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SMS Tracking violence against kids in Benin

Using SMS to track and report violence against kids in Benin. Anyone witnessing or experiencing violence texts a local number [I presume they mean texting after an attack not during one!] Using the Ushahidi platform the message reaches the authorities who then have to respond. This is a great idea but I am not clear if and how it can really work. For example so far only 13 reports – do the children and youths have mobile phones or access to phones? Do they know the service exists? The second problem is what happens if there are 50 reports all at once in different parts of a city? And what authority do the child protection officers who are meant to respond have to arrest those commiting acts of violence? Where do the police fit in.

These questions have not yet been answered but a full interview is here and video below.

The Violence Against Children (VAC) project is an initiative co-implemented by PLAN and Save the Children in West Africa and takes place over 4 years (2008-2011) in seven countries: Togo, Ghana, Benin, Guinea, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and Gambia. The VAC project trains and engages children and youth themselves as advocates and agents of change to end violence, together with adult community allies. A comprehensive UN report proposes recommendations for action to prevent and respond to violence against children around the world. Earlier this year, the project explored the idea of setting up a text message based system that will collect and map out reports of violence against children in communities in Benin and Togo.

The managers of the VAC project sent the following statistics about violence against children in Benin: according to a study conducted by the Benin Ministry of Family in 2007 (Etude nationale sur la Traite des enfants réalisée par le Ministère de la Famille en 2007) [fr]:

1 Comment

  1. Hey thanks for your post! Your questions are the same ones we are asking ourselves so that we can find out if the initiative is adding value. We’re going to be doing an assessment (including some of the same questions you are asking) and other questions next week and should know more after that how we want to proceed.

    There is phone access in the 2 communities where we are working – either children/youth own a phone or can borrow one or use a call box/go to a local person who sells airtime, etc., but we’re not sure if air time is hindering reporting or if it’s something else totally unrelated to the technology or the project, and we want to find out. We are trying to get a “green” line from the local service providers (a free text number), and that might help some, or it might not. We need to find out.

    Regarding whether kids know if the number exists or not, youth leaders are doing outreach and training, and our staff have been meeting and talking with school directors, local authorities, local mayors, etc. We want to know what the reason is for the small number of reports, and see if it’s something that can be remedied, and if other communication channels are needed like even suggestion box type reporting or something else. Or maybe the reason for the few reports is something totally different that what we are imagining, and we need to ask the kids that we’re working with in order to find out what it is.

    The other huge issue is beefing up the local response system as you rightly point out. This is an issue with a lot of SMS reporting projects. So let’s say you do get a ton of reports– in many places where we are working there is simply not capacity to respond to them – eg, insufficient staff, no vehicles to go out to check up,an unhealthy legal system, corruption, etc. So we want to build up capacity slowly on both sides – both reporting and responding. The local child protection system includes volunteers, NGO staff, church and religious groups, schools, local authorities and local police and often local community-based child protection committees. Sometimes some of those entities can actually be abusers themselves, so again, we are proceeding with caution — something we would do even if we weren’t using SMS and Ushahidi, because we don’t want to put anyone at risk when they report. Child protection officers are similar to social workers in that they are trained to offer support and counseling, to know the laws, and to channel people to the proper legal entities to obtain legal support. The problem in some places is that the system is weak all around, and that is our main goal in a project like this – to strengthen the system. It may be that SMS reporting doesn’t strengthen the system, and so we want to know that so that we can find other ways to support the system so that it begins to function better for children in a way that can be sustained by the local government, whose responsibility it is.

    I’ll write a post up with some of our findings when we have them! thanks again.