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For children kept out of school, self-protection from violence is critical

Home > Learn More > Stories & News > For children kept out of school, self-protection from violence is critical
By Janella Nelson, senior education advisor for ChildFund
Posted on 9/16/2021
A young woman in Bolivia gestures to a map of her community, smiling.
At her community youth center in Bolivia, Fanny, 20, participates in creating a map of the safe and unsafe places in her neighborhood. Teaching young people how to protect themselves from violence is an important part of ChildFund’s programming; now that many children are in ongoing lockdowns, kept home from school and community activities, we are finding new ways to bring the information to them.


In many countries around the world, children have returned to school. Classrooms are filled with excitement and anxiety as teachers and children reconnect after more than a year’s separation. Parents feel a sense of relief but hesitate to celebrate as possible infections, quarantines and school closures may again threaten this long-awaited re-entry into normalcy.

Sadly, an estimated 140 million children will not experience this normalcy, even temporarily, because they did not return to school this academic year at all. In addition to disrupting learning, the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted livelihoods, separated families and restricted access to basic services, causing significant stress to caregivers and children alike.

Schooling plays an important role in children’s social, emotional and cognitive development – but also in kids’ protection from violence. Disruptions to education not only negatively affect learning, but they also affect children’s mental and physical health and their ability to stay safe from harm.

Risks to children kept out of school

A young man sits on the ground in Uganda behind a giant jackfruit, looking solemnly at the camera.
“[My friends] say that school is no more, and that life has ended,” says Oscar, 17. Schools in his community in Uganda have been closed since March 2020, and the only learning materials he has are the books and worksheets he receives from ChildFund to study at home. Many children in his community have given up on school, instead going to work as fishermen on nearby Lake Victoria. “I have lost close friends who have drowned in the lake,” he says.

Out-of-school children around the world are at increased risk for engaging in risky behavior like child labor, early marriage, drug abuse and more. They are also more vulnerable to becoming victims of abuse and exploitation.

The stress families have experienced during the pandemic has manifested in a heightened risk of child abuse, neglect and violence against children in various forms. Children who were already experiencing or witnessing abuse at home have now been enclosed with those abusive family members, absent from the view of teachers or other adults who might normally be able to detect the abuse or identify children at risk and refer them to protection services. 

How to help kids protect themselves

While adults are always primarily responsible for the protection of children, educating children on how to become champions of their own safety can reduce their vulnerability and better equip them to protect themselves and their peers from violence. Simple skills, such as recognizing a safe or unsafe place or identifying a trusted network of adults in the community, can prevent or stop violence against children.

ChildFund is addressing the heightened risk of violence to children globally through a comic book called Protecting Yourself and Your Friends! The comic book, geared toward children ages 6 to 12, aims to teach basic self-protection skills and knowledge and help children become advocates for their own safety.

In Sierra Leone and Uganda, the book will be used as part of ChildFund’s School-Based Violence Prevention Program, where each child will have their own copy of the book to accompany a series of 19 lessons. These lessons teach children about the different forms of abuse; differentiating between good, bad and confusing touches; and the hotlines they can use to report violence. In countries like Sri Lanka and India, where schools remain fully or partially closed, ChildFund will disseminate the comic book in print as part of home-based learning activity packets, as well as via social media cards. In Sri Lanka, the comic book will also be available on the Ministry of Education’s distance learning platform.

Protecting Yourself and Your Friends! will be translated into various other languages and tested with children in three regions to receive their input. For now, ChildFund is working with an illustrator to develop additional comic books to help children learn four critical skills: 1) recognizing child abuse; 2) recognizing safe and unsafe situations; 3) identifying a network of trusted adults; and 4) knowing when, how, and where to report incidences of violence against children. The comics will soon be available for download from the ChildFund website so that children, caregivers and teachers around the world have access to this valuable information.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the lives of children and create an increased risk of harm, ChildFund’s programs remain committed to supporting children and their caregivers. We’re working to ensure that children around the world can realize their rights to education and protection from harm – and, above all, to ensure that children have the critical skills they need to protect themselves.


A young teenage girl wearing a mask in Cambodia looks at the camera pensively.

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