Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Internally Displaced Children: Our “Displaced” futures

According to several statistic sources, the number of people who have left their habitual residence due to armed conflicts, internal strife or systematic violations of human rights has exceeded 20 million persons [i].  

Although these persons have been labeled “internally displaced people”, the legal status granted to them has been nearly “none” in comparison to the extensive and efficient protection system for Refugees.

In the bottom-line it means that people who have fled or left their homes however have not crossed an internationally recognized State border, but rather have sought refuge in another part of their own State, remain under national legal jurisdiction, and therefore have no clear especial treatment or protection by international instruments. Their protection is provided in an ad hoc basis by the legal bodies of Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law, and it is intrinsically linked to whether or not the referred State has signed and ratified the respective treaties.

The complexities and dilemmas related to IDPs start with its definition itself and continue with its normative framework, response strategies and policies. In the direction of defining a normative framework, the representative of Secretary-General on internally displaced persons developed, in 1998, the “guiding principles on Internal Displacement” to provide even guidance to all actors involved in addressing IDP needs.

It is clear that IDP cannot be considered refugee, once their status under law does not match. However, the lack of clear and well-defined rights, and a proper legal definition hinder their protection and assistance.

IDPs stand in a vulnerable position to acts of violence, and in a hazard environment susceptible to losses of values and traditions ties, and when it comes to children in such context, all of these rocket. They become gradually susceptible to forced labor, early marriage, domestic violence, sexual exploitation and recruitment (child soldiers), just to name a few.

Their special condition of “persons in physical and physiological development” requires additional attention when identifying risks, threats, vulnerabilities and capacities that may obstruct any endeavor in promoting and improving conditions for them to develop themselves in all aspects of livelihood.

As in general, children are very deeply influenced by their cultural and social environment, the identification of the factors that deeply influence negatively and positively children’s resilience and coping mechanism[ii] is crucial to the understanding of their needs and underlying issues.

Nonetheless, any type of activity towards children must acknowledge them as social actors as well as the crucial role they play in their own protection.  They must not be seen as victims or as mere recipients of aid, but as subjects of rights guaranteed by their own state, and, in its absence or inability, by international community.  As prescribed in article 39 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (psychological recovery and social reintegration), an environment conducive for children’s recovery, reintegration and development[iii] must be guaranteed; if not existent, it ought to be built.
As there is no central body in charge of assistance and protection of IDPs, protection and assistance are carried out in cooperation amongst humanitarian actors (NGOs and UN agencies, for instance, UNICEF) based on ad hoc arrangements and coordination guided by “the principles of internal displacement”. However, the first policies must come from the local and national authorities, and international community may deliver complementary assistance.

There are at least 13 million internally displaced children worldwide, uprooted from their homes and regular lives. It means there are over 13 millions expectations waiting to be achieved.

By Giselle Pinheiro Arcoverde

[i] The international Protection of Internally displaced persons. By Nils Geissler, International Journal of Refugee Law, Vol. 11, N. 03, p. 451-478.
[ii] Children in adversity, By Jo de Berry and Jo boyden, Forced Migration Review 09, p. 33- 36.
[iii]Psychosocial rehabilitation of IDP Children: using theatre, art, music and sports, By Nazim Akhundov, Forced Migration Review 06, Dec 1999, p. 20 – 21.

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