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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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• To reduce the possibility of interventions having unforeseen negative consequences, working refugee children and their families should participate in policy and planning on child work issues.

• Services to support working refugee children may need to be developed and sustained, as well as advocacy work.

Refugee children and adolescents should be protected from harmful and exploitative forms of child work. As well as forms of work that interfere with their education, these include commercial sex work, involvement in military operations, bonded labour, mining, and all industries and agriculture where children are exposed to toxic chemicals or where children face increased risks to their physical and mental health and well-being.


By ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, States commit to undertaking "all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognised in the Convention" (CRC, article 4). States report on such measures to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, who are charged with monitoring States implementation.

In its review of reporting, the Committee urges all levels of government to, among

other things:

• ensure that all legislation is fully compatible with the Convention by incorporating it into domestic law or ensuring that its principles take precedence in cases of conflict with national legislation;

• ensure that sufficient data are collected and used to improve the situation of all children in each jurisdiction;

• raise awareness and disseminate information on the Convention by providing training to all those involved in government policy-making and working with or for children;

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• involve civil society, including children themselves, in the process of implementing and raising awareness of child rights.

Specifically in relation to Child Labour, the Committees guidelines on reporting

request States to provide information on:

• a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment;

• appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment;

• appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the effective enforcement of CRC, article 32;

• any mechanism of inspection and system of complaint procedures available to the child, either directly or through a representative.


In many countries, local governments are increasingly assuming responsibility for protecting child rights. Indeed, local authorities have a pivotal role to play in giving support to other service providers and also in the areas of regulation, enforcement and monitoring of child rights. This role is increasing where decentralisation and reduction of safety nets have created vacuums in social provision, adding to the burden at the local level. In many such cases, city and municipal authorities and local branches of national agencies become the primary actors in providing basic services for children. Even where assistance from higher levels of government is lacking, local authorities maintain the legal responsibility to respond as best they can to the situation of children under their jurisdiction.


Taking steps to remove children from harmful work without offering anything in its place is rarely appropriate. In order to reduce the possibility of interventions having unforeseen negative consequences, working children and their families should participate in policy and planning on child work issues.

As youth delegates at the 1997 Amsterdam Child Labour Conference stressed, in many instances the primary concern should be regulation and not necessarily abolition except for in the cases of the most pernicious forms of child labour. If children are prevented from working and no safe alternative income sources for themselves and their families are available, they may engage in less visible, more dangerous and exploitative work. This occurred in Bangladesh, where political pressures caused large numbers of child workers to be dismissed from garment factories: a follow-up study showed that none of the children in the sample returned to school and it is thought that many drifted into more hazardous and exploitative forms of work. This example highlights the need to ensure that good local knowledge is available: local NGOs may have an important role to play especially if they possess familiarity with the local community, share the same language as the refugees and are able to facilitate the involvement of young people themselves.

A child-centred situation analysis will be needed to ensure that any intervention responds appropriately to the young people’s definitions of their needs and priorities. Again the involvement of young people in this process is essential.

–  –  –


Many different programme strategies may be considered.

• Protective services may include some form of legal protection such as providing registration cards, awareness-raising in respect of children’s rights, empowering children to assert their rights, and the provision of legal advice.

Universal birth registration is also an important protection measure as it helps regulate the use of underage workers.

• Health and hygiene services may be especially important for children living and/or working on the streets or in unhygienic environments.

• The provision of savings schemes may enable children to save money, especially if they are vulnerable to theft.

• Various education approaches, that are more flexible, relevant and attractive to child workers than more “orthodox” forms of schooling, may be at the core of

programmes for working children. Approaches may include:

• non-formal educational opportunities, which enable children to combine work with a relevant and accessible curriculum;

• programmes of vocational training in marketable skills;

• programmes which enable children to gain access to state education, perhaps with tutorial support and possibly material support.

• Production and economic activities can be promoted to help young people find more remunerative or more appropriate work. These may include an element of training (e.g. in business management), the provision of loans for microenterprise, sheltered work opportunities, setting up work co-operatives and so on.

• Play and recreational opportunities may also be an important component where working children find no time for leisure pursuits, or where games can also play an important education role.

• Public awareness and advocacy may also be important in ensuring the needs and rights of working children, addressing workplace abuse, pressing for improvements in education provision and in changing the negative image of working children.

The active involvement of young people themselves in all programmes, including design, implementation and evaluation, not only helps to ensure that these meet their needs and priorities, but also increase their social capacities and their sense of identity and self-worth. One way in which programmes have succeeded in giving adolescents a sense of meaning and purpose is to involve them in developing and implementing programmes for younger children.

