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Uruguayan military acts to safeguard children
The government of Uruguay has launched a child safeguarding policy (PDF) for all Uruguayan troops deployed on UN peacekeeping missions.
The policy, signed on the 14 February 2020 by President Tabaré Vázquez, the Minister of Defence Jose Bayardi, Minister of Interior Eduardo Bonomi and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Rodolfo Nin Novoa, makes Uruguay’s military the first in the world to develop a child safeguarding policy in line with Keeping Children Safe’s International Child Safeguarding Standards.
The project was launched at an event for senior-ranking military and government representatives hosted by the British Embassy in Montevideo in March 2018, after which an agreement was signed, between Keeping Children Safe (KCS) and the Uruguayan Ministry of Defence, to collaborate on the development of a child safeguarding policy and procedures for Uruguayan peacekeepers.
Over the last two years, KCS has partnered with the University of Reading, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the UK Ministry of Defence, the Uruguayan Peacekeeping training school (ENOPU), the Uruguayan Ministry of Defence and more recently, UNICEF Uruguay, to help develop the policy and to create a regional centre of excellence for child safeguarding.
No child should ever have to face the horrors of war, but nearly a quarter of the world’s children live in conflict or disaster-stricken countries. They wake up to fear and uncertainty every day.
Not only are these children already in desperate and terrifying situations – but tragically, they are also at risk of being abused by staff in organisations sent to protect them. Despite a full commitment by the United Nations to a policy of zero-tolerance, cases of sexual exploitation and abuse of some of the world’s most vulnerable children continue to be reported in the context of peacekeeping missions.
The vast majority of the over 100,000 UN peacekeeping personnel perform their jobs with courage, dedication and professionalism. Those who commit sexual offences bring shame on the entire UN system and betray the trust of those that they have been sent to protect.
There is general agreement at the UN, in member states and civil society, about the need to tackle the issue of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers. However, a key problem is that the current laws, policies and practices, to tackle sexual exploitation and other abuse, do not cover all levels of operational levels. These range from an international to local level (the places where the peacekeeping operation is to be carried out), to the countries that contribute troops to operations.
For this reason the International Child Safeguarding Standards provide a useful framework for addressing these issues. Implementing the standards means recognising that children have a right to be safe, wherever they live and that all organisations have the responsibility to keep them safe. Whatever the legal, cultural or wider context.
‘Uruguay is the first military in the world to develop a child safeguarding policy in line with KCS’s International Child Safeguarding Standards. This leadership is a critical first step in making sure all children are protected from abuse by UN Peacekeepers. We hope this inspires similar initiatives in the region and across the world.’
Sarah Blakemore, CEO, Keeping Children Safe
Developing the evidence base
Keeping Children Safe works in partnership with the University of Reading to research challenges and develop good practice, based on evidence from across the world. This research has been funded by the British Academy and the Arts and Humanities Research Council and was nominated for a Times Higher Education Research award.
Rosa Freedman, Professor of Law, Conflict and Global Development at the University of Reading said: ‘Developing high quality evidence is critical to tackling this complex and multifaceted issue. To really keep children safe from sexual exploitation we first need to understand the issue. Then develop and share a range of good practices and tools to counter it, based on research from a range of countries and contexts.’
Other country-specific projects
The project partners have carried out work in the following countries:
In December 2016, a child safeguarding workshop was held in Brasília, Brazil, with the central aim of exploring Troop Contributing Countries’ best practices and ways for them to further improve safeguarding children from sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peacekeeping operations.
The Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) perspective is crucial for understanding how to implement child safeguarding on the ground in peacekeeping operations. Bringing together government and military actors from Brazil and the UK, together with UN staff, enabled early exploration of good practice and gaps to be addressed.
In May 2017, the project team ran a workshop in Accra, Ghana, at the Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Centre (PTC). The central aim was to explore the Centre’s best practices and ways to improve these further. The PTC’s perspective is crucial for understanding how to implement child safeguarding on the ground in UN peacekeeping operations, with workshops enabling early exploration of good practice and gaps to be addressed.
In March 2018, the project team held a child safeguarding workshop in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with the central aim of exploring TCCs’ best practices and ways for them to further improve safeguarding.
The UN presence in Haiti recently changed from a stabilisation mission to one focused on human rights and rule of law. Our research took place at the end of MINUSTAH’s lifespan in 2017 and at the beginning of MINUJUSTH’s development in 2018. The field research, which resulted in a report about exploitation and abuse in Haiti, included interviews with a broad-range of actors, including UN entities, troop and police contributing countries, implementing partners, government actors and local civil society.
During the second mission, the team presented the child safeguarding toolkit to a broad range of actors and entities. This involved conducting a basic assessment of current child safeguarding, and explaining how the toolkit can strengthen existing practices, remedy weaknesses and provide a mechanism to fill gaps in child safeguarding.
The Secretary-General’s 2002 report, based on those investigations, prompted UN action to address the causes and consequences of sexual exploitation and abuse. In particular, the definitions of sexual exploitation and abuse provided the basis for the UN’s zero-tolerance policy contained in the Secretary General’s 2003 Bulletin.
Key recommendations included identifying areas where policies, procedures and practices should be put in place to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse. Keeping Children Safe’s field research in Liberia in September 2017, focused on the UN peacekeeping operation (UNMIL) in the country and followed up on the 2002 reports. Using desk and field research, we analysed the changes that have been made to policies and practices within the peacekeeping operation and the UN country team, over the past fifteen years, since those initial reports.
Research papers and articles by Rosa Freedman and Sarah Blakemore: