Typhoon Yolanda

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one month on in Mindanao

As you make your way past Tagum City—a town about an hour north of Davao City in Mindanao, and the place where Save the Children has decided to base its Bopha/Pablo typhoon response operations—the destruction slowly increases with each kilometre you travel.  Up through the Compostela Valley there are pockets of destruction—in some areas almost no structure has a roof and many wood and bamboo structures have been completely destroyed; other areas are relatively untouched.  

This paled in comparison to the almost total devastation of the coastal areas of Boston, Cateel and Baganga in Davao Oriental Province.  The once lush, green forested areas that back the beautiful coastline are now almost completely barren—coconut trees lie as they fell like giant sticks littering the sides of the hills.

In Baganga Municipality, where Typhoon Bopha/Pablo made landfall, the destruction is all encompassing and extensive.  Local authorities there have registered 156 deaths from the Typhoon with 85 people still missing.  Authorities were quick to point out, however, that this figure could potentially go up as it has been hard to access many of the far flung barangays or villages.  Like in other Municipalities, local child protection councils had been formed before the typhoon, but most are not very functional and given the scale of the destruction and the focus on meeting the basic survival needs of people, child protection has not been a key focus of relief operations.  I had made the appeal two days earlier at an OCHA led workshop on Humanitarian Action Plan (HAP) revisions that it was time that we considered child protection as a lifesaving sector. This is one of Save the Children’s key advocacy messages and in line with the newly launched Child Protection in Emergency Minimum Standards.


In Baganga, I was told by a Municipality worker that roughly 25% of children were out of school before the typhoon.  “These children were primarily engaged in coconut harvesting and fishing work,” she said.  “Now that the coconut trees have been destroyed, we worry that even more teenagers will not return to school and will migrate to other areas to look for work and other opportunities. They will be extremely vulnerable.”

10 bunkhouses—ten families can be housed in one bunkhouse—are planned and/or are already partially completed for the Municipality, yet we heard concerns from locals that these shelters offered little in the way of privacy for women and children.  “There were some cases of sexual and gender based violence against women before the Typhoon,” a Municipality authority stated, “so we are concerned about the safety of women and girls.  Shelter is a pressing need, but more inputs are needed from women, girls and children before construction of these bunkhouses.”

Children in all three Municipalities that I spoke with, while in many ways displaying a great sense of resiliency, appeared in many ways to be having difficulty processing the aftermath of the emergency.  Universally, all children I spoke with said that when it stormed, or was windy or rained that it made them feel scared.  Adults and parents corroborated this.  Adults also commented that while children continue to find some time playing with friends, they rarely talked and that their play was somehow lethargic and emotionless.  Many children I spoke with were scared that they might not be able to return to school (despite plans for schools to reopen soon) or that they might not be able to ever meet friends that had left the area. Others feared that their families’ loss of livelihoods options might mean they would have to drop out of school and migrate with their family in search of work and income.


In Baganga, Municipality authorities commented that while parents in the area were generally well meaning they lacked extensive knowledge of positive caregiving for their children—this worried her in that as the recovery period wore on, adults may become more stressed and frustrated themselves and might “take out” these frustrations on their children.  “Parents here need information on how to care for their children better both after an emergency and in normal circumstances,” she said.

In order to address this, Save the Children has established and/or is in the process of establishing Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) as a safe space for children to come together and take part in structured activities which helps them gain a greater sense of normalcy and builds on innate resiliency.  Moreover, the CFS gives parents/adults time to begin to rebuild their own lives while not having to worry about the safety and care of their children.  The CFS is an environment in which parents can also receive positive caregiving and parenting inputs from Save the Children and partner organisations trained in positive discipline and caregiving.  10 CFS’ are planned for Compostela Valley and 5 for Cateel with plans afoot to raise additional funding for psychosocial and other child protection programming in additional communities in Davao Oriental.  In each community, Save the Children will help to organise and establish a Child Protection Committee or Group, which can help with monitoring protection issues and can link their efforts with Municipality and other authorities.


