Meet our child protection expert: Part 1

Why World Vision? In this 2-part Q&A (check back for part 2 tomorrow!), Matthew Stephens, senior specialist for child protection with World Vision, explores how our community development work and child sponsorship program help protect children from abuse, neglect, exploitation, and violence.

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1. All of World Vision’s work is focused on promoting child well-being; so in a way, clean water, health, food all protect children. So what does child protection mean specifically?

World Vision defines child protection as taking all measures to prevent or respond to abuse, neglect, exploitation, and other forms of violence affecting children. It’s true that a family’s ability to meet their children’s basic health needs or to send their children to school contribute to children’s protection.

However, the opposite is also true: Children who are not protected are often actively prevented from achieving their full potential. Violence or exploitation can undermine any child well-being outcome, just as a safe environment provides children with the opportunity to develop holistically.

A child forced into hazardous work may never see the inside of a classroom. A child whose innocence and childhood is stolen by being sold into exploitation is exposed to emotional, psychological, and physical harm, which dramatically alters their ability to form positive relationships. A child whose family and community see him or her as property may never have the opportunity to thrive.

An unprotected child is one who may never experience a life in all its fullness.

Cambodia, 2008: Sokchan, a brick factory worker, studies at a non-formal education class through a World Vision anti-child labor project. (Photo: Sopheak Kong/World Vision)

Our child protection efforts address the tragedies of children in hazardous labor; children trafficked for sex or labor exploitation; children affected by war and conflict; children living in institutions and on the street; children exposed to sexual, physical, and emotional abuse in the home and in schools; and children subject to harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation and early marriage.

World Vision seeks to create a protective environment around children, such that they not only survive, but thrive in their community. We work to ensure that families can provide not only materially for their children, but also emotionally and with the opportunity for learning and growth. We engage communities to address inequalities and harmful attitudes and practices, which devalue girls and the most vulnerable children in society. We work to ensure that a system of care and support exists in communities to quickly identify and respond to cases of abuse, exploitation, and violence against children.

World Vision provides immediate care and services -- such as short-term shelter, as well as medical, legal, and psychosocial support to children affected by violence -- and works with local partners to ensure that children receive long-term, community-based restorative care, access to education, and the livelihood support they need.

2. If you had to choose just one, what would you say is the greatest danger to children around the world? Why that one?

One of the largest and most often overlooked threats to children is violence and abuse found closest to home -- experienced within the family, school, and community. Sexual, psychological, and physical abuse experienced within the family has dramatic effects on children’s emotional and psychological well-being; the ability to form and develop positive and long-lasting relationships; academic performance; and physiological development.

It should be noted that globally, physical and sexual violence are still most often perpetrated by people children know personally. Violence and abuse in schools have the potential to derail education efforts for children for life. Further, for children living outside of family care, the risks of physical and sexual abuse are even greater.

3. How does World Vision address abuse in the home?

World Vision’s community-based approach allows us to address concerns where they occur and to protect children where they are. Through our area development programs, World Vision conducts extensive assessments of child protection risks and contextualizes its response to these communities. We work first to ensure a loving and safe family environment for children through parental training and engagement, parental support groups, and support for families with vulnerable children.

For children outside parental care, World Vision seeks to ensure that children have the opportunity to return to family-based care, either by working to reunite them with biological parents or extended family, or by supporting their reintegration into alternative family-based care.

4. What are some of the other important ways that we protect children?

The oft-quoted African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” is absolutely true. Protecting children is a comprehensive effort from all those around children: mothers and fathers, police officers, social workers, teachers, nurses, faith and community leaders, and even children themselves. World Vision works with all parties, training teachers and nurses to report abuse; training police officers to respond appropriately to child violence; supporting child protection committees; creating safe spaces for children to learn and play; supporting the creation of school committees to ensure a safe learning environment; and engaging faith leaders to speak out against violence and abuse.

There is much work to be done to protect children from harm, but for any of these efforts to be successful, it is an absolute requirement that the communities around children are promoting these efforts together.

Read Part 2 here.

Child sponsorship is the cornerstone of World Vision’s approach to community development. Join us! Change a child’s life for good. Sponsoring a child helps provide life-saving basics, as well as protection from abuse and exploitation. Consider sponsoring a child today!

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