How we're working to protect children in makeshift settlementsIn times of conflict, children and adolescents are amongst the most vulnerable. Children face risks such as death, injuries, gender-based violence, exploitation, interrupted education, and social exclusion.

Recently, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) conducted a child protection assessment in Bangladesh, to see how the needs of vulnerable children can be addressed. 

Violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar has displaced hundreds of thousands people from the local Muslim population, who have been crossing into Bangladesh in search of safety. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), approximately 74,550 people have arrived in Bangladesh since last October alone -  57% of which are children under the age of 17.

The newly arrived populations are living In the makeshift settlements, within these settlements  it is very easy for the basic needs of children, like food, clothing, health services, psychosocial support, and  education to go unmet. While the local Bangladesh Red Crescent is on the ground, their capacity is being tested by the volume of people who need support. The Red Crescent is working with other humanitarian organizations, such as local NGOs and UNICEF, in order to provide support – but the need is great and resources limited.

The assessment determined several areas of concern when it comes to the vulnerable children in these settlements. The assessment also determined that while children represent the majority of new arrivals, their voices are not being heard.

The assessment noted several areas where children are facing challenges:
  • There are very high numbers of unaccompanied and separated children and systems to support them are not sufficient.
  • Basic needs like food, safe drinking water and clothing are often going unmet.
  • Children are experiencing high psychosocial distress.
  • Violence, like gender-based violence is a problem in the settlements. At times of extreme stress, such as that being experience in the settlements, the likelihood of violence always increases and many of the cases will go unreported.
  • Adolescent girls face unique risks like child marriage, issues with access to menstrual hygiene products, and sexual harassment.
  • Adolescent boys also face unique risks, like discrimination when seeking shelter, drug abuse and labour exploitation.
Thanks to support from the Government of Canada, Gurvinder Singh was part of the IFRC assessment team as the Child Protection Advisor, Inclusion, Protection and Engagement Unit.

“What happens to these kids today and the coming years shapes everything for their future and the future of their families,” said Gurvinder, “The situation for these children is desperate and requires urgent investment, support, and attention. This is a silent crisis that can lead to a lost generation of girls and boys. ”

It’s clear the situation is serious, so what can be done for these children?

The Red Crescent is helping through a number of practical actions. For example, they are providing psychosocial support to children, collecting data on the numbers of unaccompanied and separated children, supporting family reunification, delivering menstrual hygiene parcels, and helping families strengthen their shelters and access health services. The Red Crescent is now also planning to scale-up its work with unaccompanied and separated children and to implement a child friendly space to allow a safe place for girls and boys to work through psychosocial issues, learn protection information, and build their resilience.

Something that Gurvinder says gives him hope is the tireless work of the Red Crescent volunteers, many of them youth.

“Youth are leading the charge,” he says, “they are doing this because they see the needs, empathize with the children and adults arriving,  and want to help. They do this as volunteers taking time away from their own studies, work, and commitments in order to try to make things better for others. That’s what the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement is all about.”