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Refugee Children and Adolescents, including Follow-up to the 1997 Evaluation and Report on Implementation of the Machel Study

Executive Committee Meetings

Refugee Children and Adolescents, including Follow-up to the 1997 Evaluation and Report on Implementation of the Machel Study

3 August 1998



1. The High Commissioner, in her 1996 statement to the Executive Committee, requested that UNHCR prepare a follow-up strategy to the United Nations Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children (The Machel Study). This strategy was introduced to the Standing Committee in April 1997 (EC/47/SC/CRP.19) and integrated into the 1997 Executive Committee Conclusions on Refugee Children and Adolescents (A/AC.96/895, para. 21). In 1997, the High Commissioner also requested that an evaluation be carried out on UNHCR's efforts on behalf of children and adolescents. The results of this evaluation, which was undertaken by UNHCR's Inspection and Evaluation Services (IES) in partnership with the International Save the Children Alliance, was presented to the Standing Committee in August 1997 (EC/47/SC/CRP.50).

2. Both the Machel Study Follow-up Strategy and IES evaluation identified structural problems that impede implementation of UNHCR policy and guidelines on refugee children and adolescents. To address this problem, the Machel Study follow-up strategy recommended that the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)-based performance objectives be established within all phases of UNHCR's operations, and identified improvements in budgeting, staffing, and training required to achieve these objectives. The IES evaluation's overarching recommendation was that "the Senior Management Committee, with support from the Senior Coordinator for Refugee Children, develop and oversee implementation of an integrated plan of at least four years duration."

3. This report provides an update of UNHCR's initial efforts to implement its Machel Study Follow-up Strategy and IES evaluation recommendations. These efforts continue to be affected by the Office's financial situation and post review exercise and may also be affected by in-house restructuring. Further dialogue with the Standing Committee on implementation progress would be useful.


4. In a July 1997 internal directive, the High Commissioner requested her offices to prepare a comprehensive follow-up strategy to the Machel Study, paying particular attention to the performance objectives established in the April 1997 Standing Committee Report. The directive also drew attention to five areas of immediate concern: adolescents, sexual exploitation, education, prevention/monitoring of military recruitment of children, and unaccompanied children.

5. Fifty-five offices submitted a Machel Study Plan of Action covering a range of programme, protection and advocacy measures for war-affected children and young people. Some Plans of Action indicated where these activities were reflected in their 1998 budgets; however, the majority did not provide specific budgetary information. Nonetheless, a recent review of twenty country programmes in emergency, care and maintenance and reintegration phases, revealed that while the level of programming varied sharply between these countries, most operations had allocated funding for Machel-related activities. The attached Annex summarizes current and planned Machel Study follow-up activities.

6. Given the 1998 funding shortfall, country programmes have since had to reduce their operational budgets curtailing, like other sectors, Machel Study-related activities. Some country programmes, particularly those with major ongoing child protection concerns, have maintained a priority focus on these issues, despite diminished resources. Rwanda, though obliged to reduce its budget by 45 per cent, has maintained extensive programmes for unaccompanied children, as have Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

7. A $ 4.23 million contribution from the United States Government has been especially helpful in ensuring the implementation of Machel Study plans of action, in full partnership with non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These funds resulted from the United States congressional legislation which appropriated up to $5 million in 1998 to support programmes initiated through UNHCR for unaccompanied minors and other at-risk refugee children. Similar legislation is proposed for 1999. Contributions from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the United States also enabled the Office to develop a series of capacity-building efforts as described below.


8. The IES evaluation concluded that "in many instances, refugee children and adolescents are simply considered as part of a broad category of persons described as a 'vulnerable group' without a great deal of attention to their special needs." It recommended creation of regional child posts to address this "invisibility" problem. Creation of regional child posts was also announced in the Report of the April 1997 meeting of the Standing Committee (A/AC.96/881) as a key component of the Office's Machel Study Follow-up Strategy.

9. In 1998, four Regional Policy Officer for Children posts were established in West Africa, Horn of Africa, Central Asia, and the Commonwealth of Independent States. The role of the Regional Officers is to promote the strategic reorientation of UNHCR protection and programming on behalf of refugee children and adolescents. Their functions include fostering of the implementation of the child rights-based performance objectives, assisting in the design and implementation of policy and decision-making processes, and developing impact assessment in relation to protection, programming, training and institutional capacity.

