Syria: Using Child Protection Programming to Prevent Child Recruitment

Case Study written by Lisa Mulligan, based on interviews with Alaa Zaza and colleagues.

“My child has to support his family that’s why he joined [an armed group], what can you do about it? We have an answer to that.” Alaa Zaza, Program Manager of Hurras Network.

Hurras Network is a Syrian community-based organization that has been operating inside Syria since 2012. Hurras focusses on psychosocial support and non-formal education. Hurras, meaning “guardians” in Arabic, operates in three provinces: Idlib, Rif Damascus, and Daraa. In each province that Hurras Network works, there is an office where child protection case management is available to community members in addition to child friendly spaces. Since the organization’s founding in 2012, the team has grown from a small core team to 320 staff.

Child Recruitment:

Alaa Zaza Program Manager at Hurras Network explains the issue of child recruitment inside Syria:

The number one reason behind recruitment was livelihood, was job opportunity. Children that need to support their families and it’s an available job opportunity and its paid well, and it’s sustainable. When we first started working with awareness raising and working with the community to prevent child recruitment we focused on the age between 15 and 18 but the second year we realized the recruitment or the shift in children’s behavior starts earlier at the age of 11 and 12.

In order to prevent child armed recruitment, Hurras Network provides a wide-range of child protection programming.

PREVENTION AND RESPONSE

NON-FORMAL EDUCATION:

Hurras Network offers children who have dropped out of school or are behind in school, the ability to join a three-month accelerated non-formal education program that aims to encourage children to continue their studies, whether formally or informally. Alaa Zaza explained that the Education Directorate in Rif Damascus was trained by Hurras Network in their accelerated education model and that they successfully adopted it.

When we started the non-formal education program [it] became contagious (…) the formal education authority took the program and last year around 2,000 children graduated (…) If he [a child] knows that he filled the gap now and he is just like his peers then that is an incentive for them to [go back to school and] continue their education.”

In all of the organization’s activities (not just in their non-formal education programming) there is a paid designated “Safety Officer” whose sole job is to identify and refer children who might need specialized support. Child protection is mainstreamed into all of Hurras Network’s programming. All staff are trained in “Child Protection in Emergencies, communication with children, and self-support.” Capacity-building activities are also offered through Hurras Network for external frontline workers, such as teachers, other NGO staff and health workers. These activities include trainings that cover Child Protection Minimum Standards (CPMS) and psychosocial support for children.

CASE MANAGEMENT:

Hurras Network utilizes case management to support the most vulnerable children. Area Manager, Maimouna Alammar, explains that the organization now has over 600 child protection cases and is in the process of increasing the number of case workers on its team. The most common types of child protection cases Hurras Network sees, according to Maimouna, are children who have dropped out of school, or at risk of early marriage or armed recruitment.

[We] faced many cases of children who dropped out from school to work to earn a living for their families, for sisters, for brothers. So, when we found such a case we start to communicate with his parent or caregiver and study his situation…his psychosocial status, the family economic status…if they [the parents] can work, [we figure out] why they are not working…” –Maimouna Alammar

We tell his [the child’s] family that we have a solution but…he [the child] needs to attend classes and [the] accelerated education program…if he cooperated [s] we can give him monthly assistance or find a job for his father. — Maimouna Alammar

When providing case management to families and children, Maimouna says, “We tell them there are always other chances or other opportunities…we can help them to get him [the child] back in school, we can help with their living [their parents’ livelihoods].”

Program Manager Alaa Zaza emphasizes that Hurras Network works collaboratively with families and even when a proposed case management plan is vetoed by a family, the Hurras team will still work with them to find a solution that meets their child’s needs.

PSYCHOSOCIAL SUPPORT AND COMMUNITY OUTREACH:

All children who participate in Hurras Network programming receive psychosocial support. This includes “Life Skills” programming for children ages 6 to 12, in addition to adolescent psychosocial support groups that cover topics such as psychological health, early marriage, puberty (often with the help of a doctor), and exploitive labor. Additionally, one “Life Skills” module is centered around “Peace and Conflict” and includes exercises that help children identify different types of conflicts they may encounter, “not only about the war” but with their friends and with their family. The learning module also includes a section about how to find healthy ways to cope with conflict.

Hurras Network also does community outreach using child protection mobile teams that target communities that significantly lack opportunities for children. These campaigns target children, parents, and teachers.  According to Hurras Network’s staff, the Child Protection mobile teams go out into communities and provide condensed 8-hour parent sessions on topics that range from early marriage, hygiene, child armed recruitment, positive parenting skills, to evacuation in emergencies. The mobile child protection teams also provide trainings in child protection for those working in close contact with youth.

Another form of outreach is Hurras Network’s bi-weekly children’s magazine, Tayara Warak. Tayara Warak is distributed in various ways. This includes distribution through a network of partners, education authorities, other local NGOs, and Hurras Network’s Child Friendly Spaces. Child Protection mobile teams also visit schools and shelters to distribute the magazine. Tayara Warak has had issues covering “child rights [and] peace principles” in addition to having a “Back to School” issue to encourage children to continue their education.

This year, Hurras Network has also started service mapping in the communities where they operate. They plan to share the service maps with parents once they are completed. “One of the things why parents choose negative coping mechanisms is that they don’t know that the services are available…they think it’s expensive… or they think it doesn’t exist.” (Alaa Zaza) Hurras Network hopes that providing service maps to parents will combat this belief and prevent children from exploitive labor and armed recruitment, among other grave child protection issues.

Community-Based Child Protection:

Alaa Zaza emphasizes that because Hurras Network hires locally in communities, it usually has or can negotiate, without compromising its commitment to child rights or principles, the social support necessary to continue their work in communities long-term.

Our teams are from the same community so we have recruited people that are well-respected from the same community and that helped a lot.” Alaa explained that this gives his team an edge, especially when dealing with armed groups. “We had some groups affiliated with armed groups coming and threatening [us], but those people on our team, because they belong to the community, they managed to buffer all that.”  

Hurras Network also maintains its pledge to push to work in all areas so that every child can gain access to education and support and have an alternative to recruitment.

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