As the response to Haiti's devastating earthquake enters its second week, Christian humanitarian agency, World Vision warns that children could endure lasting damage from the unique dangers that particularly target them.
"In disasters, whether natural or man-made, children are especially vulnerable. When children are separated from their families and other caregivers, not only are they often excluded from services, they are also very vulnerable to various forms of exploitation, both sexual exploitation and forced labor," said Nicole Benham, Child Protection Specialist at World Vision. "For that reason, we need to do more than just bring them food and supplies. We need to make sure that they're being protected, that they're reunited with their families, that they have safe spaces, and that their physical health is being monitored and addressed."
Some of the threats to children that World Vision's programs will address throughout its response include the following:
- Separation from families
- Many children are still separated from their parents and families – many don't know if their families survived.
- Children without adult caregivers become vulnerable to abuse, neglect and exploitation – especially following disasters.
- Psychological, emotional and mental health issues
- The horror of surviving a disaster, seeing dead bodies on the streets, lacking basic necessities and, for some, being separated from parents takes more than a physical toll. Children often need help processing their experiences and healing psychologically. Providing them with safe spaces and a feeling of normalcy and routine, through child-friendly spaces can be a very healing and positive response in the first days after a disaster and can also help identify separated children and work toward family reunification.
- Child-specific physical health issues
- Disasters make children particularly vulnerable to diseases. The current rains will spread disease quickly – and those diseases will hit children harder than they will adults.
- Many children were already malnourished before the earthquake. The impact of further malnutrition, especially on children under 2, can do permanent damage to their physical and brain development.
- Hasty adoptions
- While international adoptions may be a solution for a very small number of children who are orphaned by this disaster, it is too early in the response to arrange for these adoptions. All discussions of adoption should be avoided for the time being. The priority now for children separated from their families is to protect them and to work for their reunification with family members.
- Lack of safe spaces
- When children are out of school for long periods and separated from their families lack protective structure in their lives. The streets are increasingly unsafe for children, yet without schools and homes, children have no safe places in which to take refuge. Following disasters, it's easy for children to get into trouble and into dangerous situations without safe places to spend their time.
The organization's relief response will address these child-specific needs in addition to its relief distributions and the long-term rebuilding that will follow in the coming months. World Vision can offer a number of spokespeople to address these issues. To schedule an interview, please contact the media relations staff members listed below.
Donations can be made online at www.worldvision.org or by phone at 888-56-CHILD. World Vision also has launched an SMS text giving option. Texting "GIVE" or "WORLD" to 20222 will make a $10 donation to the Haiti relief fund.