What If You Couldn't Protect Your Children?

My mother can be so annoying. She calls me every other day to ask how my daughter is doing. When my daughter takes the subway to visit her on weekends, my mom can’t help but ask if I’m sure the commute is safe.

“It’s dangerous,” she’ll say. “You never know what can happen. She’s just a teenager.”

Living in Toronto, I admit I’m not overly concerned about my daughter’s safety. I do have the natural fear all parents share whenever our children are out of sight, but overall, I trust my daughter is safe.

What I’ve come to realize, however, is my comfort is a privilege. The short trip my daughter takes from our apartment to her school every morning could be treacherous if we were in another part of the world. In some countries, there are violent threats, and it’s risky to simply walk through dirty water — that’s under normal conditions.

During a crisis, like the famine in South Sudan or the ongoing civil war in Syria, the risks to children are amplified. It’s easy to get lost in the headlines. All we read are phrases such as “refugee crisis” and “humanitarian crisis.” Without any context, it’s difficult to comprehend how the people behind these headlines are truly impacted — and the most vulnerable are children.

Family First

Now my mom’s seeming intrusiveness doesn’t feel so bad. When thinking of ways to protect our children during a crisis, keeping the family intact is foundational. Many of the risks faced during a natural disaster, political instability or war can be reduced considerably when families are whole.

When I talk about risks during crisis, I mean situations that can dramatically damage a child’s life. For instance, when millions of people are displaced due to war, famine or any alarming circumstance, they are faced with numerous uncertainties. So, parents may feel forced to consider drastic measures, such as selling their daughters into marriage for a dowry to build a stable future.

There are other risks. During an emergency situation, children often can’t attend school for months and sometimes years. The long-term effect of missing out on education leads to further economic and social uncertainty. The loss of a parent or parents is another risk that can see children, who haven’t even reached adolescence, forced to become head of the household and care for their siblings. I can list many more risks faced by children — female genital mutilation, child trafficking, child sacrifice. It’s disheartening to say the least.

Take Action

My goal is to propose solutions. There are organizations, like Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC), helping communities build systems to protect vulnerable children. They do not isolate these problems; they put the child at the centre, then build outward, involving family and community, before reaching out to national and international institutions. The idea is to design measures to prevent risk and to consider children as existing in a circle of continuous support.

I can’t imagine fearing for my daughter’s safety every time she leaves for school. I don’t want to imagine what it would be like if Toronto was suddenly hit with a catastrophe that left us displaced and in need of food and shelter. For the most part, we don’t usually face these issues, but we know these struggles occur every day. Just because it doesn’t happen at our doorstep, that shouldn’t be an excuse to ignore the problem.

I invite you to do your research. Learn about the organizations working to protect children whose main challenge may be their geographic location. Then take action. You can do that directly, by volunteering with one of these groups, or indirectly through donating resources. Share what you’ve learned with one friend so more people are aware of the problems and groups can work towards solutions.

Start with the CCFC. They have been an amazing resource for me. They are committed to ensuring children understand their right to grow safely so they can laugh, learn and play without fear of violence or exploitation.

I’m just lucky my daughter already knows what it’s like to feel safe.