In a bid to tackle the challenges faced by children who move unaccompanied across borders in West Africa, 20 members of the West African Network of Child Protection practitioners in Liberia completed a two-day workshop to develop capacity and skills to effectively handle cases of children on the move.
‘Children on the move’ are children who have left the security of their homes and home countries with or without parents or guardians and find themselves in other countries for economic and social reasons.
The workshop participants were drawn from various government agencies, national law enforcement institutions and child rights organizations including the Women and Children Protection Section (WACPS) of the Liberia National Police (LNP).
Others include The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MGCSP), the National Youth and Children Advisory Board (NCYAB) and LNP’s Anti-Human Trafficking Unit among others.
The training was organized by Defense for Children International (DCI-Liberia) and facilitated by the Burkina Faso based International Social Service West Africa (ISS-WA) organization.
ISS-WA Regional Advisor Dr. Abimbola Lagunju said the workshop was part of ISS-WA’s initiatives to enhance the capacity of national counterparts to play active roles in strengthening the protection of children at the regional level.
“It is not hard to imagine the kinds of things these children that are moving across borders in West African go through. They are at risk of trafficking, neglect, labor, sexual exploitation, harassment and forced and unsafe return. We are sure that this training will enable the participating social workers in Liberia to resolve these challenges,” said Dr. Lagunju during the training.
ISS-WA Regional Case Manager, Abena Yamoah, said developing the capacity of individual country networks will accelerate progress in identifying children in need of help for safe and easy return and integration back into their home countries.
“Our main focus is to support and mitigate trans-national children’s issues. Every country has national policies that protect their own children but there is no defined policies to protect child foreign nationals that are found there. This training has exposed the social worker to the categories of these children called ‘children on the move.’ They will be able to assist these children when found in Liberia to return to their home countries should they need help to return,” said Yamoah, adding that “to date 7,000 children, including more than 100 Liberian children, have been returned to their home countries and to their families through this initiative.”
Workshop participants lauded the organizations, DCI-Liberia and ISS-WA, for the training opportunity and assured that they will use their skills to better handle cases of ‘children on the move’ effectively and to ensure protection for children in general.
“This is my first time to hear about ‘children on the move’ and the risks they are exposed to. I am going to use the knowledge and skills from (the workshop) to effectively handle their cases when I come across them,” said the head of the LNP’s Anti-trafficking Unit, Anthony S.I. Tugbe.
“This training was timely. I never knew about the conditions and risks of children on the move and the help available to them. As I go back to work, I will remain very firm on their cases. Many a time I come across these children but I do not know how to handle the issues; so, henceforth, I am going to be that help they need to get help,” said Sally G. Lablah, social worker at DCI-Liberia.
About 33 million children are on the move, according to a recent United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) research report. The number of children on the move is expected to continue to rise as economic and social crises and natural disasters remain unabated across countries, including the West Africa region.