There were over 10,000 reported cases of child violence, neglect, abuse, and exploitation in Lebanon over the past year. In order to address this vitally important issue, Lebanon’s Ministry of Public Health in collaboration with AUB’s Knowledge to Policy (K2P) Center, himaya, and UNICEF convened a policy dialogue aimed at strengthening child protection practices in healthcare institutions in Lebanon.
The need to address child protection
In 2017, the child protection sector reported 10,825 child violence, neglect, abuse, and exploitation cases in Lebanon which received child protection case management services, of which approximately 90% were of medium and high risk. Furthermore, this is just the tip of the iceberg: more children are suffering in silence and are not able to seek and receive support.
Evidence from local and international studies, compiled by the K2P Center at AUB’s Faculty of Health Sciences, has also shown that child abuse is associated with a higher incidence of mental health disorders, eating disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, and increased mortality.
Due to the magnitude of the problem and the importance of having policies and practices in place for the prevention, early identification, management, and referral of child abuse cases—and in line with the Ministry of Public Health’s strategy to improve the quality of Lebanon’s healthcare institutions in general—the Ministry decided to develop a plan of action for child protection in healthcare institutions.
The policy dialogue held on February 23, 2018 was organized by K2P and convened key stakeholders from government agencies, international organizations, and healthcare institutions, along with social workers, academics, and researchers.
The high-level discussion was supported by a K2P Briefing Note, which brought together the best available local, regional, and international evidence and offered recommendations for action. This Briefing Note was circulated prior to the event in order to inform the dialogue and allow an active and focused discussion.
Participants included the general director of the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Walid Ammar; Nisrine Tawily and Simon Nehme from the Child Protection Programme at UNICEF; Salam Chreim, head of the Department of Juvenile Protection at the Ministry of Social Affairs; Hala Abou Samra, head of the Juvenile Justice Department at the Ministry of Justice; Captain Rima Abi Haidar, MD, head of the Medical Center of the Internal Security Forces; Dr. Bernard Gerbaka, director of the Child Protection Unit at Hôtel-Dieu de France; Hilda El Khoury, director of the Counseling and Guidance Bureau at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education; Dr. Waleed Ikram, representative of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA); Nadia Badran, president of the Syndicate of Social Workers; representatives from the Syndicate of Hospitals, Order of Nurses, Order of Midwives; as well as other academics and researchers.
Dialogue leading to action
The dialogue was facilitated by K2P director, Dr. Fadi El Jardali, who elicited from participants their ideas on the overall problem and its underlying factors. Participants discussed the child protection arrangements in Lebanon with a focus on healthcare institutions.
“Preventing violence against children requires the efforts of many,” said Simon Nehme. “UNICEF sees this policy dialogue as a key step in the right direction and we are encouraged by the commitment towards the protection of children demonstrated by the Ministry of Public Health.”
From the Ministry of Public Health, General Director Walid Ammar noted that, “initiating discussions on child protection are the first step to strengthening child protection practices in healthcare institutions.” In addition, Lama Yazbeck of himaya, highlighted: "We are delighted that child protection actors are meeting today to discuss the integration and strengthening of child protection practices in the health sector.''
Dialogue participants deliberated over four evidence-informed recommendations from the K2P Briefing Note: (1) strengthening child protection practices in healthcare organizations through related policies, procedures, standards, and resources; (2) developing and implementing tools and strategies in healthcare organizations for child abuse early recognition and management; (3) enhancing the knowledge and education of providers to recognize, refer, or manage child abuse; and (4) promoting social behavioral change in relation to child protection.
Participants also agreed on the importance of achieving Goal 16 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals relating to the prevention of sexual, psychological, and physical abuse targeting children.
The hope is that this and other dialogues will lead to concrete actions that will help safeguard the children of Lebanon and thus positively affect the health and wellbeing of this country’s future generations.