The Philippines is situated in the Asia Pacific, which is the most disaster-prone region in the world, and considered to be the fourth most vulnerable country to climate change (Global Climate Risk Index, 2013). It is a natural laboratory for floods, typhoons, monsoon rains, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides and armed conflict. Emergencies overwhelm the capacity of people to defend and protect themselves. This can sometimes weaken community protection mechanisms and incapacitate the Government in providing immediate interventions.
After disasters and other emergency situations, children are even more vulnerable to all forms of abuse, exploitation, neglect and violence. They are in the most disadvantaged position, especially when separated from their parents, family and caregivers. Nevertheless, humanitarian interventions tend to focus mainly on the provision of basic needs, while child protection needs are seldom highlighted in local and national reports.
Child protection in emergency situations is crucial, because disasters can present new risks for children while aggravating existing risks and threats. The utmost protection is therefore needed, particularly for: unaccompanied and separated children; children who are survivors of sexual violence; children who have been displaced; out-of-school youths; and boys and girls who have been victims of trafficking or recruited by force into armed groups. Appropriate interventions and care for children should be made available and accessible.
Taking steps to address child protection in emergencies (CPiE) issues is part of the State’s duty to ensure that children are protected from all forms of violence, abuse and exploitation. One of the CPiE interventions that must be provided is the establishment of Child Friendly Spaces (CFS), as a way of providing psychosocial support to children. This intervention acknowledges that affected children and their families have psychosocial needs related to the emergency. Most children who have experienced stressful situations will initially show changes in their social relations, behaviour, physical reactions, emotions and spirituality. Reactions such as sleeping problems, nightmares, withdrawal, problems concentrating and guilt are normal, and can be overcome in time with psychosocial support.
CFS help improve children’s psychosocial well-being by strengthening and nurturing their cognitive, emotional and social development. They contribute to strengthening children’s internal and external support systems by offering the chance to socialize and take part in structured play, as well as educational and other activities to restore normalcy. They help protect children by bringing together adults and children to build and mobilize protective community networks that focus on the special needs of children in emergencies.
Aside from being a psychosocial support intervention, CFS also serve as venues for identifying vulnerable and at-risk children, and facilitating their referral for immediate response. CFS can serve as an entry point to helping to identify priority child protection risks in the community and sharing child protection messages with communities, families, children and authorities.
The CFS implementation guidelines were developed to guide everyone providing this intervention during emergencies. This document is linked with the existing guidelines on Camp Management and Women Friendly Space (WFS) from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and is informed by the global Guidelines for Child Friendly Spaces and the Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action.