism, or the shame associated with child abuse, may also inhibit mothers from taking action. Where the abuser is the mother, fathers may hesitate to take action because they fear the consequences, which may include having to cope with the children on their own. Some communities may see violence within the family as a private matter that should not involve outsiders. Such attitudes may also be found among the police and other official agencies: as a result, an abused child may be blamed for the incident, further victimised or even punished. These examples of secondary abuse will leave the child even more vulnerable to abuse in the future.


Please refer to Topic 6 in this Resource Pack for some ideas on how a Community Mobilisation Approach can be used both as a strategy for the prevention of abuse and exploitation, and as a means of responding to individual allegations.

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Different participants are likely to have different learning needs and priorities. We have divided participants into three broad groups: senior managers, sector coordinators and field staff.

Senior managers are those people who have key responsibility for an NGO’s operations in a country or region or a UNHCR Section. They will have overall responsibility for strategy and resource allocation within the organisation’s policy framework. Senior managers’ needs are likely to be best served through briefings.

Sector co-ordinators comprise those people who have responsibility for a particular aspect of their agency’s work in a country or region or who have a responsibility for a particular function within an operation, such as for example UNHCR programme, protection or community services officers. Sector coordinators are those responsible for translating policy into practice and ensuring that programme budgets reflect the necessary resources to support good practice.

Field staff is those people working in the field who are responsible for implementing the programme activities. They often have considerable front-line experience. Field staff may value the opportunity to develop and practise new skills as well as develop their knowledge and understanding.

Training programmes should be designed with the responsibilities and learning needs of these different groups in mind. If possible, participants from different groups should be trained separately but if this is not possible, exercises and input should be selected which will meet the needs of all groups. It may be possible to use different small group exercises to address the needs of each type of participant in a mixed group workshop.

Two types of programme are included in this resource pack. The first describes a half day Awareness-Raising Workshop. The programme makes detailed reference to materials from the resource pack and describes how a facilitator might use these materials to conduct a session lasting four hours.

The second example is for a full day workshop. It is written in the form of a

Session Plan that covers:

• the overall aim of the training session;

• specific learning objectives;

• a description of what will be covered and the sequence to be followed;

• the timing for each part of the session;

• who will take responsibility for the different parts of the programme;

–  –  –

• what inputs and exercises will be used;

• what materials (e.g. handouts, overheads, briefing papers, index cards) will be required;

• what equipment (e.g. flipchart, overhead projector, blackboard, video) is needed.

The purpose and development of session plans are described in detail in the ARC Facilitator’s Toolkit.

Both programmes are intended as guidance examples only. It is very important that the facilitator should think carefully about the group of participants with whom

he or she will be working and devise a programme that takes into account:

• the role and responsibilities of the participants;

• the learning needs of the participants;

• their existing level of knowledge;

• their interest in the subject;

• their willingness to share experience and admit to gaps in their knowledge / skills;

• current / local issues and priorities for the participants;

• the amount of time they have available;

• their position in their organisation.

Any training programme should be devised, if possible, in consultation with the intended participants. If it is not possible to consult with all participants (for example, by sending out an application form including questions about their expectations for the training), the facilitator should try to speak to a sample of participants before making final decisions about the programme.

The facilitator should also consider:

• the range of Topics to be covered;

• the order in which Topics should be addressed;

• how to encourage the sharing of experience and information between participants;

• who will carry out the training;

• what methods will be most appropriate for the participants.

More detail on the process of training can be found in the ARC Facilitator’s Toolkit.

Remember to build in a workshop evaluation - you will find ideas for this in the ARC Facilitator’s Toolkit.

–  –  –


This programme proposes a session of four hours designed to provide participants with an overall awareness of the subject and an introduction to some of the key issues.


By the end of this workshop, participants will be able to:

• establish working definitions of child abuse and exploitation, appropriate to the specific context;

• highlight possible risk factors within refugee or displaced communities;

• identify different types of abuse and exploitation within the region;

• review the national and international standards and laws that might be used;

• identify possible programme responses both with a view to the prevention of abuse or exploitation or to promoting appropriate responses.


The facilitator should prepare an information pack for the participants which may


• copies of the relevant Handouts and Briefing Notes;

• a copy of the Reading List and relevant Readings;

• copies of relevant materials from the region / country / locality (e.g. research papers, monitoring reports).

If possible, this pack should be sent to participants in advance.

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