When the world is facing a global refugee crisis, threatening epidemics and more and more weather-related disasters, children are disproportionately affected. Nevertheless, Sweden lacks clear strategies for dealing with it. Now it is time for Sweden to secure its humanitarian aid for children, write Pia Stavås Meier and Agnes Björn at Plan International.
"If we lose the children, we lose the peace ", Minister for Development Aid Isabella Lövin recently wrote in a debate article in which she promises increased focus on children's rights in Swedish development assistance. It is really needed - not least in crises, conflicts and disasters.
The world is facing more and worse humanitarian challenges than ever; a global refugee crisis, threatening epidemics, and more and worse weather-related disasters. In these crises, children are disproportionately hard hit. Children in humanitarian crises are at greater risk of being exposed to violence, sexual exploitation, child marriage, human trafficking and forced recruitment to armed groups.
Despite all the challenges, Sweden lacks clear strategies and guidelines for how the problems should be addressed. From the children's rights organization Plan International's, we believe that Sweden, as one of the world's largest humanitarian donors, can play an important role - both politically and financially. We have therefore put together four concrete proposals that can guide the work of securing humanitarian aid for children.
Sweden's humanitarian strategies, policies and international positions must be based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
Special efforts are needed to ensure the safety and well-being of children. However, many humanitarian actors clearly lack a focus on child rights, which can have a major negative effect - not least as today's crises often last for many years. For example, children on the run are rarely registered and without a birth certificate they risk becoming both state and identityless. Without ID documents, they then find it difficult to assimilate other fundamental rights.
Sweden, as a strong advocate for children's rights, should ensure that the new humanitarian strategy that is currently being developed has a clear child rights perspective, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The government should also demand that all actors who channel Sweden's humanitarian aid have clear guidelines and policies for how children's special needs are met, how children can be protected from abuse and that children have the right to participate in decision - making processes. It is also important that Sweden takes a clear position on children's rights at international meetings and negotiations concerning humanitarian issues.
2. Invest in education and protection of children within the framework of Swedish humanitarian aid
According to the UN, more than 125 million people around the world are in direct need of humanitarian support for their survival - about half of these are children. This means that there are over 60 million children who, as a result of crises and disasters, risk growing up without access to education and other fundamental rights. It also means that they are at increased risk of being exposed to various types of violence.
Plan International believes that education and protection of children are so vital for children's development and survival that these efforts must be recognized as life-saving. However, these two areas are two of the most underfunded sectors of humanitarian work. Here, Sweden can show the way, partly by increasing support for children's education and protection, but also by influencing other actors to do the same.
3. Focus on girls' special needs and vulnerability in humanitarian situations
Lack of equality and traditional patterns make girls in many countries among the most vulnerable and marginalized. In connection with crises and disasters, this is further accentuated and the risks of being exposed to sexual violence, child marriage, trafficking and the worst forms of child labor increase further.
This is noted, among other things, in the UN Population Fund's latest report, which states that the inability to deal with these challenges has a negative effect on the long-term development of entire societies. On the other hand, prioritizing initiatives for girls' schooling, health care and access to information and co-determination - not least in terms of sexual and reproductive health - leads instead to improved development for future generations. The action plan recently developed for Sweden's feminist foreign policy also places strong focus on girls and girls' special needs in humanitarian situations. Now it applies that this results in concrete efforts in the form of increased efforts.
Involve children in the work of disaster risk reduction
Every year, millions of people are affected by natural disasters - disasters that, as a result of climate change, are expected to become both more and worse in the coming years. People who are already living on the margins are hardest hit and many families' finances are destroyed when the disaster strikes. The children thus often lose their opportunity for schooling, medical care and a safe home environment. Disaster risk reduction efforts are therefore vital and must be seen as important investments for the future. Research also shows that every krona invested in risk reduction provides a sevenfold return.
When it comes to spreading knowledge about climate change and natural disasters and teaching how societies can reduce their vulnerability, the school has a central role. We also know that children pass on the knowledge to their families - involving children in disaster risk reduction work is therefore a cost-effective way to build safer communities. We therefore believe that Sweden should produce clear guidelines that prioritize and make visible the importance of children and young people's participation in the disaster risk reduction work.
A concrete measure is to integrate disaster risk reduction into the education sector as schools in many poor communities are the only functioning institution. As many crises and disasters span a long period of time, Sweden should work for a clearer and more effective link between humanitarian and long-term aid to build more resilient societies.
We hope that the government will take these proposals into account and make them visible in the new humanitarian strategy, and ensure that the child rights perspective becomes a central part of Sweden's position during the forthcoming World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May.
By investing in, and listening to, the children of the world, we contribute to enabling both development and peace as well as a better future!
Pia Stavås Meier and Agnes Björn