UNHCR Global Appeal 1999 - Refugee Children and Adolescents

More than half of the world's 22.4 million refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR are children and adolescents under the age of 18. Each day, another 5,000 children become refugees; one in every 230 persons in the world is a child or adolescent who has been forced to flee his or her home.

Given these tragic statistics, UNHCR is accelerating efforts to place refugee children and adolescents squarely at the centre of its prevention, protection and assistance efforts. Maintaining its traditional focus on primary school education, health and nutrition, the Office is also rapidly expanding its agenda on behalf of at-risk refugee children, including unaccompanied minors, adolescent girls and boys, and children subjected to violence.

Machel Study Plans of Action

The importance of placing children and adolescents at the heart of the international community's humanitarian agenda has become increasingly evident in recent years. One of the catalysts of this growing awareness is Ms. Graca Machel, author of the United Nations Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children. The High Commissioner has requested that each of her offices prepares a comprehensive follow-up strategy to the Machel Study recommendations, drawing attention to five areas of immediate concern to UNHCR: adolescents, sexual exploitation, promotion of girls' education, prevention of military recruitment, and separated children. Sixty-two offices have developed plans of action covering programme, protection and advocacy measures for war-affected children and youth. Programmes now being implemented include:

  • Peace-Building: the "Tolerance through Arts and Culture" programme in the Ukraine promotes reintegration of formerly deported people through activities related to tolerance and cultural revitalization.
  • Girls' Education: in Pakistan, efforts to provide education to Afghan girls as well as boys have been expanded, including recruitment of female teachers, promotion of special schools for girls, and support to home-based schools. The total enrolment of girls increased by 17 per cent over the last year; an additional 20 per cent increase is projected for 1999.
  • Adolescents: in Ngara, Tanzania, adolescents are involved in youth leadership groups to help the most vulnerable individuals in the community. Many country programmes include youth campaigns on issues such as drug use, AIDS and early marriage.
  • Separated Children: in Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), UNHCR, in cooperation with other international agencies, has developed a highly effective mechanism for tracing the families of separated children, including photo tracing and community-mobilization campaigns. Support to foster families is also central to these programmes.
  • Child Soldiers: in Liberia, UNHCR and Save the Children have worked together to identify former child soldiers among the newly arrived refugees from Sierra Leone. These children are provided with psycho-social support, "catch-up" education, vocational training and peace education.
  • Sexual Exploitation: in Uganda, UNHCR offers regular seminars and workshops on the causes, consequences and means to prevent sexual violence. In Kenya, UNHCR runs psycho-social programmes for victims of sexual abuse, drop-in centres where victims can receive treatment and counselling, and community follow-up.

Regional Policy Officers for Children

There is always a danger that refugee boys and girls may simply be considered as part of a broad category of persons described as "vulnerable," without a great deal of attention paid to their specific rights and needs. In an effort to begin to address this problem, UNHCR has established new posts, entitled the Regional Policy Officer for Children, in West Africa, the Horn of Africa, Central Asia, and the Commonwealth of Independent States. The work of these Officers includes developing child rights-based performance objectives, programming, training and institutional capacity. These Officers will continue to play a key role in maintaining the focus on programmes for refugee girls and boys.

Action for the Rights of Children

The Machel Study concluded that children's needs will only be adequately met at an operational level when "United Nations personnel and staff of humanitarian organizations view children affected by armed conflict as a distinct and priority concern." In response to this finding, Save the Children Sweden and UNHCR have developed the Action for the Rights of Children (ARC) training programme, with the goal of increasing the capacity of UNHCR, government and NGO staff to protect and care for refugee boys and girls during all stages of refugee situations, from emergency interventions to durable solutions. ARC offers a comprehensive set of training modules on children's issues, developed and reviewed by representatives of UNHCR, UNICEF, WHO, the International Rescue Committee and other organizations. Training and capacity-building workshops have been completed in the Horn of Africa, Central Asia, the Commonwealth of Independent States and West Africa. ARC will be substantially expanded in 1999 and mainstreamed into UNHCR protection and emergency response training programmes.

Education for Peace

The Machel Study highlighted the important role that structured activities and education play in prevention, protection and recovery of war-affected refugee children, and stressed the strategic potential of education to promote tolerance and conflict resolution. In response, UNHCR launched an initiative in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, as well as in the refugee school programme in Guinea. Community and youth groups, as well as community leaders, have received extensive training. Refugee schools in Kenya now include weekly sessions on peace and on life skills, as well as regular in-service teacher training on these subjects. In 1999 this initiative will expand to cover the entire span of primary and post-primary schooling. UNHCR also intends to extend this programme to other major refugee school systems, with necessary adaptations, translations and training of trainers and teachers.

Operational Partnerships

UNHCR-NGO partnerships are critical to providing on-the-spot protection to war-affected girls and boys. The International Save the Children Alliance and UNHCR have embarked on new capacity-building initiatives in West Africa, the Horn of Africa and Europe. In Africa, the aim is to assist NGOs in addressing the needs of war-affected children and young people; in Europe, the intent is to promote a common set of best practices for unaccompanied children and to mobilize an NGO network to work on their behalf. Collaboration with UNICEF is equally essential. In Liberia, the two agencies are jointly implementing the Liberian Children's Initiative (LCI), designed to address the particular reintegration needs of refugee and returnee children and youth in main areas of return. The LCI focuses on: reintegration education for all returnee children as well as community capacity-building programmes to support children's education in the long term; enhancement activities for girls and at-risk teenagers; family reunification and reintegration support for unaccompanied children; and promotion of child welfare reform. Protection indicators have also been established with NGOs to help a range of agencies monitor child protection concerns; and an environmental component is included to engage returnee youth in environmental activities.

UNHCR provides support to Mr. Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, and is a member of his advisory group. The Office continues to work closely with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.