Children caught up in crisis events need information. They need to know what has happened and why, in order to rebuild understandings about the world and themselves. Save the Children encourages caregivers to talk to children about what has happened and stands committed to work with parents, partners, duty bearers and children themselves on ensuring the protection of all children—it is a lifesaving matter. 

a tenacity that pays off

On a rainy afternoon in August, I had an opportunity to meet with and learn from a Save the Children supported Child Protection Group (CPG) in a ward of Hlaingthayar Township—a peri-urban area of Yangon which attracts many migrants from across the country who come to work in one of the many factories or take up construction work or other daily wage earning jobs.  Hlaingthayar has one of the highest rates of underage recruitment into the military in the country and is rife with working children.

Established in 2009, the CPG is an excellent and poignant example of our community-based approach to promoting child protection.  The group frequently meets with Township authorities, including Myanmar Child Law sanctioned Township Child Rights Committees, to strategise on both preventive and response measures in addressing protection issues.  Led by a dynamic woman, the CPG has recently been able to resolve 30 child protection cases—15 of which involved the underage recruitment of children into the military.

Three boys who had been recruited—still under the age of 18—joined us on this afternoon to tell us their stories.  None had willingly joined.  All three had very similarly been duped into meeting a “broker” at a location to discuss the potential of some part-time work opportunities.  They were then taken to a couple of locations and eventually found themselves at a military recruitment centre.  The chances of gaining the quick release of children from the military are much greater in the first few days as recruits will then be sent to various training camps around the country. From there, they will be sent to other locations sometimes even to the “frontlines” of fighting.  One of the children we spoke with had been sent to the frontline in one of Myanmar’s restive ethnic regions and had witnessed and took part in fighting.

It was really due to the tenacity of the CPG in coordination with the children’s parents, Save the Children and ILO that these children were successfully released.  The CPG acted quickly in all three cases discussing the issue with parents, local authorities, including school authorities, and referring the cases to the ILO through their complaints mechanism.  Together with parents, they travelled to recruitment centres and tried to discuss the children in question with recruitment centre officials and administrators.  In one particular case, it was only after several visits with school authorities that the CPG was able to obtain a letter verifying that the boy had been attending school (in the absence of age verification/birth registration documentation, having a letter from a school authority is vital) per the requests of recruitment centre officials.

While the CPG’s tenacity is laudable, they offered suggestions for streamlining the process for release from recruitment centres.  CPGs across the country who have intervened in cases of underage recruitment tell similar stories—that they are often asked to produce a litany of documentation and letters, which more often than not can delay the process.  On a policy level, Save the Children is a key member of Myanmar’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR) and in addition to contributing to the bi-monthly and yearly reports on CAAC in the country, the CTFMR is currently working on a Joint Plan of Action with the Government, which includes more systematic regulations and requirements, including documentation, for both access to recruitment centres and gaining the release of children who have been recruited.

While some underage recruitment of children continues, the efforts and presence of the CPG has had a significant impact on reducing it. As the chair of the CPG told us, “Brokers don’t dare operate within the Ward anymore since they know that we monitor these things.  Recruitment can only take place on the fringes of the community, so we are working hard on community awareness raising and ensuring that both children and parents are aware of the risks and ways to keep themselves safe.”

Yangon Musings: Why We Voted

We voted for the experience—for the novelty of it—not because we had any doubts as to the outcome”

–a colleague

No one will give us our freedoms; we have to work for them”

–Aung San Suu Kyi, the day after her release

The sentiment of my colleague was quite typical of my informal survey of my few acquaintances in Myanmar having just arrived here three days after the elections with few official results.

I joked with friends that my impact was quite immediate: on my fourth day in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest. The crowds had gathered on University Avenue in the early hours of the morning in anticipation; their patience was rewarded as the sun began to set over Yangon. The next day she spoke to heaving and sweaty throngs and struck a tone somewhere between reconciliation, toughness and working together collaboratively. Despite years under house arrest, “the lady” cotinues to amaze and astound with her clarity and peaceful overtones. There are a number of things to consider: bringing her party back together again; revisiting stances on sanctions—how has the common man/woman fared in Myanmar under sanctions—and humanitarian aid; just how open and forthright can she and the NLD be?

