Children in humanitarian crises: How the EU can help them

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Sudanese and Somalian children celebrate during an activity marking World Refugee Day in Khan As'ad Pasha, in the old city of Damascus, Syria, 20 June 2018. [EPA-EFE/YOUSSEF BADAWI]

The European Union (EU) has the opportunity to positively shape the lives of children trapped in conflicts, natural disasters and other humanitarian situations around the world. On World Humanitarian Day (19 August), Delphine Moralis explains why this is so important and what the bloc can do.

Delphine Moralis is the secretary-general of Terre des Hommes, an international NGO working to protect child rights and support sustainable development in 67 countries worldwide.

Over 357 million children around the world live in areas impacted by conflict. That’s one in six of all children on the planet – a ratio that has increased by 75%  since the early 1990s.

When a conflict or any other type of disaster occurs, children are always the most vulnerable. They are often separated from their families, unable to attend school, can struggle to find enough to eat and suffer through intensely traumatic experiences.

When children are forced to face these challenges, the support they receive from the EU and other global actors is crucial.

Services funded by the EU and provided by NGOs and other organisations keep children in education, stop child marriage, prevent violence against children and provide them with the nutrition they need. Humanitarian action helps them to become children again – and enables them to grow into strong, capable adults too.

Research has shown that adults who were malnourished as children earn at least 20% less on average than those with access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. Investing in solutions to malnutrition and growth stunting can raise an afflicted country’s GDP by two to 3% a year.

Maintaining access to education for children in humanitarian situations is also crucial. Education increases the average age of marriage and lowers family size preferences. The likelihood of a child surviving their first five years of life rises by 50% if their mother can read.

To mark World Humanitarian Day, Terre des Hommes has released its 2017 Annual Report. The report details work carried out by the organisation in humanitarian situations – as well as how Terre des Hommes fights child labour, child sexual exploitation and is working to accomplish the Sustainable Development Goals.

Our Annual Report shows how Terre des Hommes’ humanitarian teams have been responding to crises across the globe. When over 600,000 refugees fled Myanmar to Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh last year, Terre des Hommes provided over 2,000 Rohingya children with treatment for malnutrition.

In Lebanon, over 7,000 refugee children enrolled in educational activities in 2017 as part of Terre des Hommes’ Back to the Future project, where they learn basic literacy and numeracy skills after escaping the war in Syria.

Programmes such as these help children avoid the negative effects caused by being embroiled in a humanitarian crisis. But it is imperative that the EU plays its part and translates the child rights commitments it has made into concrete actions to protect and empower children in humanitarian situations.

The current Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU has the opportunity to do this by adequately and effectively leading the upcoming negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which will decide how the EU spends its money between 2021 and 2027.

The EU can start by investing to strengthen the systems which recipient states use to protect and care for children. Guaranteeing that states have strong child protection, health and education services makes children more resilient and prepared for any future crises, teaching them to manage the shocks and stresses they may face.

The EU can also help build resilient communities and sustainable peace by making sure money is put aside to fund participatory, empowering and innovative approaches led by children and young people themselves. Children and youth are agents of transformation and are essential to ensuring efforts to build peace in conflicted-affected areas are truly successful, as they are the people who will benefit most from this peace.

It is also imperative that EU funding decisions on humanitarian aid are based on principles, and not political interests.

Humanitarian and development aid must always be allocated with the aim of alleviating poverty, achieving sustainable development, tackling discrimination and inequality and empowering the most marginalised.

These goals must always rise above any other considerations – such as EU migration management and security policies – when deciding on how much money to allocate in the MFF to humanitarian aid, and what to allocate it for.

Children can carry the trauma inflicted on them in conflicts, natural disasters or other tragedies around with them for a lifetime. But with well-resourced and correctly targeted policy and financial support from the EU, children engulfed in natural or manmade crisis can rebuild their lives.

The next five months give the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the EU the perfect opportunity to make it happen.

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