The Case for a “Campaigning Plus” approach in the field of child protection

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What is the importance of celebrating National Children Day? Will the 2014 celebrations, held on the 14th of September, harness new opportunities to forge partnerships and innovative solutions to improve the living conditions of Nepali children? Frankly speaking I doubt it.

It is not just because there are so many of these “special” days all year around that are really difficult to track. Let me elaborate.

There is nothing wrong with the organization of special “days” celebrations especially in relation to important issues pertaining to children’ wellbeing.

Holding the National Children’s Day is certainly a good way to remember an important milestone deserving special acknowledgement: the ratification by the Government of Nepal of the Convention on the Rights of  Children on 14th September 1990.

Every year the organizers of the National Children’s Day choose a special topic to campaign and advocate for. This year’s celebrations kicked off a national effort against physical and mental punishment.

In a society like Nepal where violence against children is so common, any effort to curb such abuses is certainly welcome.

At the same time can we match the sense of urgency for actions to end corporal punishment with the imperative of ensuring effective implementation at the local level?

If we reassess and re-tool the ways of doing campaigning, including all “one off” events and commemorations, could a new working style in the field of child protection emerge?

Instead it seems to me that these campaigns are held to fit the pressing needs of “public relations” stunts with a very short framework of action rather than being designed more strategically with a longer, timeframe.

After all when you start thinking about follow up mechanisms of these commemorations, you might be tempted to think that these “special” days lack some vital “substance” despite the fact that they are part, at least on  paper, of wider campaign initiatives.

But what is the common understanding of campaigning in a context like Nepal?

Are we referring to a central level press conference followed by a mega event? How can campaigning go beyond a few photo opportunities and really reach out to millions of people? How can school children be involved in massive peer to peer education to influence adults in their communities? In terms of effective lobbying that plays, with no doubts, an important role in any serious campaigning, how can we ensure that new regulations, action plans and strategies are followed by effective implementation?

Certainly there are no easy answers.

Let’s start with some conceptual clarity. The UK Charity Commission defines campaigning as “awareness-raising and efforts to educate and involve the public by mobilizing their support on a particular issue, or to influence or change public attitudes”

NCVO, the British civil society umbrella organization, with its “Tips on Good Practices in Campaigning” shows the complexity of effective campaigning but also demonstrates that, if  carried out in the right way, campaigning can bring real changes to people’s mindsets and behaviors.

Behavior change is one of the most difficult things to be achieved. For this reason the Office of the Prime Minister in UK decided to set up a “nudge’ unit to advise on strategic ways to positively influence people’s choices in matters of public concern.

Change as the theory goes, is possible by giving a “nudge” to outsmart people in their behaviors and set a pattern of positive change in the way they live. The approach, surely “paternalistic” and top down, offered important results, for example, in reducing patterns related to smoking and promotion of different healthy living styles.

Do we want to eliminate child labor? Do we want to end child marriage practices? Do we want to put an end to child abuse? Certainly it would be naïve to think that that strategic campaigning with some forms of “nudging” can have the effect of a magic wand in the field of child protection. Only “PR” events at the central level cannot change and influence negative behaviors at the local level.

Parents and teachers therefore will continue their negative attitudes and patterns towards their children, including decision making directly affecting the lives of the children that can be turned to be disastrous for their future.

Yet if we reach a consensus on the fact that we need a campaigning “plus” approach that acknowledges and incorporates many interlinked causes and effects related to child protection and ensures a strong link between campaigning and ground implementation, a new era in the fight for child dignity and protection could start.

Right now too much importance is being put on celebrations that are too narrow in objectives, too output oriented and too disconnected from the real interventions happening on the ground. Moreover the short term coordination among stakeholders ensured for such celebrations is not followed by real partnerships at the local level.

Acknowledging this level of complexity and all related challenges is a must when planning multiple and interconnected campaigns.

Improving coordination among stakeholders and ending the fragmentation of interventions are the hardest elements to crack but surely smart campaigning can offer a starting point to seriously rethink and reinvent the way child protection interventions are designed and carried out.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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