After that large Sunday gathering, aside from Suu Kyi getting to meet her son after a decade, the news reports have gone mainly silent. At least from within. A curiosity of being inside Myanmar is that one must scramble for news and updates that do not tow an official line, which is one of complete harmony without discontent. The reality, of course, is quite different. To be informed here is to know the right people and even then caution is the watchword.

I do know that there have been some behind closed door meetings with humanitarian organisations as Suu Kyi herself tries to get up to speed with just how things have fared over the last decade. Humanitarian agencies must have some sort of agreements with the existing government to be operational—this is done primarily out of convenience and the trumping of humanitarian principles over those highly charged political ones. It’s a tough decision that no one really wants to make… Will Suu Kyi’s reappearance on the scene push humanitarian agencies into a corner and force them to pick sides? I am not sure this is really clear at the moment? She has made it rather clear that she wants humanitarian organisations to be able to continue to operate; the sanctions debate is not so clear. For one, Chinese investment has sky-rocketed over the past decade and Myanmar is certainly a country rich in resources. The black market economy lurks at every corner. Transparency International documents that Myanmar is in the top 2 of the most corrupt countries. The challenges are many.

I haven’t had too much time to explore Yangon as of yet although the downtown areas—old Rangoon, if you will—is lovely in its dilapidated charm: torrential monsoon soaked facades; wooden shutters; narrow alleyways full of youth football and the ubiquitous tea shops. It is a historic preservationists dream and an architectural aesthetics wonder. Change slowly creeps in: there is probably nothing more that the current government wants to rid itself of as much as vintages of the past and the ugly glass, ornate and cheesy/blingy stuff continues to find its way in. It is progress in the eyes of some; it is a pure horror on the eyes to me. I have yet to take the pulse of the locals on this. Everyone wants progress; how does the local population foresee this happening? Basic services are scant. Electricity is hit or miss and mostly miss during the hot, dry season. That time is not now, thankfully, for a newcomer like me….yet, I have certainly have my experience with this from south Asia.

Automotivally, it’s the southeast Asian version of Cuba. It’s constant re-tooling; the recyclers paradigm of vehicular simplicity. My first taxi ride was in a +20 year old Nissan Sunny (a Super Saloon, in fact) seemingly held together with tape. Some sort of late 70’s early 80’s Japanese model car is the norm. The glove box door was missing; the glove box itself was heaped full of various, greasy tools. Most of the dashboard was a in state of disarray. There was a small tin of balm—it looked like the Monkey Holding Peach brand, but I couldn’t be sure—balanced on the volume control dial of the missing radio; the tuner held a lone Red Ruby cigarette. Some taxis have almost completely rusted through floorboards. There are missing door handles and knobs; indeed, missing door panels; windows that don’t roll up or down, and, strangely, a majority of vehicles with steering columns on the right hand side—not so unusual if you drive on the left hand side; it’s just that in Myanmar they drive on the right. A word about negotiating with taxi drivers here: it is actually a rather pleasant experience, especially when one’s last assignment has been in India… Petrol is mightily expensive here and you would almost expect the opposite. We normally end up smiling a lot though—perhaps as much over my garbled pronunciation of place names as anything else…

I am learning my way around work; projects and lines of management. It is a big programme here with regards to personnel, since we are more direct implementers of projects and I am accustomed to working more through partner organisations. To build and find more partners is on the agenda. So, too, is strengthening community-based approaches to protection work with a less than functional duty bearer side of the coin, so to speak. This will be a tremendous challenge in and of itself. There are numerous working groups for me to be involved with the likes of which I haven’t seen since my days in Sri Lanka. But I wholeheartedly support this and look to throw myself into some of these technical debates. Additional funding, of course, is on the horizon as it almost seemingly is all of the time… It is our sectors constant challenge. Will the nature of it change with recent elections—despite what you think of them—and the release of Suu Kyi? It very well could and I need to continue to keep abreast of it.

