See below for a guest blog from Geoffrey Oyat, Child Protection Manager in Liberia. This is the ninth post in our field feedback series and the fifth in Save’s “Aid Reform Stories from the Field” series. Click the links to read posts from Save the Children in Guatemala, Malawi, Ethiopia, and Nicaragua; Women Thrive in Ghana; Oxfam America in Uganda; Management Sciences for Health in Bolivia; and PATH in Kenya.
Mr. Mulbah, a farmer in Gleegbar Town in northwest Liberia, was persuaded by a distant family member to send his four older children to a boarding school in Monrovia in 2007. This school, Aunt Musu said, would provide a better life for his two sons and two daughters since there was no good school in Gleegbar Town. Four years later, Mr. Mulbah was notified that his children were living in an orphanage, where they had been beaten, starved, and forced to beg for money on the streets. Mr. Mulbah’s children were returned to him in July 2011 and he is now caring for a family of nine and sending all his children to the local school in Gleegbar Town. Although Mr. Mulbah is now reunited with his children, many other parents in the region still face uncertainty about their kids’ whereabouts.
Poor services and poverty in rural areas compel parents to send their children to the capital city Monrovia with hopes for a better life for their children. Parents enroll their kids in orphanages with false promises of funding for their education. An assessment done by Liberia’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in 2008 found that a majority of the 5,000 children living in orphanages in Liberia are not orphaned but wrongly placed.
The Government of Liberia is faced with the daunting task of supervising orphanages and ensuring the protection of Liberia’s two million children. Moreover, the country is still recovering from a 16-year civil war and its institutional capacity remains weak.
Over the past decade, Save the Children has been assisting Liberia’s Department of Social Welfare, the government ministry responsible for child protection on measures and structures to prevent and respond to abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence affecting children.
With funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Displaced Children and Orphan’s Fund, and administered by World Learning, Save the Children Liberia has been removing children from the streets, unsafe orphanages, and other risky circumstances, and reintegrating them with their parents when possible. We have also helped parents to improve their skills and economic opportunities to prevent family separations in the first place.
With its latest package of reforms called “USAID Forward”, USAID is investing more resources in building the capacity of Liberia’s institutions to take over essential functions such as child protection and health services that were primarily led by international NGOs and private contractors in the years immediately following the war. By shifting these responsibilities –from US entities to the Liberian public sector – USAID is fostering sustainable development and reducing the need for U.S. development assistance over time.
Over the past several years, Save the Children’s role has expanded beyond providing child protection services alongside Liberia’s Department of Social Welfare. We are now working to help improve the government’s tracking and protection system for vulnerable children. In the USAID-funded project called, “Educating and Protecting Vulnerable Children in Family Settings” project, we are setting up a case management system for the Department of Social Welfare, in partnership with World Learning, to enhance the government’s ability to prevent vulnerable children from being separated from their families and reintegrate those that have been separated. World Learning has also been working to build the capacity of the Department of Social Welfare in child protection and other priority areas. Since the project began, we have prevented 457 separations and returned 221 children, ages 4 to 18, to safe homes.
Once the project is over in 2014, the Department of Social Welfare will take leadership over the protection and unification of children in Liberia. They will have quality baseline information on vulnerable families in six counties and an active county-level database of families linked to the national record. Moreover, members of Liberia’s judiciary and police will be able to work with 36 community groups and local leaders trained by Save the Children to identify child protection risks, relevant laws, and local services provided by the Department of Social Welfare.
Building stronger and more responsive government institutions is a challenging task, particularly in a country like Liberia that has been so deeply impacted by war. Efforts by Save the Children, however, help to ensure that U.S. development assistance not only improves the lives of vulnerable children in Liberia now but also strengthens the country’s public institutions to lead and drive effective service delivery for at-risk kids in Liberia in the future.