Families and communities can better promote the psychosocial well-being of their children when they themselves feel relatively secure and confident about the future. Recognising that families and communities are often fragmented and weakened by armed conflict, programmes should focus on supporting survivors in their efforts to heal and rebuild their social networks. It is therefore vital that all

–  –  –

forms of external help be given in such a way as to enhance people’s ability to help themselves.


Overhead 7.1: Key Learning Points for Topic 7 Summary of key learning points

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• UNHCR staff have a duty to intervene whenever cases of sexual abuse or exploitation are reported or suspected: the survivors of sexual violence may need protection, medical and psycho-social care.

• Different situations call for different strategies of intervention.

• There are some important principles to be followed in responding to allegations of sexual abuse.

• Particular issues are raised when the alleged abuser lives in the same household as the child.

• Insensitive or inappropriate intervention can serve to further victimise the survivor. All actions must be taken with the utmost care and sensitivity.


The immediate physical and emotional consequences of sexual violence require a quick response. UNHCR staff have a duty to intervene whenever cases are reported or suspected. However, each case must be carefully handled owing to the extreme sensitivity of sexual issues. Each incident of sexual violence must be examined and assessed so that proper protection, medical services and psychosocial support can be provided. The survivor’s immediate or long-term vulnerability must be taken into consideration, and the victim’s own decisions must be respected.


Different forms of sexual exploitation, in differing contexts, call for differing responses. Below, are some of the strategies that may be considered.

• With the agreement of the survivor, governmental agencies such as the police, judiciary and welfare services will need to be involved. All actions need to take account of criminal and child protection legislation within the country, and be dealt with in conjunction with national and local authorities. It is essential that in this process the survivor’s confidentiality be respected, including the right to decide whether to seek legal redress. Intervention which does not respect confidentiality and which lacks sensitivity and understanding can result in the survivor feeling further victimised.


Abuse and Exploitation - Revision Version 04/01 Page 41 Action for the Rights of Children (ARC)

• Survivors of sexual abuse or exploitation need speedy access to medical care and, where needed, psycho-social support.

• UNHCR staff are often involved in responding to allegations of exploitation. It is vital that protection, community services, medical and field staff work closely together, with the relevant statutory agencies, to ensure that a sensitive, swift, appropriate and co-ordinated response is given. Good cross-sectoral collaboration is essential.

• The refugee community may have social structures that can respond to situations of sexual exploitation. Women’s groups, for example, may provide not just an accessible resource for victims to refer to, they may also provide a network for communication and information and a structure for promoting preventive approaches.

• Care needs to be taken to respect the rights of any person accused of sexual exploitation or violence: the presumption of innocence should be respected until guilt has been established through judicial proceedings.


In one camp for Guatemalan refugees in Mexico, women from the “well-being Committee” decided to form a crisis group, which included some women who themselves had been sexually abused. Experience had shown that, despite receiving training from UNHCR, the local police had demonstrated that they were unable to skilfully and sensitively intervene in situations of sexual exploitation. This group provided an important reference-point for women and girls who had been abused or exploited, and an important source of support for them and for their families.


Whatever strategy is used to respond to incidents, it is vital that a number of key principles be followed.

• The immediate physical and emotional consequences of sexual violence require a quick response.

• It is essential that responses are based on a thorough understanding of local norms, customs and taboos to do with sexual behaviour. The impact of sexual violence can only be understood in this context.

• Extremely careful and tactful responses are needed because of the great sensitivity of sexual issues.

• The individual must feel that she/he will be believed, that confidentiality will be preserved and that her/his views are respected.

• The person interviewing the child needs to be highly skilled, able to deal with overwhelming emotion and be experienced in enabling children to talk about extremely difficult issues. In general, it is also preferable that they are of the same sex as the child. However, cultural and social factors must also be taken

–  –  –

into account when determining the sex of the interviewer. In many societies, for example, boys will not speak to other males about homosexual abuse, but will sometimes be more comfortable speaking to a woman instead.

• It must also be remembered that the accused person must be treated as a person with rights.

• Under-reporting of sexual violence is very widespread. Where there are suspicions of unreported exploitation having taken place, deploying a person of the same gender (unless there are particular contra-indications) to interview the individual, using a sympathetic and gentle manner will be essential.

• Victims of sexual abuse need speedy access to medical care and psychosocial support. They also may need access to legal services.

• When children have been sexually abused, it will sometimes be necessary for counselling to be undertaken with the family in order to ensure that the child is believed, supported and provided with the means of returning to normal life.

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