10. In 1995, UNHCR established its first regional post for refugee children in the Great Lakes region of Africa. This post, which has played an important collaborative role with UNICEF, NGOs and ICRC in establishing effective regional tracing and reunification programmes for tens of thousands of unaccompanied children, is due to be discontinued from October 1998. In the context of the organization-wide post review exercise, a decision was also made to cover what was to be a Regional Officer post to work on the International Save the Children Alliance-UNHCR Separated Children in Europe Programme through a consultancy.


11. The Machel Study concluded that children's needs will only be adequately met at an operational level when "UN personnel and staff of humanitarian organisations view children affected by armed conflict as a distinct and priority concern." In this regard, the IES evaluation remarked that the "Office has made little use of training to increase awareness among staff members of the protection and assistance issues affecting minors and how to apply the Office's policies." It further noted that there was "no formal training focused on children and adolescents," and recommended action to address this gap.

12. In response to these findings, UNHCR's Refugee Children's Unit and Rädda Barnen (Save the Children, Sweden) initiated Action for the Rights of Children, or ARC. ARC's primary goal is to increase the capacity of UNHCR, government and NGO staff to protect and care for children and adolescents during all stages of refugee situations, from emergency interventions until durable solutions.1 ARC is directed by a Steering Committee consisting of representatives of UNHCR and the International Save the Children Alliance. Expert module writers have developed a comprehensive set of training modules which have been reviewed by representatives from UNICEF, WHO, IRC and other organizations. In 1998, ARC training and capacity-building workshops have been implemented in the Horn of Africa, Central Asia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. A fourth ARC workshop is scheduled for West Africa later this year.

13. The ARC Steering Committee envisions a substantial expansion of ARC training in 1999. Increased efforts to mainstream ARC into existing training programmes is also foreseen. An internet resource site will be established to make ARC materials accessible to a wide range of agencies, institutions and practitioners.


14. The Machel Study and the IES evaluation highlighted the important role that structured activities and education play in prevention, protection and recovery of war-affected refugee children. They also stressed that the strategic use of education to promote tolerance and conflict-resolution among children and adolescents could help to facilitate durable solutions and consolidate peace. The rapid establishment of education in emergencies and inclusion of conflict-resolution and peace-building efforts in country programmes are included in the child rights-based performance objectives.

15. UNHCR's Senior Education Officer has since launched a new Education for Peace and Conflict-Resolution Initiative. The initiative includes pilot projects in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, as well as in the refugee school programme in Guinea. Draft manuals have been produced for community and school-based education for peace and conflict-resolution. Various community groups and community leaders have received extensive training. Particular emphasis has been placed on training youth groups. Refugee schools in Kenya now include weekly sessions on peace and on life skills, and regular in-service teacher training on these subjects.

16. Further development is envisioned for 1999 to permit coverage of the entire span of primary and post-primary schooling, as is monitoring and evaluation. The Education Unit also intends to extend this programme to other major refugee school systems, with necessary adaptation, translation, training of trainers and teachers.


17. The IES evaluation found that "accountability for implementing UNHCR's policies on refugee children and adolescents is weak and needs improvement, both at the programme level and with regards to individual posts." It further noted that "reference to issues affecting children is rare in both protection and programme reporting." Recommendations included revision of UNHCR's Career Management System (CMS) and inclusion of the child rights-based performance objectives into the Operations Management System (OMS).

18. Selected Core and Managerial competencies have been modified to provide more appropriate performance indicators to improve performance on behalf of refugee adolescents, children and women, and the Deputy High Commissioner has issued a directive to all staff at Headquarters and in the Field announcing these revisions. Further revisions are underway for indicators relating to functional competencies. Once these modifications are operational, the CMS performance appraisal system would require that the Office's policies and guidelines on refugee children and adolescents to be included in all staff members' performance objectives.

19. The new field oriented OMS Handbook which is now being drafted, will provide practical guidance on all aspects of UNHCR's operations, integrating children and adolescent themes and concerns throughout the text. Specific sections on children and adolescents will be included. As part of the OMS development process, formats for operations and project plans are being adapted so as to better ensure that children and adolescent concerns are addressed and that specific measures to meet their needs are documented. Although the design and implementation of new information technology for operations management will necessarily take time, efforts are currently underway to ensure that the new systems will enable the entry and retrieval of specific information on the demographic make-up of refugee populations, including children and adolescents, and that this information can be used in the design and management of the protection and assistance measures UNHCR and its partners are implementing on their behalf, and the results and impact reported upon.

