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The lens on children and women in disasters

Source: Plan International - Fri, 4 Jan 2013 04:47 GMT
Author: Selena Fortich
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In the early hours of 4 December, Typhoon Bopha, locally known as Pablo, hit the east coast of Mindanao in the south of the Philippines. It was the 16th and most powerful typhoon to hit the Philippines in 2012.

Women and children affected by Typhoon Bopha have witnessed their homes and communities destroyed, and many have lost friends and loved ones. They are now living in the wreckage or in evacuation centres, with little access to food, water and sanitation and with only basic shelter if any.

Reports suggest that some families are forced to separate, as children may be left in the care of one parent or another family member while others look to rebuild homes. Children and their families are living in unsafe, uncertain and uncomfortable circumstances, without opportunities to play. Reports from the field indicate that many children are crying every time there is rain, and many others are begging on the sides of the roads.

Children who have experienced terrifying events and are living in stressful situations will initially show changes in social relations, behavior, physical reactions, and emotions. While these reactions are normal, children require support to overcome them. If levels of stress are sustained over time, it can have a serious impact on children’s protection, health and development. Furthermore, a small number of children will have been more severely affected and will require more specialized support.

In these conditions, pre-existing child protection issues are likely to be exacerbated, new child protection threats are likely to emerge, and habitual child protection mechanisms may be undermined. In addition, the distressed situation is more likely to lead to more sexual and gender-based violence, especially among adolescent girls and young women as past experiences in emergencies show. 

This is what reports from the field are telling us: children begging in the streets; reported abuse of a child with disability who was tied up like a dog, two cases of unaccompanied children, unattended children in evacuation centers; no distinction/special attention given to the needs of pregnant and lactating mothers; vulnerability to child/women trafficking; loss of important legal documents of children (birth certificates);  domestic violence; and unattended needs of younger children, children with disabilities and children from isolated communities. 

In view of this, Plan Philippines argues that it becomes more urgent to undertake interventions to address child protection concerns as these issues become prominent for women and children during emergencies, it is imperative to take proactive measures to prevent harm and provide a protective and caring environment. To realize this goal, safe spaces for children and women are provided, psychosocial support offered, awareness on protection issues increased and community-based protection mechanisms are strengthened within communities. 

Plan currently works closely with the Child Protection sub-cluster and the Gender-Based Violence sub-cluster, and maintains solid relationships with the relevant government agencies. Furthermore, much of Plan’s proposed interventions will depend on working closely with local service providers – including local and international NGOs, church groups and the local authorities.

-- Selena Fortich is the  child protection advisor for Plan International in the Philippines.

Click here to find out how you can donate to Plan's response in the Philippines.

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