Let’s Get Going!

On the final day of the Mekong Youth Forum, the youth of six countries spent their morning finalising recommendations that would be presented to government delegates, civil society organisations and media as well as putting the final touches on an artistic and dramatic presentation that opened up the afternoon sessions.

The theatrical presentation of the youth quickly captured the attention of all present. Indeed, the first slide on the video presentation running in the background during the drama highlighted why we had all gathered over the past week: “up to 200,000 children per year are trafficked in the region.” With these daunting figures as a backdrop, the youth presented a scenario of being physically entrapped in a situation of exploitation and trafficking: poignantly, one government delegate from each country was asked to come up and help “free” the youth from their situation of being shackled. Comments from those in attendance at the conclusion of the performance illustrated its power, which portrayed both sadness and hope, and brought commitments from all to redouble their efforts to strengthen prevention and response measures to end all trafficking and promote safe migration in their own country.

Let's Talk. Let's Act!

In a five-page document, the Mekong youth laid out their key recommendations in 8 categories:

  1. Victim (Survivor) protection: youth highlighted that there needs to be better monitoring and follow up with survivors and their families; more and better managed transit centres in origin and source areas; more counselling centres with hotline numbers and well-trained staff; ensuring compensation for survivors or trafficking and exploitation.
  2. Education: these recommendations primarily focused on role that the education sector can have on raising awareness about trafficking; integrating human trafficking and migration as topics in school curricula; fostering a migrant-inclusive atmosphere in schools; provision of scholarships for migrant children and ensuring documentation and proof of education completion for migrant children.
  3. Support Systems for Migrant Children: governments should strive to make commitments to increase budgets to support and protect migrant children; institutionalise a greater Mekong regional hotline for migrant children; support the development of more migrant centres at the community level; development of a unified guidelines and protocols on protecting migrant children; strengthen networks of volunteers in each country to monitor and collect data on migration and move towards developing a unified database; ensure that one government department in each country is tasked with the protection of migrant children.
  4. Factory Management: governments should ensure a safe working environment for migrant youth of legal working age with non-discriminatory policies and equal pay and benefits; regular monitoring of factories where migrant youth work and opportunities for youth to form labour groups or associations; clear recruitment procedures should be in place in accordance with country and international laws and agreements.
  5. Crossing Borders and Documentation: youth highlighted that many of their peers (or through first hand knowledge) face exploitation while crossing borders—safe border crossings and proper documentation will serve as a prevention against potential exploitation; ensure accountability amongst border check point personnel; standardise fees for acquiring proper documentation; greater sharing of information amongst countries regarding migration; governments should provide safe reporting/complaint channels for migrants.
  6. Awareness Raising and Media: media should support responsible coverage of human trafficking and migration issues in print, broadcast and online bearing in mind the confidentiality of survivors; up-scale additional forms of media and social networking to disseminate information on trafficking and migration including more participation from youth; media can play a role in setting up regional hotlines to promote prevention and response; media need to respect children’s rights and protect the identity of children who are survivors of trafficking; assist in making materials on trafficking and migration available at border crossing areas; ban recruitment agencies that have been implicated in trafficking and exploitation of children.
  7. Youth Participation: take into consideration the establishment/set up of a Youth COMMIT (Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking), which would help institutionalise youth participation in planning, implementation and monitoring of activities and processes; governments should consider providing more budget for youth participation; governments should promote child participation by sensitising adults, parents and even government officials as to its importance in promoting anti-trafficking measures and safe migration.
  8. Law Enforcement: comprehensive mapping of government officials along borders; set up CCTV systems at border crossing check points; commitment to punish perpetrators of trafficking; Mekong cooperation to cut down on the use of fake documentation and investigating those agencies that allow the use of fake documentation; strict enforcement of laws curtailing the number of unregistered agencies that provide false information in both destination and source communities.

