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FEATURE STORY June 10, 2020

Protecting and Supporting Children from Violence in Uganda’s Refugee Hosting Areas

Infrastructure Development Project

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • During the COVID-19 crisis, sexual and physical violence against refugee children are notably on the rise.
  • The Government of Uganda, through the World Bank-funded Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP) project, is taking preventative action to combat violence against children by creating an environment for children’s empowerment and participation.
  • The DRDIP in Uganda adopts a community-driven development (CDD) approach, supporting investments in 14 refugee hosting districts, including health, education and WASH services.

Globally, an estimated one billion children age 2–17 are exposed to multiple forms of violence every year. On top of this, school closures due to COVID-19 have interrupted the education of millions of children and youth. The most vulnerable among them have been denied access to basic services like meal programs; resource personnel; recreation programs; extracurricular activities; and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Confined to their homes, these children are at risk of experiencing hunger and violence. Reported cases of sexual and physical violence against children have also increased during this pandemic.

Half of the refugee population in the world are below the age of 18. Though refugee children often flee from high levels of conflict, violence against children (VAC) can be especially pervasive mid-flight and at their destination of asylum, according to the UN Agency of Refugees. The disruption of households and community structures in refugee settings increases children’s vulnerability to multiple forms of violence, including child labor, trafficking, early marriage, and sexual exploitation, and abuse.

Women and children comprise 82 percent of the refugee population in Uganda, the largest refugee hosting country in Africa. Children represent 56 percent of the host population in Uganda, and share already strained basic services, including education, health facilities, and water, sanitation and hygiene.

The Government of Uganda is implementing the Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (DRDIP), financed by the World Bank, to support investments in 14 refugee hosting districts through three types of subprojects: (i) social and economic services and infrastructures, including health, education and WASH services, (ii) sustainable environment and natural resources management; and (iii) livelihoods programs. This project takes a community-driven development approach by emphasizing participation of district leadership and local stakeholders in coordination with UNHCR and other development partners.

The DRDIP is making a tangible difference in improving the quality of life for both host communities and refugee children. For one, the education of children has improved with better educational facilities and enhanced learning environment, resulting in higher primary school enrollment, especially of girls. Improved health and WASH facilities are contributing to lowering morbidity and mortality incidences among children.

Despite much progress, several environmental and structural risks to children persists, particularly for girls. The project is being implemented in an environment fraught with discriminatory gender and social norms that perpetuate violence against women and girls. To address a number of these challenges, DRDIP has attempted to understand drivers of these risks and services that are available for both refugees and host community members. This mapping of violence against children and broader gender-based violence (GBV) services is providing an important evidence base for strengthening services and defining DRDIP’s role in appropriately responding to the risks.


"The DRDIP is making a tangible difference in improving the quality of life for host community and refugee children. For one, the education of children has improved with better educational facilities and enhanced learning environment, resulting in higher primary school enrollment, especially of girls."

The project has also developed practical guidance for World Bank staff, the Government of Uganda, and other stakeholders to prevent, mitigate, and respond to incidences of violence against children. The Violence Against Children: Prevention and Response Note details ways to assess and mitigate risks of violence against children in sectoral interventions, such as:

Education: Schools can expose children to violence, which can be mitigated by designing child-safe buildings that also cater to children with disabilities. These schools should include safe, hygienic, and inclusive water and sanitation facilities located close to classrooms. Additionally, teacher training on reporting and referring violence against children is essential, especially as a way of addressing the immediate and long-term psychosocial impacts that children are likely to experience from exposure to violence.

WASH: Using unsafe WASH facilities could increase risks of physical and sexual violence, especially for girls travelling to facilities such as latrines and water points. Measures should be taken to ensure that WASH activities and facilities are available, accessible, and adaptable to the needs of children. Children should be consulted regarding the design and location of the facilities, including safety mapping. Discussions with girls should take place about privacy measures and how to better incorporate menstrual hygiene management consider­ations in WASH facility and services design.

Health: Health services are often the first—and sometimes only—point of contact for child survivors of violence and a frequented entry point into the system of care. For this reason, the design and construction of health facilities should consider the physical safety of children, ensuring they are open, well-lit and highly visible spaces to reduce any opportunity of abuse while still maintaining privacy for the patient. Health workers in displacement contexts must be trained to support child survivors according to the best interests of the child.

Livelihoods: Efforts to rebuild livelihoods programs can increase the risks of violence against children if appropriate safeguards are not in place. For instance, children may be forced to drop out of school to care for siblings, while parents participate in livelihood activities. Similarly, interventions targeting adolescent girls without attention to the community gender and cultural norms and/or the risks associated with shifting gender roles may increase their exposure to domestic violence or sexual violence. Thus, livelihoods and economic empowerment programs should be designed in ways that enhance prevention and response to violence against children.

In addition, this practical guidance outlines steps to integrate child protection in World Bank operations, including community mobilization and village level planning and monitoring and evaluation.

As reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals, protecting children from all forms of violence is a global priority. Among the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is the increased incidences of violence against children. The government of Uganda, with the World Bank’s support, is using DRDIP to address and prevent violence against children to create an environment for children’s empowerment and participation.



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