In December 2021, the World Vision (WV) Syria Response undertook a context analysis to identify specific child protection needs and challenges faced by children in its areas of operation in Northwest Syria (NWS) and to better understand the root causes and risk factors. WV’s Analysis, Design and Planning Tool for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (CPHA ADAPT) was used. The tool included local level community conversations with children and adults, combined with a policy review and analysis of child protection challenges in NWS. This in-depth understanding of existing child protection issues and systemic gaps has been sought to inform programmatic priorities, programme designs and intervention strategies to address violence against children (VAC) in NWS.
A total of 112 (53 female/59 male) community members participated in the CPHA ADAPT assessment, including 72 girls and boys (36 female/36 male) and eight local child protection actors from Idleb and Azaz districts in NWS (see “Community Conversations with children and adults” on p.9 for details).
The data from community conversations revealed noticeable differences in the opinions of children and adults. Adults are more likely to rationalise some forms of VAC. For example, in cases of child marriage, many adult participants believe that child marriage protects girls from other forms of violence. Parents may also have expectations that children should support their families and may not consider child labour a problematic issue. In particular, many parents believe that through work, children become responsible grown-ups, and that it is essentially acceptable as it “does good to children”. The assessment data conducted by WV shows that many of the pressures, stresses and hardships caused by ongoing conflict and associated economic stress have contributed to the adoption of negative coping mechanisms involving their children.
In addition, the analysis showed that new child protection concerns had emerged due to a rise in vulnerabilities, inequalities and poverty caused by conflict and economic turmoil, including children being exposed to drugs in schools. In some cases, adults were unaware of some of these serious protection concerns affecting their children. Nevertheless, in all groups, participants mentioned that parents and caregivers are stressed and feel depressed themselves and therefore do not have the emotional capacity to support their children. The community members also mentioned living in a generally unsafe environment with a high level of exposure to violence that adds to their stress. Lack of employment opportunities and access to cash, in addition to the uncertainty of the future, impede the capacity for families to break the cycle of poverty and overcome their feelings of hopelessness.
This report also considers the rule of law in this jurisdictionally contested and fragile context. Participants suggested that limitations upon the rule and effective exercise of law, combined with a scarcity of relevant laws addressing VAC, also contributed to the incidents of violence. In fact, policy review and analysis, conducted as part of the assessment, reveal that Syria’s legal and regulatory framework to end VAC meets about 13% of the total threshold, while the readiness of local authorities in NWS to implement the current policies, is at even lower level – meeting just 9% of the total threshold ( “Policy Review and Analysis”, p.21, for details). The policy review and analysis considered the minimum provisions in Syrian law and policy needed to end VAC, in alignment with those stated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC). This was took account of the complex realities of the Syrian context, where different actors, including from different states, are engaged in regulating child protection practices across Syria, while acknowledging that the Syrian Arab Republic, as a signatory to the CRC, is eventually accountable to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for the implementation of its commitments across the country, including in areas controlled by non-state armed actors. Without clear accountability for acts of VAC, and clear mechanisms, rules and laws that help communities understand what is legal and illegal, the prevention and response to issues of violence will remain weak and ineffective. Laws and policies are critical components in a child protection system, providing a common reference point for all actors, including local authorities in NWS, in civil society and in communities, potentially enabling them to work together towards ending VAC.
Based on the CPHA ADAPT analysis results, we identified low levels of trust in local authorities and inadequate reporting mechanisms as requiring urgent action. Most specifically, additional steps need to be taken to create child-friendly reporting pathways in venues frequented by children such as schools, health clinics, alternative care and community centers, creating more opportunities for people to openly report incidents of violence. Actors must strengthen and raise awareness around local level reporting and referral mechanisms and include children in the design and implementation process of such mechanisms. Otherwise, children may encounter violence but not consider it “serious” enough to visit relevant service providers, and therefore, receive little to no help to respond to violence they encounter.
Overall, the lack of action towards addressing VAC throughout the social and institutional environment of a child in NWS contributes to the current context in which VAC goes largely unnoticed, leaving affected children to suffer the consequences without help or hope for change. All actors, including authorities, civil society and communities, must work together and with determination to end VAC.