Paper: The origins humanitarian child protection in theory and in practice

Paper details

Paper authors Caitlin Procter
In panel on Decolonising aid? Issues and directions
Paper presenter(s) will be presenting In-Person / Online


What does decolonising mean in the context of humanitarian child protection? Does humanitarian child protection need decolonising? And if so, what are the colonial roots of the child protection agenda as it manifests in humanitarian settings? There appears to be a stark contrast in the ways that child protection has evolved in the global north, and how it is practiced in humanitarian settings. In the former, the prominence of the role of the state is evident in multiple guises, and the historical record shows how intricately child protection practice has been affected by national political change. Yet in humanitarian settings, the child protection architecture continues overwhelmingly to be issue-based – despite increasing efforts at child protection system building – and often operates in complete isolation from the state.
Within academia, the majority of literature on child protection both in the global north and in humanitarian settings is rooted in mental health and social work perspectives. This has translated in practice most prominently though the development of case management systems, which are now core to much child protection work within the humanitarian sector. The logics upon which the systems are built often go unchallenged within the sector. Yet this jars significantly with the anthropological and sociological literature on child protection ‘issues ’in humanitarian settings, which by now has built a clear body of evidence that the sector as a whole often does more to put children at risk than to meaningfully protect them.
This paper juxtaposes the evolution of child protection in the global north with the emergence of the field in practice in humanitarian settings to prompt questions and challenges in understanding what might be needed to move towards decolonising humanitarian child protection practice. It also suggests how it might be possible to generate a more nuanced and meaningful understanding of what constitutes safety and being well for children in humanitarian settings that moves beyond existing child protection frameworks.



Caitlin Procter