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Child protection

Annual Statement of Compliance with the Commonwealth Child Safe Framework 2023

DFAT's commitment to child safety

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is committed to ensuring that children are protected in all its work. Australia is a state party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). DFAT takes its obligations under the Convention and under the Commonwealth Child Safe Framework seriously. Australia was the first international donor government to implement a policy (2008) to protect children from exploitation and abuse.

DFAT has a zero‑tolerance approach to child exploitation and abuse. Our commitment to child safety, detailed in our Child Protection Framework and Policy, applies to all our staff and to those we fund. We will continue to strengthen child protection in our work by enhancing prevention and accountability, improving support for children affected, and encouraging cultural change.

DFAT's interaction with children

DFAT operates a network of diplomatic missions around the globe. We sometimes work in remote or difficult locations and in places affected by crises. Among other things, its work includes the delivery of a range of services to Australians abroad and the delivery of the Australian international development program.

Our work can bring us into contact with children, both directly and indirectly, in a range of ways. These include when providing consular assistance and passport services, during media events and other public diplomacy activities, when providing humanitarian assistance in response to a disaster or crisis, or through medical services for staff (and family members) posted overseas.

Children figure prominently across Australia's international development program. We support a range of programs and initiatives that benefit children, directly and indirectly, including education and health programs, the advancement of children's rights, access to clean water and protection from harm.

Child protection risks and mitigation measures

DFAT undertakes an annual risk assessment, identifying, evaluating and managing risks to child safety in all DFAT business. A key risk is compliance with policies and/or domestic and international laws and conventions that seek to protect children. Due to our operating context - the nature of our work and where we work - the child protection risk rating for DFAT is high.

DFAT has a dedicated unit – the Human and Environmental Safeguards Section (HMS) – working on child protection issues. It provides advice and training to raise awareness of child protection issues among DFAT staff and our funded partners in Australia and overseas, and to build child safeguarding capacity. It also manages the reporting system for safeguard notifications.

DFAT's Child Protection Framework applies to all DFAT staff and all funded partners, and sets expectations for conduct, reporting, risk management, recruitment and screening, and training. It requires immediate mandatory reporting of any instance of suspected or alleged child exploitation and abuse. It outlines minimum child protection standards for DFAT funded partners who are child focused or have activities that involve working with children or contact with children. We regularly share the lessons of our experience, and our knowledge, tools and materials with other government agencies and funded partners to improve child protection.

The key elements of our child protection framework include:

For staff:

  • An internal Working with Children Check – Screening Policy and Screening Procedure. This ensures all DFAT staff, including locally engaged staff and contracted staff, undertaking child-related work are appropriately screened to confirm their suitability to work with children and are made aware of their responsibilities under the Commonwealth Child Safe Framework and the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations.
  • Robust security and integrity checks for DFAT staff posted to Australia's overseas network.
  • Mandatory training - prior to commencing an overseas posting, all DFAT staff must complete DFAT's Child Protection eLearning (foundation level) as part of their pre‑posting requirements. If working on a development program or filling a position that works with children, staff must also complete Child and Adult Safeguards training (practitioner level).
  • A chapter on child protection in the staff Conduct and Ethics Manual.
  • Access restrictions to inappropriate websites and an IT Acceptable Use Policy with clear guidelines on inappropriate usage.

Our services:

  • Consular Policy and Consular Operations Handbooks that assist staff to manage allegations of child sex offences, forced marriage and other child protection related issues.
  • Passport policies, procedures, guidelines and training that clearly outline child protection obligations and reporting requirements.

For the international development program:

  • An Environmental and Social Safeguards Policy for the development program that protects the rights, health and safety of all people including children.
  • Due diligence assessments that must be completed before entering into a development program funding agreement with an organisation. Assessments specifically review the program's integrity and child protection systems and controls.
  • A comprehensive accreditation process for non-government organisations involved in development under the Australian Non-Government Organisation Cooperation Program (ANCP).
  • A requirement that direct and indirect risks to children must be considered in the design and implementation phases of DFAT development projects.

Other measures:

  • Legally enforceable clauses in agreements specifically focusing on child protection.
  •  Grant agreements should include a Working with Children Check Statement of Compliance requiring assurance that funded partners and their staff comply with the working with children legislative requirements.

Compliance with the Commonwealth Child Safe Framework and measures to improve compliance

DFAT meets the requirements under the Commonwealth Child Safe Framework. We are updating our safeguards policies, including our Child Protection Policy, and accompanying guidance material to ensure they are current. DFAT ensures compliance with the policies through awareness raising and mandatory training, independent assessments of designs and reviews, regular risk discussions with partners, internal audits, and due diligence assessments of partners.

Child safety initiatives undertaken in the reporting year

DFAT undertook several child safety initiatives in the 2022-23 financial year.

During National Child Protection Week we provided information on child protection to Australia's global network of diplomatic missions to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect. As part of this, staff were reminded of mandatory reporting and made aware of DFAT's child protection training courses.

Foundation level child protection training was provided to 899 DFAT staff, up from 323 in 2021-22, and practitioner level training to 93 staff (105 in 2021-22) whose work potentially involved more direct engagement with children.

DFAT managed 48 child protection incidents relating to DFAT business in 2022-23 (up from 43 the previous year). Experience from these notifications was used to improve our understanding and handling of child protection issues and to strengthen our training.

DFAT continued to support child protection activities abroad through direct investments under the international development program. We provided funding to child-focussed non-government organisations and to international organisations like UNICEF and UNFPA. We supported placements under the Australian Volunteer Program to positions working with children. Many of the programs which DFAT supports to address gender-based violence also address ending violence against children. Children in several countries benefited from the essential and emergency support Australia provided in response to humanitarian crises.

The long-running SaferKidsPH Program in the Philippines is a good example of a highly successful child protection program which DFAT and the Australian Federal Police support under Australia's international development program. The SaferKidsPH program provides funding and advice to the Philippine Government in raising public awareness on child online safety, improves the capacity of and coordination between the police and the courts to detect, investigate and prosecute cases of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children, and ensures that quality support services are accessible for vulnerable children and families. The program works with government, civil society, business and other like-minded donors and development partners. It engages with children, families, communities, schools, and the private sector. As child sexual exploitation moved online during the COVID pandemic, the SaferKids PH program played an important role in child protection in the Philippines. Dozens of children were rescued and several offenders were arrested.

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