This guidance has been written for programme managers working in field locations and country offices. It has been designed to support multiple disciplines including MEAL, Emergency Response and Protection. It aims to give practical steps and advise on how to create and disseminate context, age, ability and gender appropriate messages to communities. We have included overall guidance, advice and examples of messages and images which can be adapted and used as necessary. Currently, the guidance is only available in English but it is currently being translated into Arabic, French, Spanish and Portuguese.
During emergency responses, it is imperative that aid agencies communicate PSEA messaging to the communities where they are implementing programmes. Ensuring that everyone (men, women, boys, and girls) know what behaviours they should and should not expect of aid workers – and that aid is always free and should never be given in exchange for financial or sexual gain – is key to PSEA and effective safeguarding. However, getting the message to communities in a safe, appropriate, and effective way can be challenging, not least when safety and security restrictions are put in place.
No person – child or adult – should come to harm as a result of their engagement with a humanitarian organisation or programme. We must ensure and communicate to communities at every appropriate opportunity that the aid sector operates a zero-tolerance approach to any form of abuse, harm, exploitation, or neglect perpetrated by those who have a responsibility to keep children and adults safe.
We know that in emergency situations it is likely that harm, exploitation, neglect, and abuse will increase. Humanitarian crises exacerbate the unequal power dynamic between those in receipt of, and those with access to, aid. Opportunities to abuse therefore also increase.
Pandemics such as COVID-19 present more opportunities for exploitation and abuse. As the need for aid increases, with supply of and access to aid decreasing simultaneously, these unequal power dynamics are exacerbated further. Concurrently, due to the restrictions placed on movement, domestic violence, intimate partner, and gender-based violence are also likely to increase. This can be heightened as school closures occur, and house- hold stressors increase – such as job losses, economic burden, and caring responsibilities (which surge, especially for women and adolescent girls). Children and adults with disabilities are at an increased risk of being harmed, abused, or exploited due to perceived power dynamics and their reduced opportunity to report concerns, when compared with their non-disabled peers. Humanitarian workers should be mindful of the increased risk to certain groups, know what signs of abuse to look for and champion the rights of at-risk groups in all settings, especially high-risk ones. Furthermore, if parents / carers are forced to self-isolate or are hospitalised, the risk of exploitation for children will increase. For some, this will result in them resorting to negative coping mechanisms such as early marriage, forced labour, trafficking and sex work.
Given the high-risk environment presented by a humanitarian emergency, and the associated increase in opportunities for exploitation and abuse, it is vital that we ensure we are doubling-down on our safeguarding and PSEA messaging within communities – to more effectively prevent harm, and hold perpetrators to account for their actions.
If your organisation works for and with children, then it is high time to check if you have put rigorous child safeguarding measures in place – starting from the top of the organisation, right down to your field staff and outside suppliers. Prevention, after all, is better than lives destroyed because of abuse.