UNICEF and UNHCR responses
The UNICEF response - a new call for children by Nigel Fisher
The UNHCR response: UNHCR's follow-up strategy to the Machel Study by Neil Boothby, Maya Ameratunga and Bruce Abramson
The United Nations Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, also known as the Machel Report after Graça Machel, its author and the former first lady of Mozambique, has brought renewed attention to the plight of children displaced by armed conflict. The Report, the result of two years work, documents that at least half of all refugees and displaced persons are children and that, in the course of displacement, millions of children have been separated from their families, physically abused, exploited and abducted into military groups, or have perished from hunger and disease.
Following the launch of the Report in November 1996, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution incorporating a large number of recommendations for action. Among these, the most significant was the appointment of a permanent Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict to help ensure that the issues raised in the Report continue to figure prominently on the international community's agenda. A Year 2000 Conference is being planned to monitor the progress made on the adopted recommendations.
The report deals specifically with the vulnerability of children in flight, unaccompanied children, evacuation, children in camps, asylum and the right to identity and nationality, the situation of internally displaced children, and returning home and durable solutions. It makes the following key recommendations in relation to refugee and internally displaced children:
a. As a priority in all emergencies, procedures should be adopted to ensure the survival and protection of unaccompanied children. Family tracing programmes should be established from the outset of assistance programmes.
b. Unaccompanied children should, wherever possible, be cared for by their extended family and community rather than in institutions. It is essential that donors support this principle. The vast majority of unaccompanied children have some family somewhere. Therefore, no adoptions should be permitted until exhaustive family tracing, including into the post-conflict phase, has been attempted.
c. Practical protection measures to prevent sexual violence, discrimination in delivery of relief materials, and the recruitment of children into armed forces must be a priority in all assistance programmes in refugee and displaced camps. Such measures should involve women and youth fully in their design, delivery and monitoring and include advocacy and social services to address abuses and violations of children's rights.
d. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee and its Task Force on Internally Displaced Persons should evaluate the extent to which assistance and protection are being provided to internally displaced children and develop appropriate institutional frameworks to address their needs. In cooperation with the new Office of the Emergency Coordinator in its role under the authority of the Emergency Relief Coordinator and in consultation with other major humanitarian agencies, in each emergency, a lead agency should be assigned overall responsibility for the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons. In collaboration with the lead agency, UNICEF should provide leadership for the protection and assistance of internally displaced children.
e. The General Assembly, the Commission on Human Rights, as well as regional organisations, should support the work of the Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons to develop an appropriate legal framework to increase protection for internally displaced persons and to give particular emphasis to the specific concerns of children.
f. Intergovernmental bodies, UNHCR, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and other organisations should support governments in strengthening national legislative frameworks challenging any aspect of discrimination against women, girls and child-headed households with particular respect to custody, inheritance and property rights.
g. The expert urges that UNICEF, UNHCR, FAO and ILO give urgent attention to the situation of child-headed households, and develop policy and programme guidelines to ensure their protection and care.
Copies of the report may be obtained from the UNICEF website at: gopher://gopher.un.org:70/00/ga/docs/51/plenary/A51-306.EN
or from Jennifer Klot, UNICEF, 3 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017, USA.
The Resolution can be found at: http://184.108.40.206/HTML/menu4/gares/res77
This overview draws on information from Diana Quick of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children and from an article by Jennifer F Klot in issue 8 of the Relief and Rehabilitation Network Newsletter published by ODI, Portland House, Stag Place, London SW1E 5DP, UK.
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UNICEF welcomes the Machel Report for its simple, fundamental thesis: children have no part in warfare. It is an outstanding contribution - comprehensive and to-the-point - and highlights the devastating impact of today's armed conflicts on children. It presents the irrefutable case that armed conflict violates every right of the child and calls unequivocally for a halt to war against children.
Likewise, UNICEF welcomes both the scope and specificity of the Report's recommendations, which strongly reinforce the key provisions of UNICEF's own Anti-War Agenda. UNICEF proposes to build upon the concept of 'children as a zone of peace' as a focus for all activities promoting the ethical and legal standards that protect children from and in armed conflict.
