Writing Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Emergencies

During the Second Intifada, Palestinians experienced daily invasions into their homes, streets, and markets by Israeli soldiers. We lived in a state of emergency, feeling that at any moment someone could die. Even though we had experienced Occupation since 1967, the events of the Second Intifada made it clear that social workers and psychologists were still unprepared to deal with the emergency situation. We asked: What should we do? How can we start? Where should we go? Which camp first? All of Palestinian society was emotionally destroyed and dysfunctional. In government and NGOs alike, we discovered that we had no strategic plans for such a bad situation. This experience made it clear that we Palestinians needed to work together to develop our capacity to ensure that we are prepared to help children in emergencies. We need the tools to ensure that they do not carry trauma from emergencies for the rest of their lives.

To that end, TYO’s Nablus Center Director and I recently participated in a very interesting workshop in which we discussed Palestine’s proposed minimum standards for child protection in emergencies. Child protection in emergencies has been defined by the international Child Protection Working Group (CPWG) as “the prevention of and response to abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence against children.” Palestine is one of 20 countries piloting and reviewing these minimum standards in an initiative organized and supported by Terre des Hommes, UNICEF and Save the Children. It covers the following issues as they affect children in emergency situations: communication and advocacy regarding children's issues, child protection monitoring, psychosocial distress and mental disorders, and community-based mechanisms for protecting children in emergencies.

In 2010, CPWG, which works on a global level, agreed on the need for child protection standards in humanitarian settings to address a critical gap between theory and implementation and strengthen the protection of children in emergencies. These minimum standards for child protection in humanitarian response are intended to:

  • Establish commonly held principles amongst all actors who play a role in child protection.

(This point is very important in Palestine, because the trauma we continue to experience creates a sense of tearing apart in the community, which blocks the creation of an effective network to protect our children.)

  • Improve the quality of child protection programming to achieve greater impact for children.
  • Improve accountability within the child protection in emergencies sector.
  • Define the professional field of child protection in emergencies.
  • Synthesize and make available good practice and learning in the sector to date.
  • Enable humanitarian workers and others to better advocate and communicate on child protection needs and responses.

I was glad to participate in this workshop, where government and NGO representatives reviewed a draft of minimum standards for child protection in emergency situations. I worked with a group particularly focused on the standards relating to psychosocial distress and mental disorders. Our primary recommendations were to increase the focus on community preparation and build more capacity for treatment after trauma.

Regarding our first recommendation, it is ordinary people supporting their own communities who are the first line of response to emergency situations. As Palestinians, we understand what it means to live through this kind of trauma; we still have Occupation, which makes trauma and emergencies a constant threat. Therefore, we need to prepare the community to do its part during the trauma. This is especially important, as my professional experience has made it clear that those who engage with their communities during an emergency suffer fewer post-traumatic effects.

The draft also calls for efforts to build the capacity of professionals to meet community needs after the emergency has subsided. But what are actually the best interventions in emergencies? As a group of practitioners and experts, we need more specifics, so that we can really raise professional and community capacity to meet these minimum standards for child protection. From the experience of the Second Intifada, I know that psychologists and social workers need training in how to detach themselves from the emergency. They experience a huge amount of stress, which actually hurts their ability to do their work. Moreover, they need to be trained in holistic interventions that can offer relief to families and communities, not just individuals.

These are the main recommendations we made regarding the psychosocial and mental disorders sections of the document. The conference organizers have asked participants to read the draft again and submit written comments, so that we can continue the discussion about the nature and implementation of these standards.  Taking part in this project helps not just Palestinians, but also other people around the world. As we build standards to protect our children in emergencies, others can learn from our unique situation to emulate the great resilience of Palestinian society, and we can learn from them.


Suhad Jabi is the Psychosocial Program Manager at TYO.