April 26, 2020

Executive Director of the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, Howard Taylor, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss their work and the increased risk COVID-19 presents to children globally

The organisation was founded in 2016 by the Secretary General of the United Nations; its Board includes the head of UNICEF and the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is a public-private collaboration that includes UN agencies, governments, industry and others.  They have more than 400 members.

 

Collectively, they want to raise awareness, catalyse leadership commitments, mobilise resources, promote evidence-based solutions and support those who are working on the front line to tackle all forms of violence, abuse and neglect of children.

 

Early on in the podcast, we delve into the large amount of useful information they’re curating, which is available on their website, to help ensure children are protected during this period of uncertainty with the COVID-19 backdrop. 

 

The Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children acts as a focal point of evidence-based information that is of relevance across many sectors, such as health, education and social services.  We are reminded that many sectors are involved in protecting children from violence.

 

Howard remarks that the risks children face right now are not new risks but they are exacerbated risks, due in great part to the high stress of COVID-19 in domestic environments -- confinement, isolation, job loss etc.   We hear how children are spending much more time online, and this increases risk.

 

Collectively, the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children is trying to ensure child protection is embedded in government responses to COVID-19 across the globe. This is a key priority. It is also imperative that child protection services continue to be seen as essential services and get resourced appropriately during this pandemic.

 

Howard notes they must ensure that they get the right evidence-based advice to parents, caregivers and to children themselves. And, he underscores the importance of providing ‘evidence-based’ information since there is a lot of questionable information sloshing around out there. He notes it is a privilege to be working so closely with UNICEF, the WHO, the US Centers for Disease Control and many others – drawing on a wealth of experience and expertise.

 

One of the challenges right now is packaging this evidence-based information in the appropriate way to ensure it’s reaching the right audiences, with the right messages, in a timely fashion, to equip parents, caregivers and in some cases the children themselves to stay safe.

 

Countries are at different stages in dealing with the impact of COVID-19 and are embracing different responses. Irrespective of each country’s particular circumstances, Howard wants to ensure governments are taking child protection seriously. It is important to note this issue doesn’t go away once a coronavirus vaccine is made available. The violence, neglect and abuse experienced by children today will have very long-lasting effects on individual children and national economies.

 

There are approximately 1.5bn children who were previously in school and now are out of school due to COVID-19. Much of what these children are doing today is online; and they’re not connecting in person with teachers, friends or social workers – the network of people children normally have around them who can serve a protective function.

 

It’s important that parents and caregivers know what children are doing online. Moreover, we hear how there is also a role for technology companies and telecoms companies to play as well. There are certain things they can do in terms of making their platforms, their social media and their learning spaces as safe as possible; and, they can also help push out child safety messages and help detect, disrupt and stop any harmful activity that’s going on. 

 

The episode also touches on the increased vulnerability of certain at-risk segments, such as children who are refugees, migrants, displaced children and children living in conflict environments; often without parental care, living on the streets or in urban slums.  On top of everything, there’s also a gender dimension to keep in mind since girls are at higher risk than boys.

 

Howard speaks about his organisation’s strategic considerations in light of COVID-19 – his organisation employs approximately 25 staff who are mainly based in the USA and Geneva, Switzerland.  Many of them have worked in social impact and international development, yet none of them have ever worked through a global pandemic of this nature. The challenge now is that this pandemic doesn’t only impact their beneficiaries but, indeed, it has a direct impact on the team as individuals and the organisation as a whole.

 

Despite the wealth of experience the team has in dealing with conflicts and various other crises over many years and many places, the COVID-19 pandemic feels qualitatively different.  Everyone in Howard’s team is remote working and they’ve done much by way of scenario thinking and contingency planning as they try to figure out what this pandemic could look like as time moves on.

 

It’s not just about how to end violence during COVID-19 but also nobody knows exactly how lockdowns will unwind or how COVID-19 will eventually unfold, or when a vaccine will come in, so it’s also about thinking of the next 18 months and beyond, and what is going to be needed, what is going to be possible and how do they go about that with and through their partners.

 

Howard also introduces listeners to their ‘Fund’, which has made significant investments in the last few years – particularly to address child online safety and also for children in humanitarian areas of conflict. In light of COVID-19, they’re now reaching out to their grantees to find out what they need on the ground, what the implications are for the work they’re doing, and what it means for them not just workwise but also organisationally.  It is a fund that has mainly been funded by governments and foundations but that is open to everyone who wishes to support the work they’re doing.

 

We then also hear of INSPIRE – a set of evidence-based strategies for countries and communities working to eliminate violence against children, which was created by various UN agencies, the US Centers for Disease Control and others.  Howard noted that it’s probably the best example of a comprehensive set of strategies which, if adopted, followed, resourced and implemented give you a good shot at ending violence against children.

 

When asked what success looks like for the next 10 years: Howard would like to see target 16.2 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) achieved by 2030 – the target focuses on eliminating violence against children. He views it as his job, and that of his team and partners, to hold governments to account and, indeed, also to support governments with the evidence and resources.

 

Howard’s key takeaway: Firstly, we can and must do more to protect children during COVID-19. Secondly, to have optimism that coming out of COVID-19 the world isn’t going to be the same as it was before, and so asking what is it going to look like to build back differently. Whether that’s around the level of consciousness and awareness of the issue; whether that’s around action that’s taken to address the issue of violence, abuse and neglect of children. Do more now, and in doing so be more aware and, then, let’s build back differently as we come out of this crisis to whatever the next new normal is going to look like for children all over the world.

 

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