UNICEF's Anti-War Agenda campaign encompasses:
The findings of the Report highlight the necessity for a multifaceted approach to child care, child protection and post-conflict recovery and also underscore the importance of consistency and continuity of care. Concerted action will require a renewed alliance between UN agencies, NGOs, concerned governments, donors and other partners in the field, and the new call for children envisages a reinvigorated partnership between NGOs and multilateral agencies to enhance capacity at local levels. UNICEF also sees a key role being played by civil society in both monitoring and implementing the recommendations of the new UN resolution.
Nigel Fisher is Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes, UNICEF, New York.
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As the Machel Study notes, UNHCR is 'often the first to respond to emergencies' and is therefore in a unique position to exercise leadership regarding humanitarian assistance to refugee children and adolescents(1) - the majority of 'persons of concern' to the organisation. In response to the Machel Study's recommendation that it enhance its response capacity for refugee children and adolescents, UNHCR is introducing the following new activities in 1997:
Firstly, UNHCR has formulated a strategy to implement recommendations of the Study, not just for the benefit of war-affected refugees but for all refugee children and adolescents under the age of 18 years. UNHCR's Executive Committee has strongly endorsed the following child- and adolescent-specific performance objectives for all phases of UNHCR operations:
I. Emergency Stage
(a) Initial phase of emergency response
(b) Second phase of emergency response
II. Post-emergency (care and maintenance) stage
III. Repatriation-reintegration stage
(a) Planning and preparation phase
(b) Return phase
(c) Reintegration and self-reliance phase
Fundamental to this strategy are UNHCR's guiding principles with regard to younger refugees:
- In all actions concerning refugee children, the human rights and best interests of the child must be given primary consideration.
- Preserving and restoring family unity are of fundamental concern. Actions to benefit refugee children should therefore be designed to enable their primary care-givers to fulfil their responsibility to meet their children's needs. When the special needs of younger refugees can only be met effectively through child-focused activities, these should be carried out with the full participation of their families and communities.
- Unaccompanied minors should be a particular focus of care. Community-based approaches to their care and protection are preferable to institutional care, which does not provide adequately for young people's psychosocial needs.
Secondly, UNHCR and the International Save the Children Alliance will undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the implementation of UNHCR's guidelines on refugee children in order to provide a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of programming for children and adolescents and pave the way for further improvements. UNHCR is developing, also in partnership with the International Save the Children Alliance, a comprehensive child rights and psychosocial training programme for UNHCR staff and implementing partners, in order to ensure that the Convention on the Rights of the Child becomes a normative frame of reference for refugee relief and reintegration operations. Improvements in staffing will enhance operational support to children and adolescents: these include deploying community services officers in every emergency team, together with specialists in education and child and adolescent welfare where necessary, and creating new positions of regional senior advisors for children.
Thirdly, a newly established Refugee Children and Adolescent Initiative Fund will help respond to urgent needs and promote innovative programming. This trust fund - additional to regular programming for children, adolescents and families - will be used to jump-start child rights and youth programmes in various operations. Activities which prove to be especially useful will be integrated into regular UNHCR programming and budgets the following year.
An essential element of UNHCR's protection of refugee children and adolescents will continue to be the promotion of international standards and monitoring - in particular: international advocacy in the areas of conscription limitations for young people under the age of 18 years and bans on landmines; supporting the call for a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict; and promoting the Convention on the Rights of the Child as UNHCR's normative frame of reference, in order to translate universal ratification of this instrument into universal reality for refugee children and adolescents.
Neil Boothby is Senior Coordinator for Refugee Children, UNHCR, Geneva, Switzerland; Maya Ameratunga and Bruce Abramson are Consultants at the Senior Coordinator for Refugee Children's Unit, UNHCR, Geneva, Switzerland.
1. The terms 'refugee children' and 'refugee adolescent' in this article should be understood to include refugees, returnees, asylum seekers, as well as certain internally displaced and war-affected persons in specific situations for whom UNHCR is mandated to provide protection and assistance.
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