April 19, 2017

GCC nations need to strengthen their child protection ecosystem – with schools as a main player

The GCC needs to develop a robust child protection ecosystem, according to a recent study by global management consulting firm Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company). 

The GCC needs to develop a robust child protection ecosystem, according to a recent study by global management consulting firm Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company). GCC schools in particular can act as the first line of defense for children against maltreatment.

In recent years, GCC countries have become more proactive and involved in child protection, having ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and developed nation-specific initiatives. In the UAE for example, a new Federal Law on Child Rights was passed, guaranteeing a child’s right to life, a name, healthcare, education and protection from economic and sexual exploitation. In Saudi Arabia, the National Family Safety Program aims to protect children from violence and abuse and publishes material to raise awareness about child maltreatment. Child protection is also an important focus of Qatar’s National Development Strategy and in Oman, the Children’s Act makes reporting abuse by physicians, teachers and other professions mandatory.

Commenting on these child protection initiatives, Fadi Adra, Partner with Strategy& and member of the public sector practice in the Middle East, said: “In line with governments around the world, GCC governments are seeking to ensure a high level of child protection. Some of this requires putting in place the right enablers in terms of legislative framework, human capabilities, governance and guidelines. It also involves raising awareness of the problem within communities so that people are able to effectively detect child abuse, and making reporting mandatory while protecting whistleblowers so that they do not worry about reporting suspicions of child maltreatment. Schools in particular play a critical role given that school is where children spend a lot of time”

According to Strategy&, establishing a clear operating model for child protection is critical to effectively and efficiently deal with cases. For example, if child maltreatment is detected or suspected within a school, the case should be reported to the relevant authorities following a predefined process, and the situation should be investigated to determine appropriate intervention, such as removing the child from harm. Schools are also responsible for raising awareness of child maltreatment among staff, parents and children to prevent maltreatment and facilitate detection of cases.

For these efforts to be successful and gain the expected benefits, it is important that GCC governments tackle the topic as a whole and in a systematic and comprehensive manner. To develop a solid child protection system at a national level, Strategy& recommends focusing on seven key pillars: 1) a solid governance model defining the roles of the entities involved, 2) unified standards for the definition and identification of maltreatment, 3) safe and mandatory reporting, 4) confidentiality in information management, 5) safe recruitment and training of school staff, 6) introduction of child protection notions into the each grade’s curriculum and 7) channeling of reported cases through Child Protection Liaison Officers (CPLO) in schools.

Valerie Jambart, manager with Strategy& and a member of the public sector practice in the Middle East, concluded: “While the region has taken important steps toward protecting children in recent years, GCC governments need to adopt a systematic approach to child protection. The first step is to agree on a common definition of maltreatment, to enable detection. Moreover, people who report cases need to feel confident that these will be dealt with expeditiously and professionally, without putting the child at risk of further harm, and this is where the respect of confidentiality in information management plays a key role. Properly vetting staff who interact with children in schools is yet another factor for a successful child protection ecosystem. Children are society’s most vulnerable members and have the right to be educated, nurtured, and protected. We are on the right path but still have a long way to go to properly fulfill the basic social requirements of child protection.”