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22.03.2017 Feature Article

What I Said at the DIHAD Dubai Conference; Family for Every Child...

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Yesterday I spoke at the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD) conference in Dubai. In the past, I have done these speaking engagements in several cities, universities and agencies around the world.

But I have always missed the opportunity to share with you what I shared at those global conferences. Today I have decided to share with you excepts of what I told my audience in Dubai.

It does not take too long for anyone to know me, at a first contact. For instance you will know that I am from Winneba, even before you say fi. You will know that I went to Winneba Secondary School. You will know that I went to the University of Ghana. You will know that I went to the University of Education, Winneba, and you will know that I am a 12th born of my mother, something I have been very proud of.

Amongst all that you will know, you will also know that, like many other children, I had a difficult childhood, and it is because of this difficulty that I founded Challenging Heights.

In the last 12 years, my organisation, Challenging Heights, has rescued hundreds of children from trafficking in the fishing industry in Ghana, children who undergo a comprehensive rehabilitation program at our shelter while we work with their families and communities, to build capacity and support, for re-integration to happen.

It is also because of this that I accepted to chair the Board of Directors of Family for Every Child, which is a global member-led alliance of organizations from 30 countries, headquartered in UK, working together to improve the lives of vulnerable children.

Globally, families face extreme internal and external pressures that challenge their ability to care properly for their children; pressures that push children away from their homes. This is why many children end up living and working on the streets. They are forced into harmful labour or residing in inappropriate institutional care. They are exploited, without access to education or health services or shelter or even food.

This is not only about poverty. Natural disasters and armed conflicts and wars make things worse for boys and girls who get separated from their parents. In the middle of the chaos, these children become vulnerable to all sorts of exploitations in their own country or as immigrants in other countries.

Imagine the impact on the quality of life of boys and girls, on their development and growth, and overall happiness, imagine the impact if we focused our efforts on investing in families, giving them the skills and resources, helping them protect themselves and their children from vulnerabilities. Imagine the world if we considered the family as essential to children’s lives.

Experience, research, and practice, show that healthy and effective parenting have great impact on the success of a child. It provides protection and boosts the emotional development of the child and her ability to contribute meaningfully to society.

I know that some families are not always safe or loving environments for children. This is why child protection systems need to be strong, especially to be able to provide temporary or permanent high-quality alternatives to the children who are not well cared for by their families.

But the point I want to make here, what I want us all to consider is that there is a disproportionate amount of children that are separated from their families unnecessarily; due to poverty, violence, exploitation, emergencies and conflict.

In humanitarian crisis, our focus on essentials is often reduced to basic services. Of course we want children to have food, shelter, safety. These basic services are needed. But they are not enough to prevent children from the many risks they are exposed to. We need to also invest in the family.

A strong family is better prepared in times of crisis to protect its children. It is the first line of defence, an informal system of social protection, a source of safety and resilience for children.

In a recent research conducted by Family for Every Child across seven countries, with children who were living without parental care, on the street, in institutional care, in detention, with extended families, we asked them: “what do you want for your future?” Many mentioned health and education. But the overwhelming majority expressed one single desire: to have strong, safe and loving relationships with their parents or caregivers, to be cared for and protected, to be treated fairly and with understanding and kindness.

I believe if you strengthen, and protect, the family, then its children have more access to education and health care. Children have more chances to be safe and will engage less in anti-social and criminal behaviours.

I believe if you strengthen, and protect, the family, then you will improve the future prospects of its children. And when these children become adults, they will have more chances to access employment, to overcome poverty, to contribute to peace, reconciliation and progress.

Of course, solutions are complex, just like the problems. At Family for Every Child, a member-led, grass roots-up alliance, we are 30 organizations from across the planet, including the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, and Challenging Heights. Our members come from very different contexts, very different cultures, but all work hard and in different ways to strengthen and protect families, addressing the challenges they face.

In Mexico, our member, JUCONI, carries out an intensive therapy, which is focused on the family, to restore healthy parenting, care-giving capacities, to families facing intergenerational cycles of violence. We are now replicating this innovative approach in eight other countries.

In Indonesia, very poor and stigmatized families often place their children in institutions, hoping that they will receive education, food and shelter. Muhammadiyah, our member in that country, is gradually reversing this trend of unnecessary family separation. It connects vulnerable families with needed support and services so as to stop feeling the need to rely on institutional care for their children.

In Ghana, Challenging Heights is re-uniting families by rescuing and rehabilitating trafficked children. We are providing emotional, practical, educational, and livelihood support to parents, children and communities to increase awareness and provide families with self-sustaining futures. Our overall aim is to stop family separation from occurring through trafficking, by providing the support to reduce poverty and increase family stability, as well as bringing home the enslaved children.

In Rwanda, South Africa and Ghana, Family for Every Child’s members conducted a study to understand the impact of cash transfers on the ability of families to care for their children. In each one of these countries, the findings showed that even among the most vulnerable of families, good social protection can help millions of children in sub-Saharan Africa grow up in a safe and caring environment. It enables families to care for children who are not their own; and to improve upon the material and nonmaterial well-being of children.

So in the name of Family for Every Child, in the name of Challenging Heights, and in the light of the real progress we can all achieve for children and families, I would like to urge you all, policy makers, decision makers, dream makers and makers of the future, to recognise that a strong family is basic, and essential, for children everywhere.

We must therefore invest in families and support them to be safe, effective, and caring for children regardless of poverty, conflict or adversity.

Whether it is in the Middle-East, in Africa, in Europe, in America, in Asia, families are the bedrock of our society. We need to work together to strengthen and empower them so that they too can take better care of their children. It is by growing up with the love, care and safety of a family that boys and girls around the world will be able to achieve their full potential, to lead a healthy, fulfilled, socially and politically engaged life.

James Kofi Annan

James Kofi Annan
James Kofi Annan, © 2017

The author has 141 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: SimpaPanyin

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