One in every four children across the world lives in a disaster zone. Their rights are often violated when a disaster occurs, and they can be affected by any trauma they experience in these situations for the rest of their lives.

Children are at risk of having their rights infringed in disaster zones for many different reasons. They are physically weaker than adults and are thus more prone to disease, psychologically struggle to process what they have experienced and are in additional danger if their rights are not recognised and child-friendly practices not put into place.

For this reason, the 2018 WorldRiskReport has focused on child protection and children’s rights. The report is compiled every year and assesses how at risk every country across the globe is to natural disasters and identifies key themes which make some countries more vulnerable than others. Terre des Hommes contributed its child rights expertise to this latest issue of the report.

The report highlights how important it is that disaster relief efforts provide genuine protection and care for children in humanitarian situations. In the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, cyclone or other extreme event, schools, nurseries and sometimes entire districts are destroyed. Public services that normally protect children, such as the police, may not be operational and people looking to exploit children quickly move in to the vacuum.

Preparation before disaster strikes

For children to remain protected in disaster situations, it is imperative that ways to guarantee their safety are developed before humanitarian crises even occur. All organisations working in these contexts should ensure staff are properly trained to understand and accommodate the specific needs children have in an emergency setting, with staff also being vetted to minimise any potential threats to children they could pose.

Governments and local authorities should also provide further security for children by enshrining child protection into law, creating a plan of action for use in emergencies and incorporating children’s feedback into disaster preparedness planning.

Caring for children in the midst of a crisis

Combined with being prepared to protect children when disasters happen, the right steps must be taken in the event of a humanitarian incident. The most important of these is the quick and efficient setting up of child protection centres – where children can be provided with care, food, education and physical and mental healthcare.

The specific needs of children must be accounted for in these centres or any other place where children are being cared for. For example, children cannot survive on a diet of rice and water in the same way an adult can without suffering long-term health impairments, and so need prioritised access to high-energy foods.

The registration and monitoring of children in protection centres is also a crucial guard against child abuse and child trafficking, and maintaining children’s education and a daily routine can give children ripped out of their normal environment a structured daily life and renewed sense of normality.

Natural disasters caused over 68 million people to leave their homes in 2017 – over half of them children. But with solid preparedness and decisive action in the aftermath of a humanitarian emergency, any trauma children suffer can be mitigated and they can soon get back to what they do best – simply being children.

Picture: A child in Bangladesh shelters from the Monsoon rains. ©Tdh / François Struzik