One cannot reduce the number of children living on the streets without also engaging with the problems at home or in school that could explain their situation. A child who faces the risk of being trafficked, may also be disabled, in conflict with the law and experience violence in the home. Understanding the underlying causes and addressing this interconnectedness is key. Child protection systems seek to address the full spectrum of risk factors in the lives of all children and their families. Along with partners, including governments, non-governmental organizations, civil society actors and the private sector, UNICEF promotes the strengthening of all components of child protection systems - human resources, finances, laws, standards, governance, monitoring and services. Depending on the country context, child protection systems may cut across part of the social welfare, education, health, and security sectors.
UNICEF and its partners support the mapping and assessment of child protection systems. This work helps build consensus among government and civil society on the goals and components of such systems, their strengths, weaknesses and priorities upon which to act. This then translates into improved laws, policies, regulations, standards and services protecting all children. It also leads to the strengthening of these systems with the financial and human resources necessary to deliver results for children.
Over the past decade, UNICEF has also supported the informed understanding of social norms that result in violence, exploitation and abuse and has promoted change in a number of countries. To promote positive norms to bring about an end to harmful practices, UNICEF engages in advocacy and awareness raising and supports discussions, education programmes and communication for development strategies at community and national levels, within villages, across professional and religious groups and within diaspora communities. When combined with effective legislation, policies, regulations and services, this process that focuses on community values and human rights leads to positive and lasting change such as the abandonment of female genital mutilation/cutting, decreases in child marriage and domestic violence.
Changing social norms related to forms of violence, exploitation and abuse that are socially condoned is time and resource intensive. Yet, this work is crucial for sustained improvements in children’s lives.
This focus on the prevention and response to violence, exploitation and abuse cuts across the life cycle of the child. It is a critical part of realizing the Millennium Development Goals to ensure that children grow up in a safe and supportive environment. This work not only applies in development contexts but also in humanitarian settings and is in line with the recommendations of the United Nations Secretary-General's study on violence against children (2006), the United Nations report on the impact of armed conflict on children (1996) and the Machel study 10-year strategic review children and conflict in a changing world (2006).
Though devastating, emergencies provide opportunities for UNICEF to work with governments and civil society to renew and strengthen the laws, policies, regulations, services and practices that protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse while also addressing the negative social norms underlying some forms of violence.
UNICEF is committed to protecting children from the immediate and long-term effects of natural disasters and armed conflicts, which expose children to heightened risks of violence, abuse and exploitation. In such contexts, UNICEF supports children’s caregivers and arranges for safe spaces for children to play, learn and receive support for their psychological and mental well-being; identifies, reunites and cares for children separated from their families and caregivers; supports holistic assistance for children and adults who have suffered gender-based violence; actively works to release children associated with armed forces or armed groups and supports their community reintegration; promotes integrated case management of vulnerable children; helps to coordinate humanitarian actors working on child protection, gender-based violence and mental health and psychosocial support of children; monitors, reports on and responds to grave child rights violations; and actively works to put in place measures that reduce the risks of and prevent children from being harmed.
As programming must be grounded in robust data and evidence to demonstrate results, UNICEF also supports research, data collection and analysis to broaden the evidence base on child protection. For example, UNICEF recently completed a study on child disciplinary practices at home. Data and evidence are also used to inform programme and policy interventions, and monitoring and evaluation to ensure that interventions are reaching their goals and having a positive impact on the lives of children.