20. The Operations Management System currently being developed foresees programme planners using an electronic "toolbox" that will highlight priority areas and include sample objectives and checklists based on UNHCR policies and guidelines. The intention is to include the child rights-based performance objectives outlined in the April 1997 Standing Committee Report into OMS objectives.

21. The Division of International Protection is drafting a series of checklists on various protection matters, and in this context is working to ensure that protection of refugee children is appropriately highlighted. In addition, as part of the Protection Management Information System process, a new section in the situation reports will require monitoring and reporting on the impact of the different programmes on the protection of beneficiaries. In the guidance provided for this section, impact on women, children, and adolescents is specifically highlighted. The Director of the Division also issued field directives on Harmful Traditional Practices and on Child Soldiers.

22. The Resettlement Section has substantially revised the Office's Resettlement Handbook to emphasize the importance of family unity and support for unaccompanied children. A recent mission to Africa has focused on at-risk refugee children who may benefit from resettlement if critical protection concerns cannot be met in a given refugee situation.


23. The IES evaluation recommended steps to expand structured relationships with NGOs with child and adolescent expertise, and further efforts with UNICEF to realize the potential of the memorandum of understanding between the two agencies.

24. The International Save the Children Alliance and UNHCR have since embarked on capacity-building initiatives in three regions. In West Africa, the Alliance-UNHCR partnership anticipates development of regionally-based teams to address children's issues in emergencies, and shared plans of action to address the situation of at-risk refugee children through activities that prevent family separations and promote social reintegration. In the Horn of Africa, the partnership intends to establish a more effective regional tracing and reunification programme for unaccompanied children, and to develop awareness of refugee child rights and protection issues with structures such as the Organization of African Unity and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. In Europe, the Alliance-UNHCR Separated Children in Europe Programme has made substantial progress in promoting a common set of best practices for unaccompanied children and mobilizing an NGO network to work on their behalf.

25. UNICEF and UNHCR have jointly developed the Liberian Children's Initiative (LCI) which is designed to address the particular reintegration needs of refugee and returnee children and youth in main areas of return. The LCI provides a substantial focus 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 been established with NGOs to enable a range of agencies to monitor child protection concerns, and an environmental component is included to engage returnee youth in environmental activities. The LCI also appears to have enhanced the Ministry of Education's capacity to develop coherent policies and coordinate NGO efforts, thereby eliminating duplicative activities.

26. UNHCR has supported UNICEF's substantial effort to put an end to the systematic abduction of children from northern Uganda by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), and to seek the immediate return to Uganda of the estimated two thousand children still held captive by the LRA in its base camps in southern Sudan. UNHCR has provided support to Mr. Olara Otunnu, the Secretary-General's Special Representative on 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 Convention of the Rights of the Child.


27. The Machel Study Follow-up Strategy and IES evaluation are important benchmarks in UNHCR's continuing effort to provide more effective protection and assistance to refugee children and adolescents. They have enabled the Office to better understand the particular protection and assistance requirements of its youngest beneficiaries, and to launch an integrated plan of action to more effectively address these concerns.

28. Efforts to mainstream the child rights-based performance objectives outlined in the conference room paper presented to the seventh meeting of the Standing Committee (EC/47/SC/CRP.19) were undertaken through the development of and interim reporting on Machel Study Plans of Action in fifty-five country operations. Despite budget constraints, most country programmes appear to have maintained at least partial programmes for at-risk refugee children, including projects for family tracing and care for separated children, psychosocial support and reintegration, tolerance education, skills training for adolescents and former child soldiers and promotion of girls' education. Moreover, some country operations with large caseloads of separated children and other severely war-affected groups of children have maintained a priority focus on programmes for these children, despite having to make significant reductions elsewhere. These efforts benefited from the United States Government's significant contribution for at-risk refugee children.

29. Generous support from the Governments of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the United States also enabled UNHCR to embarked on a series of inter-related enhancement initiatives. These include establishment of Regional Policy Officer for Children posts, development of the ARC Training-Capacity Building Programme and Education for Peace and Conflict Resolution Initiative, and implementation of new NGO Partnership Programmes. In the current context of financial constraints, the Office has not been able to project an extension of these initiatives under its own funding. Additional support is needed to help maintain the process and the progress of mainstreaming child and adolescent concerns into UNHCR and NGO field operations.

(Note: Tabular summary not included in this online version. See your nearest UN Depository Library.)

1 A full description of this first comprehensive training programme to address the concerns of refugee children and adolescents is contained in Action for the Rights of Children: A Training and Capacity Building Initiative on Behalf of Refugee Children and Adolescents.