Foreword to “War Brought Us Here: Protecting Children Displaced within Their Own Countries”

Francis M. Deng

Internally displaced persons are among the most vulnerable people in the world today. Forced to leave their homes as a result of armed conflict, gross violations of human rights and other traumatic events, they nearly always continue to suffer, once displaced, from conditions of insecurity, severe deprivation and discrimination. Whereas an established system of international protection and assistance is in place for persons who flee across borders, responsibility for addressing the plight of the internally displaced lies first and foremost with the state concerned, which more often than not proves unable or unwilling to do so, thereby raising the need for outside concern and involvement.

Though recent years have witnessed heightened awareness of the plight of the internally displaced, greater attention still needs to be paid to the especially vulnerable among them, in particular the large numbers of children who have special protection and assistance needs. In the course of displacement, children often become separated from their communities and families. Deprived of the protection and care that these social structures provide, they are more vulnerable to physical attack, sexual abuse, forced recruitment and enslavement. Internally displaced children also typically are at greater risk of malnutrition and disease, while almost inevitably suffering acute psychological trauma.

Education is an area where the impact of internal displacement upon children is particularly severe. Educational facilities may simply not exist in internally displaced persons’ camps or settlements. Where they do exist, they are frequently under-resourced and often limited to primary education. Moreover, internally displaced children may be prevented from attending school by fees or material requirements that their families cannot afford or because they have had to assume responsibilities essential to ensuring their families’ survival. They may also suffer discrimination in accessing local schools or their families may have lost the documentation that may be required to do so. Compounding these concerns, schooling for internally displaced children often is not considered a priority in emergency response but, rather, a secondary need to be addressed only in the post-conflict phase. And yet, education is essential to the healthy development and future prospects of children and, by extension, of society as a whole. I thus could not agree more with Save the Children Fund – UK that access to education is one of the most important kinds of protection for internally displaced children.

The right of internally displaced children to education counts among the set of the thirty Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement which were developed under the direction of my mandate and have since come to be regarded as an important tool for addressing the needs of the internally displaced. While each of the Guiding Principles applies to internally displaced children as well as adults, express reference is made to the entitlement of internally displaced children, especially unaccompanied minors, to the protection and assistance required by their condition and to treatment that takes into account their special needs. Specific provisions prohibit the forcible recruitment of children and their participation in hostilities as well as forced labour, sale into slavery and sexual abuse, and stress the importance of family reunification. At the same time, the Principles place emphasis on protecting against arbitrary displacement and addressing the causes that compel people to flee. Application of the Principles should thereby help to ensure that there are far fewer displaced children as well as far better protection for those who already are displaced.

Through its efforts to promote greater attention and enhanced response to the plight of internally displaced children, SCF-UK is making an important contribution towards translating the Guiding Principles into reality. The country case studies—many of them countries that I myself have visited—presented in this book illustrate the varied manifestations of internal displacement and the ways in which these impact upon children most severely. Drawing upon these case studies, SCF-UK astutely has identified seven recurring gaps in existing responses to the protection of internally displaced children and has set out a number of recommendations for ensuring that these are addressed. Doing so will require a collaborative effort among all those with a role in the protection of children, not least the national authorities. The contribution of international agencies and NGOs, such as SCF-UK, to such efforts is critical. So too, as SCF-UK importantly reminds us, is the involvement of internally displaced children themselves.

Protecting the millions of internally displaced children worldwide, this book underscores, is important not only for their own sake but for the larger community as well, as part of a process of rebuilding societies torn apart by violence and the mass displacement that this typically entails.

Learn more about the book, War Brought us Here: Protecting children displaced within their own countries by conflict.