May 13 2016

Putting children at the heart of humanitarian action

The first ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) starts in Istanbul, Turkey on 23 May. Representatives from SOS Children’s Villages International will be among 5,000 representatives of governments, humanitarian organisations and communities affected by humanitarian crises, who will be meeting over two days to set a future agenda for humanitarian action.

SOS Children’s Villages will be urging world leaders there to put children at the heart of humanitarian action.

What is the WHS?

The summit was called by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in response to the unprecedented increase in the number of people affected by natural disasters and conflicts. According to the UN, nearly 80 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance – the highest level of human suffering since World War II. The number of forcibly displaced people has reached nearly 60 million, half of whom are under 18.
One of the goals of the WHS is to “re-inspire and re-invigorate our commitment – and that of the future generations – to save lives and alleviate human suffering across the world”.

Special event to focus on children

At the WHS, SOS Children’s Villages International, in partnership with other child-focused organisations, will be co-sponsoring a side event titled “Leaving No Child Unprotected: Child Protection across the Development and Humanitarian Divide”. It will bring together child rights advocates, government representatives and UN Agencies to present solutions for protecting children in emergency.

The event will be moderated by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is now the UN Special Envoy for Global Education.
A key driver in developing this event is the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, with which SOS Children’s Villages is an active partner. The Partnership’s Director, Susan Bissell, will be one of the speakers.

No support

While tens of millions of people in crises do receive humanitarian aid, millions more have no access to support and protection. The number continues to rise, with children representing a big percentage of those receiving no or inadequate help.
According to statistics released by the European Union, 90,000 of the asylum seekers in Europe in 2015 were unaccompanied minors. Furthermore, a new UNICEF study shows nearly one in four children of school going age live in countries affected by crises.
Children in the rain at a refugee site in Presevo, Serbia, October 2015. Photo: Marko Mägi

Prioritising children

Commenting on the summit’s mission in advance of the gathering, Carsten Völz, COO of SOS Children’s Villages International, said: “To lay any claim to success, the WHS must prioritise the protection of the youngest and most vulnerable in today’s humanitarian emergencies. Children are the silent victims of conflicts and bear the brunt of separation, neglect, abuse and trauma. And yet, the future is theirs.”

However, SOS Children’s Villages is concerned about the marginal attention given to the specific needs of children in the core responsibility areas proposed by the UN. Its delegation to the WHS will raise awareness of, and seek commitment to, the issues affecting children and young people in humanitarian crises.

SOS Children’s Villages is keen to share and promote the good practices developed through its work in 134 countries and territories. Through its own programmes, SOS Children’s Villages responds to a unique set of threats faced by children in an emergency. They can range from family separation to recruitment by armed forces, and require dedicated attention.
“The one certainty in humanitarian response is that early intervention is critical to successful aid, recovery and prevention. There are similarities in raising a child: from the start, it takes a commitment to care, a long-term investment in education, and giving children the space to grow and have a say in their future,” said Mr Völz.
Children suffer the most in conflicts. Photographer: Bjorn-Owe Holmberg

Governments must be held accountable

Völz emphasised that the responsibility of the international community, especially governments, must not end at the WHS.
“Governments must be held accountable when they fail to care for and protect the rights of vulnerable children as required by laws recognised by nearly all nations. We must never shy from using the legal tools at hand to compel governments everywhere to abide by their commitments, nor in reminding them that razor wire and border fences do not constitute a humanitarian policy.”

Focus on: What the WHS hopes to achieve

The job of the stakeholders at the summit will be to produce a set of specific, concrete, and realistic commitments to enable countries and communities to better prepare for and respond to crises. Five core responsibilities have been identified on which they must act to place humanity at the heart of global decision making:
  1. preventing and ending conflict
  2. respecting the rules of war
  3. leaving no one behind
  4. working differently to end need
  5. investing in humanity

Leaving no one behind

Of course, it’s not just children who are left behind.
SOS Children’s Villages has joined together with a group of partners to develop and promote a Charter for Inclusion, which seeks to ensure that no vulnerable groups are left behind in humanitarian and development progress, whether because of age, disability, ethnic background, or other reasons. SOS Children’s Villages will be promoting the Charter at the World Humanitarian Summit.

Find out about SOS Children's Villages work in humanitarian emergencies

Read more about the World Humanitarian Summit