by Roger Pearson, Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Adviser, Child Protection, Programme Division, UNICEF
|photo credit: UNICEF/NYHQ2006-127/d'Elbee|
Global estimates point to hundreds of millions of girls and boys experiencing some form of violence, exploitation or harmful practice. One in 10 girls under the age of 20 has experienced sexual violence. In a study of five countries, at least one in four adolescent boys reported incidents of physical violence since age 15. Almost 750 million girls and women were married as children, and at least 200 million girls and women have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting. Hundreds of thousands of refugee and migrant children are at grave risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, including trafficking and smuggling. In addition, at least 2.7 million children, many of them with disabilities, live in residential care.
The global community has come together to achieve a world free of violence against children under the Sustainable Development Goals and in particular SDGs 5, 8 and 16. Goal 16.2 aims to “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children.” The world must come together to strengthen the protective environment through investments in national systems, community dialogue and behavior change. To reach these goals states will need to strengthen and expand their social services infrastructure and case management systems. And communities need support to enhance existing mechanisms that protect children. States now must go from the relatively easy task of agreeing to goals in international fora to the point where resource allocations to pay for systems building are allocated. This in turn, depending on local context, may need budget policies to be drafted, legislation to be updated, reviews and adjustments to be organized and all the other markers of good programme management.
Taking action requires a functioning social service workforce, for without the workforce, the most vulnerable are often not protected. Social service workers facilitate critical linkages between civil society and multiple government sectors including health, education, social protection, child protection and justice. In humanitarian situations, local level community social service workers support community-based approaches that provide psychosocial support to girls, boys and women experiencing gender-based violence, including by providing safe spaces. Social service workers prevent family separation and support reunification of unaccompanied and separated children, advocate for the prevention of recruitment of children into the fighting forces and support the release and reintegration of girls and boys associated with armed forces and groups. They support programs for provision of survivor assistance to children affected by landmines and explosive arms. Social service workers are needed to protect children exposed to grave violations in situations of armed conflict and to support survivors.
Frontline or local level social service workers providing direct support to children and families are needed, as are those who are mobilizing communities, advocating for policy change, writing legislation, designing programs, securing funding, managing social service agencies, running professional associations, educating and training, supervising, mentoring, researching, monitoring and evaluating, and overseeing information management systems.
The SDGs are an opportunity for those who see the importance of social service workers to come together and advocate for the allocation of adequate resources to do what is required to fulfill the SDGs even for the most vulnerable. There are many opportunities for advocacy coalitions to come together, including when a national development plan is being revised or reviewed, when parliamentarians are up for election, or when priorities are being laid out for the use of international development funding to support national development.
With these SDGs now in place, the ground is more fertile than it has ever been to make the case for greater investments in the social service workforce. Let us come together more closely to lobby states who have made promises to deliver on SDGs at the international level to live up to their words by making the necessary modifications to their social services country-by-country.