In the late afternoon sessions, youth and government delegates discussed the joint recommendations and the feasibility of implementing them in each country context. This also provided youth an opportunity to, in some situations, make their recommendations stronger based on their own country situation analysis. As a case in point, the Chinese youth felt as if more forums like this one should be held in different parts of the country to promote greater participation and the Cambodia youth and government delegates promised to present the recommendations in their home country and to hold a press conferences on some of the key outputs of the Youth Forum. Laos delegates illustrated that their government was in the process of drafting anti-trafficking enforcement laws and the recommendations from the forum would only further bolster their commitment. Vietnam delegates made commitments to establish a Youth Commit and to strengthen their existing child protection hotlines. Myanmar delegates made commitments to disseminate information on unscrupulous recruitment agencies, to work with youth and civil society on more capacity building programmes for youth and use radio and other channels to raise awareness about trafficking. The host country, Thailand, made commitments to strengthen their national youth council, improve factory standards legislation, establish hotlines at risky border regions and promote education for all regardless of nationality. Many other suggestions came out of the plenary session involving both youth and government delegates with all making strong commitments to not let the energy and passion of the past week dissipate and that the key outputs and recommendations would be shared through a variety of means in their own country contexts.

For me personally—new to the region but not to the child protection sector—the week was an unprecedented learning opportunity; an opportunity to meet and talk with youth who have first-hand experiences with migration and trafficking, who are leaders that will promote even greater shared leadership with other youth and who are working in their peers best interest. I was overwhelmed with their engagement and participation; their energy and drive. The future is bright for the youth of the Mekong. At the same time, the forum’s tag line of “Let’s talk. Let’s act” sums up the tremendous task that youth, governments, indeed, all of us have in front of us: we must transform our new found knowledge and increased awareness into action. Only then will we be able to significantly reduce the 200,000 trafficked a year figure. Perhaps our new tag line should be: Let’s get going!

children’s participation: evidence, findings, commitments

The Block Resource Centre (BRC) Bhavan at Sayla has come alive with the voices of about 40 children. Children from all over the block have come together under one roof and wait for the block level officials to arrive. And even as each of the officials walks in to the room, he is greeted with signs of victory and loud welcome cheers. The enthusiasm of this room seems to be contagious and it doesn’t take long for the elders to get caught up in it as well.

See the rest of the article here:


listen up, misters!

india shining: another farmer suicide

Here’s another piece from the Child Rights for Change! project in India’s cotton growing belt.  The number of articles/stories on farmer suicide in India, sadly, continues to grow.  What you hear most often is that farmer suicide is due to the burden of debt; it is often more than that, however.  Tehelka (www.tehelka.com) has been a leading publication in India covering the situation of the current agrarian crisis and farmer suicide.  At the same time, they have recently highlighted that debt alone may be too simplistic an explanation for the phenomena.  Further inquiry reveals that there are other societal pressures at play in leading so many rural men to kill themselves–a leading cause is often the pressures of providing dowry, which is already a plague on households and, indeed, drives many families into debt. An already shameful practice–read some of the language used to describe dowry:  “bride price”–is driving even more and more men to hang themselves or, a common way to kill oneself in rural areas, drink a lethal dosage of pesticides…  The whole situation smacks of gender discrimination as revealed in yet another colloquialism used to describe the situation:  “marrying off one’s daughter.”  While I grieve for those families that have lost their “head of the household,” could we perhaps just agree on exchanging simple gifts according to one’s economic situation?

Here’s the link to the story:   http://crcfieldnotes.wordpress.com/2010/05/20/the-story-of-aruna-and-her-children/

the ‘metis’ of eliminating child labour

Much has been made over the last few months regarding the passage and launch of the Right to Education Act and what it holds for the future of children’s education—access, quality, inclusion—in India.  Although there are many critics and indifferent pundits—and the fact that the RTE may fall short of directly addressing working children and children living and working on the streets—there is cause to believe that RTE could have a significant impact on the lives of children.  Model rules have been developed and it will now be up to the States to work on ensuring that the most disadvantaged children are included in implementation strategies. There is still much to do. Indeed, while overall enrolment numbers have increased over the years, the numbers of children dropping out of school remains high—according to the Joint Review Mission of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (2009) nearly 2.7 million children drop out of school every year. Importantly, these numbers obscure the large population of hardly recognised children:  child labourers who have either never enrolled in schools, have missed many classes, sometimes several months at a time due to work, or who have dropped out during the early years of education.

