Children have the right to kept safe from harm. Child abuse is an international challenge and happens across the world. According to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is estimated that, globally, up to one billion children aged two to 17 years, have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence or neglect in the past year.
Harm can be done by any number of people that meet a child. Most are known to the child or family, can be either an adult or another child, and target them in order to take advantage of the children. They invest time to befriend, be kind, and make the child feel valued and special. Access to children in person or online with the intent to harm is a process is called “grooming,” also known in some countries as “kind harm.”
Every child in the world matters and some countries encourage open discussion about child abuse. Unfortunately, this is not globally practiced. Some countries invest in educating communities, adults, and children about how to recognize abuse and who to report abuse to. Most countries have a child protection help line. Every country has some form of Children Services provided by the government and child orphanages, non-government organizations supporting local communities, police forces, and social workers. This model varies across the world.
Safeguarding and child protection awareness went global in 1989 with UNICEF Rights of the Child. However, it is not yet consistent across the world and children are still at risk of harm. UNICEF clearly states that every child has the right to be protected from danger. This includes all hazards that could affect their physical, mental, and emotional states, such as removing them from dangerous living situations, preventing them from getting into accidents, or protecting them from the abuse of adults, to name a few. Parents, guardians, and all adults should be vigilant in protecting and advocating for the rights of children.
Every child has the right to be safely cared for and protected. Their welfare is paramount, and children should have equal rights to their peers.
Children of color attend education establishments around the world that, unfortunately, often don’t always represent people that look like them. These children are surrounded by other children who often gain automatic privileges just because their skin color is different to their peers.
Due to their own unconscious biases, some staff do not understand this and may not realize some of these children experience discrimination on a daily basis that impacts their self-esteem, well-being, and self-worth. This is a form of child harm and educators have a responsibility to become informed to help protect these children.
Through research, we now know that prejudice based bullying and discriminatory bullying impacts the well-being of children and they often internalize these feelings. According to an article published by Boston Children’s Hospital, they often feel disconnected and adults around them need to create safe spaces where the conversations can start, and connections be made.
Some examples of conversation starters are:
- Is anyone making you feel uncomfortable?
- Do you feel that you are treated the same as your peers? Why? How?
- Do you have a trusted person who understands your living experiences?
Educational settings across the world need to address such practice and pay attention to inconsistent responses of prejudice and discrimination that impacts the self-esteem of children of color.
The Black Lives Matter movement reminded us about inequality and social injustice that exists around the world and how people are treated unfairly due to the color of their skin. This doesn’t begin at adulthood. Children have the right to be respected, valued, and feel connected to the adults in their learning environments.
Teachers working with children should attend annual child protection training, educating themselves about how to recognize, report, and educate children about how to keep themselves safe. Inclusion and diversity are key to how we understand the importance of all people feeling included, respected, and valued.
Student voice is important, and we need to know how children feel in our educational settings. Do children know schools have safeguarding policies in place to keep them safe? Do they know who to report? Does the school teach safeguarding across the curriculum? Is the safeguarding policy child and parent friendly?
It is vital that we pay attention to these questions and create a proactive approach in our educational settings. We must identify the barriers to what stops children and young people telling us about their experiences. An ongoing culture of listening and safeguarding is key and best done when creating a whole school and community approach, working in partnership with families, communities, children, and young people.
Anne Marie Christian is presenting at The AIELOC and Women of Color in ELT Conference, which “aims to provide high quality professional development for international educators and leaders focused on representation, social justice, and equity studies.”
Global prevalence of past-year violence against children: a systematic review and minimum estimates. Hillis S, Mercy J, Amobi A, Kress H. Pediatrics 2016; 137(3): e20154079.
Racism and children’s health: What providers need to know. Barker, Joan. Boston Children’s Hospital; 2020 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Ann Marie Christian (FRSA, Affiliated CIS Consultant) is an International Safeguarding Consultant. With over thirty years experience as a social worker and manager, she writes about the international safeguarding challenges. She has been involved in international work since 2008 and has always worked with children from diverse communities.