Lotte Claessens
Olivia Forsberg
Publication Date
June 1, 2016

Plan Sweden

"In disasters and conflicts around half of those affected are children. Despite this, in humanitarian settings children are rarely asked to share their views, provided with adequate information or consulted on what they need and prioritise in emergency preparedness, response and recovery."

This report, released by Plan International and supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), looks at communication with disaster-affected children in the preparedness and response in the 6 months after the earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 2015. The report is divided into 3 sections that present successes and gaps in the meaningful participation of children and youth in the earthquake response, based on documented initiatives, such as a May 2015 inter-agency children's consultation, as well as individual interviews and group consultations with girls and boys. The purpose is to inspire the reflection and action of all humanitarian actors to increase and improve the meaningful communication with children and young people in humanitarian work. The report provides concrete recommendations on how this can be done.

Participation is one of the core principles of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Plan and Sida have found that children can and do play a crucial role in their own protection and in their communities' response to an emergency. Despite having experienced the earthquake, children in Nepal have shown resilience and capacity in supporting their peers, providing relief, sharing life-saving information, and caring for others. Plan and Sida stress that girls and boys have a right to be informed and listened to, so that they can make these significant contributions. The Core Humanitarian Standards (2015) and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Commitments on Accountability to Affected Populations (2011) provide humanitarian actors with guidelines and benchmarks to be accountable and engage crisis-affected people, including children. Experience has shown that engaging children in humanitarian responses helps organisations like Plan to respond better and in more relevant ways.

The report's findings are divided in terms of responses to the following questions:

  1. How were children provided with information and consulted about their needs and priorities before and after the earthquake in Nepal? Many of the consulted children reported they had no prior knowledge about earthquakes. The majority of the children had received information about the earthquake, its impact, and initial response through radio messages. Other sources of information were community members such as neighbours or information provided through text messages via cell phones. None of the consulted youth reporters had experienced community outreach activities to share initial information about the earthquake and relief. Children in 4 different groups during the children's consultation raised concern about the lack of or inadequate information about relief distributions. When asked about accessibility of the available information, the youth reporters' didn't think that the information provided was suitable for children with disabilities or illiterate persons. They emphasised the importance of ensuring that preparedness trainings are well explained, since there were reported cases of misinterpretations of the earthquake drills, and reiterated the importance of access to education and integrating disaster preparedness into the school curriculum. Children expressed concerns that adults and elders in the community did not understand the specific issues facing children in the aftermath of the earthquake. Despite high levels of youth engagement at the informal (community) level, there was little effort from humanitarian actors to bring them into formal response mechanisms, such as the Common Feedback Project (CFP), which brought together 18 humanitarian agencies who jointly collected feedback from affected communities.
  2. How did humanitarian responders communicate with children? Several national and international child rights organisations organised advocacy events to support children and young people to get a stronger voice in the relief and recovery work. On the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11 2015, national and international child rights organisations collaborated with district adolescent networks in Dolakha in an advocacy event that called for better communication and consultation with adolescent girls. Adolescent girls from the district prepared a 30-point declaration with their priorities for the recovery and rehabilitation phase, which they discussed with key decision makers from district level Education, Social Welfare and Health authorities. The event led to success: decision-makers signed the declaration, indicating their commitment to communicating with adolescent girls, and prioritising their issues and their participation in the response. Strategies to reach the most marginalised children with information are outlined. After the earthquake, many mountainous and remote villages were completely cut off from assistence. During all distributions, Plan established Help and Information Spaces that provided: life-saving information; awareness raising among children, adolescents, and caregivers; and collection of real time feedback about Plan's assistance. In addition, Plan created Child Friendly Spaces where children could come to play, learn, and receive information about how to stay safe after the earthquake. The clubs were supported to carry out their own activities, including peer-to-peer education about disaster risks and protection. In the most isolated mountain villages, Plan deployed 59 Mobile Teams of community mobilisers to provide multi-sectoral humanitarian assistance and live-saving information, including education and child protection.
  3. How were children engaged in accountability mechanisms? In the Nepal response, agencies collected systematic feedback from communities through different methodologies. However, while older children (above the age of 15 years) were part of some of these feedback mechanisms, younger children were not systematically included. Plan systematically collected feedback among children and adults through its community engagement project, which included the collection of real-time feedback on distributions and response programming in line with the Core Humanitarian Standards. Both paper surveys and mobile phone applications were used. A limitation was that children's age groups had not been disaggregated; hence the specific concerns and priorities of younger children and adolescents could not be distinguished. However, the Youth Reporters project was a media project that Plan says helped raise the voices of girls and boys and hold decision-makers accountable. Twenty four adolescents were trained in storytelling, photography, radio, and making video about issues affecting their lives. The youth reporters also monitored the progress of response efforts and documented the unmet needs that children highlighted in their villages.

Overall, the review shows varying degrees of child participation in the Nepal earthquake response. The humanitarian response had a strong focus on communicating with and accountability towards affected populations, but the perspectives of children, especially the youngest, were often overlooked. Also, data were often not gender and age disaggregated, which made it difficult to identify specific needs of younger and older children. Key supporters of their participation should be parents, teachers, and humanitarian aid workers; however, children felt that these people often did not take them seriously. Girls and boys see a significant role for themselves in disaster preparedness and response, and most consulted children had clear ideas about how to communicate with children, as well as what role they themselves could play to inform others and help their communities recover. Youth groups and child clubs can be important community resources during disaster preparedness and response; however, limited evidence was found about the structural involvement of youth groups in information provision and communication in preparedness and relief work, nor about involvement of younger children.

Recommendations for humanitarian actors include: "Provide child-friendly and inclusive information about preparedness and during the response

  • Information, education and communication about preparedness and relief work should be available in child-friendly and local language
  • Information should be adapted and made accessible to girls and boys with disabilities
  • Ensure information is disseminated in methods adapted to the context and are easily accessed by girls and boys of different ages
  • Work with children and the key adults such as parents and teachers in preparing, disseminating and reinforcing key life-saving and response preparedness information for girls and boys
  • Involve girls and boys of all ages in peer-to-peer information sharing in preparedness and response, according to their evolving capacity

Include children's considerations and perspectives in needs assessments

  • Ensure that all needs assessments include questions about the needs of girls and boys of different ages and abilities, assess hazards and protection risks and their impact on children's wellbeing;
  • Consult with children about their needs and priorities on a regular basis and ensure diversity in respondents to ensure equal representation of views;

Improve communication and engagement with children in relief work and recovery

  • Involve children and young people in designing and implementing emergency communication strategies to increase girls' and boys' ability to keep themselves and others safe;
  • Engage adolescent boys and girls and youth in formal preparedness and response structures such as village disaster management committees and create opportunities for youth leadership;
  • Include disaster risk reduction in formal and non-formal education programmes to increase children’s disaster preparedness and response capacities;

Increase accountability towards children in a humanitarian response and recovery

  • Promote children's access to communication channels to ensure children affected by disaster to ensure their needs are taken into account
  • Support girls and boys of different ages to hold humanitarian stakeholders accountable for their deliverance to affected children and communities before, during and after a disaster, through implementing child-friendly feedback and accountability mechanisms"

Plan website, October 17 2016.