In order to ultimately achieve Education for All, child labour laws and legislation must also be amended to include all forms of labour/work for children under the age of 14 at a minimum—while progressively moving to expand the age to 18—so as to ensure the education of the most vulnerable and excluded groups. In rural areas, this means including agriculture within the banned schedule of occupations that children can engage in—it is generally accepted that children working in agriculture make up 75% of all working children.  The enforcement of child labour legislation and the focus on the “rescue” of children from work fails to address the systemic causes of child labour and school dropout.  A more holistic and integrated approach is required in not only tackling child labour, but ensuring that the RTE reaches the most vulnerable. An integrated approach would entail not only ensuring strong, robust protection mechanisms against abuse, discrimination, exploitation and violence, but empowerment and social security options for poor families and children, policy revisions to ensure that comprehensive rehabilitation and reintegration programmes are properly implemented for children removed from labour and facilitating collaborative linkages between government duty bearers and community-based protection committees and units, such as those called for under the Integrated Child Protection Scheme.

Input into RTE as well as mitigating child labour has come from a number of government and civil society agencies and organisations, yet, it is the group that stands to gain the most from education and effective child labour legislation and implementation—children—who have had few, if any, opportunities to participate in deliberations and decision-making processes of key development programmes and schemes which affects their lives.  Tokenistic measures abound, but real decision making and participation opportunities are few and far between.

For those who venture into the rural and slum areas of the country and consult at length with children will know that the working child has much to offer and much that they want to offer. At the village level across the country, children’s groups, clubs and parliaments are actively engaged in ensuring that child rights are upheld and that all children have an opportunity to attend school.  Children have opportunities to speak with school teachers, school management committees and even Panchayats from time to time; yet, there has been little effort to institutionalise a system by which children’s participation—and real opportunities to make decisions—is made inherent in all government development programmes, schemes and educational institutions.  Under the Model Rules of the Right to Education Act, for example, one third of the members of School Management Committees should be made up of “local educationists/children in the school,” although even this is to “be decided by parents in the committee.”  States could be bold in their own approach by not only allowing for children’s participation, but their decision-making inputs as well.

We'd like to be part of that....

It is here that children themselves can offer metis, a Greek word referring to “the knowledge that can only come from practical experience” to the child rights and education for all agendas.  Children are the ones being denied their rights; it is only fair and prudent that we seek means by which they can meaningfully participate in abolishing child labour and ensuring education for all.  Moreover, children’s participation is enshrined within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as one of the guiding principles along with best interests, non-discrimination and survival and development. As one young girl in Khagria district of Bihar poignantly told me, “we would draft a new law that requires all children to be in school and no child has to work ever; if only we were asked.”  It could, indeed, be that simple:  children want the regulatory part of the CLPRA done away with; let’s focus on prohibition!  Poverty is no longer an excuse to keep children from being in school and working; children who work in the agricultural fields across the country is not some romantic, pastoral vision of a simpler time gone past—it is the denial of vital growth and development opportunities for children, predominantly children from the most marginalised communities.

Child Labour and irregular school attendance is too accepted and tolerated by all of us.  Children’s meaningful participation in eliminating all child labour and ensuring quality and inclusive education may hold the key to fostering in a new wave of cultural and social non-acceptance of the denial of child rights.


the humanity in care and protection of children affected by conflict

A link to an article on quality standards in institutional care:


Akshay’s story: Is 20-24 rupees a day the price of childhood?

I wrote this with Natalia, although she did most of the field work….



back in school now and smiling...


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