Refugee children can be victims of many forms of violence and gender, but they are especially exposed to the following specific forms:
Painful/harmful traditional practices
There are positive traditional practices that contribute to the preservation of a community’s cultural identity, and these should be encouraged. Others, however, practiced at a young age (female genital mutilation, premature marriages, forced marriages, taking advantage of male children, violence associated with dowry customs), have harmful effects on the child’s health and development. Practiced at an early age, when the child cannot oppose or defend themselves, these practices are vehemently condemned internationally, due to the considerable negative effects on the health of the victims.
Refugee children, especially separated or unaccompanied children, can become, by force or enticement, victims of trafficking, usually for the purposes of sexual exploitation. Defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harvesting, deception of a child for the purpose of exploitation, child trafficking is condemned internationally even if the victim has given his consent (“Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Condemn Trafficking in Human Beings, especially of Women and Children – Supplement to the United Nations Convention against Transfrontier Crime”, 2000). Even more severe are the dangers faced by these children at the moment of escape, of return, with the possibility of being trafficked or punished again, deprived of freedom, marginalized by the family, discriminated in the community.
The infantile position
Child prostitution is the use of children in remunerated activities of a sexual nature. Once engaged in such activities, these children are exposed to other forms of sexual and gender-based violence. Girls are vulnerable from this point of view, given their virginity, perceived as innocence and physical immaturity, something appreciated by the aggressors.
Sexual violence in the family
This kind of violence. Committed by a male relative, it is considered a family matter, private, in which outsiders have no right to get involved. Hence, a further abused and victimized child. Children can also be victims of this type of abuse when they have witnessed such violence in the family, witnessing violence that they cannot understand and that traumatizes them. The intervention focuses, in addition to the child himself, on the parent who did not abuse him and on the removal of the abuser during the investigation of the abuse.
Sexual exploitation, abuse and violence by people who come into contact with the child
These people can be teachers, chaperones/guardians, humanitarian agency workers, who come into contact with the child in isolated environments, outside the home. In this sense, the first step is to identify these sources of risk and monitor these activities as well as the personnel who come into contact with refugee children.
Special considerations regarding the prevention of sexual and gender-based violence against refugee children
In addition to the previously mentioned prevention strategies, child-centred situational analysis will need to identify areas of particular risk and existing resources. Community contribution to protecting refugee children is a resource that needs to be explored and developed in this regard.
1. The transformation of cultural norms
Strategies for achieving this objective include: information and education campaigns, aimed at all actors involved in assisting refugees, based on the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; Information campaigns addressed to refugees, based on already existing cultural norms that value; Sex education and HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns; preventing painful/harmful traditional practices.
2. Rebuilding family and community support
The main strategy is to ensure access to primary education for all refugee children, and where possible, to secondary and professional education, with the aim of preventing their exploitation. In this sense, it is very important for the refugee community that they are involved in educational activities, communicate and trust the teachers.
3. Creating the premises for improving the conditions of transparency and rigor
The strategy consists in assessing the level of knowledge, attitudes and professional behavior of all workers who come into contact with refugee children. Therefore, staff training and monitoring are essential elements of preventing sexual and gender-based violence against refugee children.
4. Creating effective services and facilities
The strategies, in this direction, aim at the following actions: The separate registration of each child, from the registration of each birth to the provision of identity documents; Ensuring access to services, including building special shelters for households where children are the sole breadwinners of the family, Searching for families of separated/accompanied refugee children, etc.
The best interest of the child must prevail. Children who are victims/survivors of sexual and gender-based violence must have immediate access to medical care and psychological support, and where appropriate, legal assistance.
All actions must be limited to the principle of the best interest of the child.