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U.S. Steps Forward: New Government Plan for International Assistance to Children

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As the largest donor to humanitarian assistance programs, the U.S. government’s policies and strategies have a huge influence on humanitarian practice in the field. That’s why the Women’s Refugee Commission was so pleased when the U.S. released its first government-wide Action Plan on Children in Adversity: A Framework for International Assistance: 2012–2017.

Written with input from all the government agencies providing international aid for children, the Action Plan focuses on kids affected by disasters and HIV/AIDS, orphans, trafficked children, kids exploited for child labor, those recruited as soldiers and others in vulnerable situations—including the estimated 20 million children forced from their homes by war.

 The Action Plan calls for:

  • increasing the percentage of children surviving and reaching their developmental potential;

  • reducing the numbers of children living outside of family care; and

  • protecting them from violence and exploitation.

As a research and advocacy organization, the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) welcomes the attention in the Action Plan to building the evidence base, so that we learn what kinds of programs are truly effective, and invest in those activities. In our adolescent girls program, we’re working to build the evidence base in refugee camps in Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda—supporting projects to build a girl’s decision-making power and grow her network of friends and adult mentors, and testing to see if that helps protect her from violence. We’re doing evaluation research in conflict-affected rural areas of Democratic Republic of Congo to see what kinds of livelihood programs for mothers have the biggest effects on children in their care. We’ve also just launched a year-long study on household economic strengthening as a way to bring families back together when children get separated in humanitarian disasters.

The Action Plan also notes the importance of preventing the gender-based violence that affects millions of mothers every year. It has been well documented that children who witness gender-based violence are at a much greater risk for health problems, anxiety, bad grades and violent behavior. Mothers who experience violence have a hard time earning money and caring for their children. But too often, agencies working on behalf of children forget to prioritize protecting mothers, even in humanitarian disasters where the risks of sexual and domestic violence are quite high. We hope that implementation of this Action Plan, together with the U.S. government’s new Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, will lead to much more effective prevention efforts in the field.  

 At WRC we’re strengthening our focus on violence prevention in humanitarian settings by testing approaches that include community-level mapping of dangerous places, giving women and girls safe access to cooking fuel so that they don’t risk foraging for wood in unsafe places, and engaging men and boys in dialogs about gender norms and acceptable behavior.

Even in very tight budget times, the U.S. government must find ways to adequately fund life-saving humanitarian programs and invest in promising--indeed essential--new strategies such as the Action Plan on Children in Adversity and the Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence. These initiatives are inter-related; the success of one depends to a great degree on the success of the other. Each is crucial in the long run to stability, self-sufficiency and successful development.