Research Portal

Faculty of Law | University of the Western Cape

Research Portal

Faculty of Law | University of the Western Cape


Applying a child-rights lens to development and humanitarian aid

Published: 06 October 2020

Safeguarding in the context of development and humanitarian assistance has received heightened international attention since 2018, but emerging literature has not yet investigated the extent to which responses are evolving in the best interests of the child, in line with the treaty-based rights of children.

In a recent journal article, Julia Sloth-Nielsen of UWC Law Faculty, along with Afrooz Kaviani Johnson of Leiden Univeristy, assessed the situation. Their work, according to the authors, makes a unique contribution to scholarship by applying a child-rights lens to safeguarding efforts in the aid sector with a focus on the least developed countries in Africa.

Entitled ‘Safeguarding children in the developing world: Beyond intra-organisational policy and self-regulation’, the article was published in Social Sciences in 2020 as part of the journal’s special issue on the theme, ‘Critical Debates and Developments in Child Protection’. It was also chosen as the feature article for a follow-up issue of Social Sciences.

The article first reviews the safeguarding landscape, providing a snapshot of self-regulatory and standard setting initiatives by non-government organisations (NGOs) and bilateral government donors. It goes on to examine the relevant standards in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and respective Committee observations to enrich the safeguarding discussion. Finally, the authors discuss key dilemmas and remaining challenges for safeguarding children in the developing world.

One such dilemma is that ‘[c]urrent sectoral efforts appear to largely focus on international NGOs with headquarters in the Global North and the risk of a “Western” offenders harming children in the world’s poorest countries. This does not reflect the variety of organisations inhabiting the aid space and in contact with children.’

Sloth-Nielsen and Johnson note that the focus is ‘arguably disportionate given that local staff make up the majority of the workforce in the developing world and both local and “foreign” staff (of all levels) have been implicated in cases of child abuse’. This ‘suggests that high-profile initiatives such as the global criminal records register may have a limited impact on the protection of children in the developing world’.

The article suggests that a rights-based approach provides for a more nuanced and contextualised response, avoiding the temptation of ‘tick-box’ exercises driven by reputational management and ‘programming siloes’ imposed by humanitarian and development actors.

To support sustained and consistent progress, efforts should go beyond intra-organisational policy and sectoral self-regulation. Child-rights law monitoring mechanisms can be leveraged to encourage effective government oversight of NGOs in contact with children, as part of national frameworks for child protection. Donor governments should also consider and increase investment in national and local child protection systems to address risk factors to child abuse and ensure appropriate responses for any child that experiences harm.

Click here to read the journal article.

Information sourced from the journal article's abstract and main-body content. Photo credits: UN Photo/Tobin Jones; UN Photo/Isaac Billy.