BEIRUT: Civil society organizations kicked off a weeklong campaign Monday to help promote the protection of children from sexual abuse, starting with the launch of 15 centers across Lebanon that will help educate adolescents about the issue. The campaign, called “The Key to Protection is a Word” is headed by Kafa Violence and Exploitation and Save the Children, and forms part of a region-wide initiative that aims to educate children in Lebanon, Yemen and the Palestinian Territories about how they can protect themselves from abuse.
The European Union has provided 1.35 million euros ($1,77) for the project to run in the three countries for three years, a spokesman for the EU mission in Lebanon said Monday, and Save the Children has matched this funding.
Lebanon’s Social Affairs Ministry has offered advice and technical support to the campaign’s branch here.
Kafa’s director Zoya Rouhana told a news conference Monday that the centers opened across Lebanon will help teach children about their rights “to provide them with the necessary knowledge to protect themselves from any abuse that they may face.”
She stressed that child abuse was a “problem that affects all parts of society, regardless of their cultural allegiances or class,” adding that education is vital in combating the problem.
The campaign – organized in collaboration with Kafa, Save the Children and a number of local civil society and education groups – will teach children aged 11-17 about basic reproductive health, as well as how to recognize and report sexual abuse and gender-based violence.
Trained counselors will also be on hand to give advice, and Rouhana said that the centers would also provide a confidential service for concerned children and adults to report incidents of child abuse to the authorities.
Ruba Khoury, head of Save the Children’s Lebanese office, told The Daily Star that the campaign had gone to great lengths to specifically tailor their educational material for use in the country.
“The importance of the project is that it is really adapted to the cultural sensitivities of the region without hiding behind our fingers and not talking about such important issues,” she said.
Khoury said that she was pleased with the campaign’s progress and hoped to expand the scheme in the near future.
“We have piloted this in 15 centers in Lebanon, but by itself, this is not enough,” Khoury said, adding that she would eventually like to see a policy change by the government on the issue.
Those present at the launch were enthusiastic about the educational program the centers will offer.
A number of schoolchildren and education experts spoke at the event Monday, saying that they had benefited from a pilot version of the scheme.
Marlene al-Haddad, an educational psychotherapist at the Lycee Saint Joseph in Mazraat Yechouch, has worked in partnership with Kafa and Save the Children to teach students about sexual rights issues, and said it provided “good training and protection” for children.
But Haddad still felt that more needed to be done to reach children in all parts of Lebanon: “There is no program put in place in our schools.
“There are personal initiatives by social workers and educational psychotherapists, but there is nothing else,” she said.