Protecting children: our mission for 60 years
When Edmond Kaiser learnt of the appalling situation facing child victims of the Algerian war in 1960, he founded Terre des hommes (Tdh) to help them. Sixty years later, we remain as committed as our founder to protecting children and defending their rights throughout the world. We look back at the origins of child protection and its evolution within Tdh.
“We urgently need country houses, thousands of francs (5 francs per day, per child for one month), instructors and cooks so we can provide holidays to one hundred destitute children. From 3 July to 3 August and continuing thereafter.” This was Edmond Kaiser’s appeal to the Swiss people in 1960. He wanted to run a summer camp for one hundred Algerian children who were victims of the war. He founded Terre des hommes on 22 July of that year as a movement to provide immediate and direct aid to children in need.
Edmond Kaiser, founder of Terre des hommes, with a child from Algeria, in 1961.
Where did this concern about protecting children come from?
For a very long time, many religions and cultures have viewed children as innocent beings who needed to be fed and protected. But the notion of the child as a subject of protection emerged during the First World War, and thanks to the empathy of one woman – Eglantyne Jebb – faced with millions of children who were hungry and had been orphaned. Just as Kaiser would experience later, the young British woman felt overwhelmed by the suffering of war victims and helped the most vulnerable.
In 1971. during the Vietnam war, Tdh dispatches bags containing medical materials for the children of an orphanage in Saigon.
Children’s mental health
Alongside this charitable work, scientific research in the mid-20th century gave rise to a new discipline: the psychology of child development. New insight into the brain function of children revealed that they have specific needs, beyond mere survival and physical protection. Child protection organisations therefore started considering the state of children's mental health. At Terre des hommes, the question of psychosocial support arose as early as the 1990s when we were working with children in street situations in Latin America.
Psychosocial activities for children in a camp for displaced people in Iraq, 2016.
A true heroine of her day, Eglantyne Jebb wrote the draft of what in 1924 would become the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child. In 1959, the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which 30 years later would lead to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.The Convention is the most ratified treaty in the world and marks a crucial milestone in the history of children’s rights. It universally recognises the right of the child to be protected against all violence, ill-treatment, abuse and exploitation, and thus reinforces Tdh’s mission to protect children.
“The next step is even more important. The third Protocol added to the Convention in 2011 grants a child the possibility to lodge a complaint if they believe that one of their fundamental rights has been violated,” says Philip Jaffé, psychologist and member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, who has collaborated with Tdh on several occasions. “However, we haven't won the battle, far from it,” he hastens to add.Indeed, one in every two children in the world suffers some form of violence every year. Twenty-eight million children have been driven from their homes due to conflict and nearly 1.5 million children are deprived of their freedom by order of a judicial or administrative authority. These shocking figures reveal a protection system that remains inadequate. “We must reform the fundamental aspects of our society,” concludes Philip Jaffé.
Understand, support, not take over
Tdh has contributed to this necessary change described by Philip Jaffé through its projects. The basis of our work? We do not assume what children need, but we try to understand their problems. While it has been talked about for a long time, this approach has only recently been implemented. “It takes time,” says Maria Bray, child protection specialist at Tdh.
It is crucial to treat the child, their family and community as stakeholders to bring about lasting change. By working directly with them and building on what is already there, their resilience and capacity to adapt are naturally developed, and thus their ability to overcome a crisis and manage the next one on their own. "We’ve developed approaches that allow us to involve the children in identifying the challenges, needs and responses to be implemented by building on their strengths and resources," Maria Bray concludes.
As part of the YouCreate methodology, which was developed by Tdh, children and young people can create their own artistic or digital projects, while enhancing their independence, sense of responsibility and self-confidence. Yara*, a young Syrian refugee, took part in the project in Egypt. She spent nearly one year shut away in her bedroom. During the first days of training, if she wanted to ask a question, she would write it down on a piece of paper and give it to the facilitator. Gradually, she began to talk. She and the other young people then discussed the challenges facing their communities and explored possible solutions. “This project helped me to break out of my isolation and find a different way of dealing with the war and its consequences,” she says.
Discover the YouCreate project
Leave no one behind
The Sustainable Development Goals made a clear promise that by 2030, no one should be left behind. By endorsing these goals, UN member states have committed to eradicating poverty in all its forms, ending discrimination and exclusion, and reducing inequality and vulnerabilities.Among the most vulnerable are migrant children, children deprived of their liberty and all children who are victims of violence. Tdh plans to continue to defend their rights and protect them at all costs, as Edmond Kaiser pledged to do six decades ago.
Photo credits: ©Tdh/E. Kaiser, P. Käser