Child Protection Policies
Updated July 27, 2020
This policy affirms the commitment of Ecology Project International (hereinafter referred to as EPI) to protect all children from discrimination, harm, abuse, and exploitation. EPI endorses the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), and Article 19 which states that:
Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.
As such, EPI shall seek to address all levels of child protection that may be affected by the organization’s work and will regularly revise its policy to ensure that it remains relevant and complies with current legislation. EPI also believes that the protection of children from abuse and exploitation is the responsibility of all those adults who participate in the workspace of EPI, including Program Managers, Program Coordinators, other program staff, instructors, chaperones, volunteers, donors, visitors, and media.
The purpose of this policy, therefore, is to inform all EPI staff and volunteers about child abuse and exploitation and to promote a work culture where everyone is committed to keeping children safe from all forms of harm. Additionally, this policy provides guidance on how to respond to concerns and allegations of child abuse or exploitation.
In compliance with the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, EPI considers a child to be a person below the age of 18 years. EPI shall adhere to local and international child protection criminal laws, which prohibit the abuse and exploitation of children. Adherence to this policy is a mandatory requirement for all persons who participate in the workspace of EPI.
The abuse of a child can occur in several different ways, including:
Physical abuse: Occurring when a person purposefully injures or threatens to injure a child and can include, but is not limited to, slapping, punching, shaking, kicking, burning, shoving, or grabbing.
Emotional abuse: A chronic attitude or behavior directed at a child whereby a child’s self-esteem and social competence is undermined or eroded over time. This can take the form of but is not limited to, name-calling, bullying, threatening, ridiculing, intimidating, ignoring, devaluing, terrorizing, or isolating a child.
Neglect: The failure to provide a child with the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, shelter, space, and supervision, to the extent that the child’s health and/or development are placed at risk.
Sexual Abuse: When a child is used by another person for his or her own sexual stimulation or gratification.
Sexual exploitation is the abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust for sexual purposes; this includes profiting monetarily, socially or politically from the exploitation of another. Examples include child prostitution and the trafficking of children for sexual abuse.
Commercial or other exploitation of a child refers to the use of the child in work or other activities for the benefit of others. This includes, but is not limited to, child labor. These activities are to the detriment of the child’s physical or mental health, education, moral or social-emotional development (WHO, 1999). Children being recruited into the army would also come under this category.
Internet abuse and abusive images of children, commonly referred to as child pornography, is defined as any representation, by whatever means, of a child engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a child for sexual purposes. Increased access to technology has also meant that children are now subject to additional abuse through the internet. Abusive images of children are traded and transmitted over the internet. Digital and phone cameras have made it possible for some children's images to be distributed across the internet without their knowledge. Children may also be at risk of coming into contact with people who want to harm them when using the internet.
This Policy applies to all members of EPI staff, chaperones, volunteers, vendors, and people visiting EPI programs and courses.
EPI will act at all times to ensure children’s safety and protection and will support the active contribution of its staff to achieve this goal.
EPI representatives will:
Treat all children with the highest standards of respect and courtesy regardless of race, color, sex, language, disability, religion, political or other opinions, national, ethnic, social origin, birth or other status;
Be committed to creating a culture of openness and mutual accountability that empowers children to be knowledgeable of their rights, to know what is acceptable and unacceptable, and to know what they can do if there are problems;
Take steps to empower children by providing opportunities for their views to be heard regarding acceptable and unacceptable behavior;
Encourage children to speak up about issues that affect them;
Minimize the instances of EPI staff and chaperones working alone with one student by employing the “two-adult” rule and ensuring that adults are always visible to others when working with children;
Ensure physical contact is at all times culturally appropriate and not an invasion of the child’s privacy;
Use positive, non-violent methods to manage children’s behavior;
Raise any concerns about inappropriate behavior immediately. Immediately report any of the following to the Program Coordinator and the Program Manager*:
a. Disclosure or allegation from a child, community member or EPI staff regarding the safety, abuse or exploitation of a child;
b. Behavior by any EPI employee, vendor or volunteer that breaches this policy or the Child Protection Code of Conduct;
c. Inappropriate use of EPI technology including computers and photographic equipment;
d. Any person engaging in suspicious behavior that could be associated with child abuse, exploitation or trafficking;
e. Any involvement in any situation where one’s actions could be misinterpreted or likely to bring the organization into disrepute; or
f. Anyone being investigated for any crime or charged with any criminal offense.
*Program Managers should reference EPI's Emergency Response System Handbook as to the next steps, comply with any investigation (including interviews) and make available any documentation or information necessary for the completion of the investigation. They should respond swiftly and in confidence to any such allegations.
In addition, within and outside their work environments at all times, EPI representatives must not:
Behave physically in a manner which is inappropriate or sexually provocative or develop physical or sexual relationships with children that they interact, engage or work with;
Spend excessive time alone with a child, away from others, behind closed doors or in a secluded area;
Take a child to their home or visit a child at their home where they may be alone with that child, or sleep in the same room;
Sleep in the same bed as a child or allow a child to stay overnight at their home unsupervised;
Do things of a personal nature for a child that they could do for themselves or show favor to particular children to the exclusion of others (for example, promising a child gifts or enticements);
Engage in sexual activity with a child regardless of the age of consent locally (mistaken belief regarding the age of the child is not an arguable defense);
Be intoxicated (under the influence of alcohol or drugs) prior to assuming responsibility for any child or during time with a child;
Hit or otherwise physically assault or abuse children (even where this may be culturally acceptable);
Act in ways that may be abusive or may place a child at risk of abuse;
Use inappropriate language - whether of an offensive, discriminatory, demeaning, abusive or sexual nature – when speaking with or whilst in the presence of a child;
Condone or participate in behavior with children that is illegal, unsafe or abusive, including being part of harmful traditional practices, spiritual or ritualistic abuse;
Act in ways intended to shame, humiliate, belittle or degrade a child, or otherwise perpetrate any form of abuse;
Traffic children or exploit them for their labor (e.g. domestic servants) or for sexual purposes (e.g. prostitution);
Take a child alone in a vehicle unless it’s absolutely necessary and with parental and managerial consent, considering children’s health, safety, well-being, and best interests as paramount;
Use their relationship with children to obtain inappropriate favors; or
Behave in a way whereby his/her actions (physical, verbal, or otherwise) are or could be perceived as offensive, inappropriate, abusive, neglectful, or exploitative.
ANY BREACH OF THIS CODE OF CONDUCT CAN LEAD TO DISMISSAL FROM EMPLOYMENT OR SERVICE AND MAY RESULT IN LEGAL PROCEEDINGS.
EPI has adopted the following core principles as part of this policy, and they will be incorporated into all relevant documents:
1. All forms of abuse and exploitation of children by EPI staff and volunteers constitute acts of gross misconduct and are therefore grounds for termination of employment.
2. When a staff member or representative has concerns or suspicions regarding any type of child abuse or exploitation s/he must report such concerns via established organizational reporting mechanisms. EPI will treat all concerns raised seriously and treat all parties involved fairly. All reports will be handled professionally, confidentially, and will be acted upon within 24 hours.
3. All EPI staff members are obliged to create and maintain an environment that prevents all forms of abuse and exploitation of children and promotes the implementation of the EPI code of conduct.
4. Sexual relationships between EPI staff and participants (both adults and children) are prohibited. Mistaken belief in the age of a child is not an arguable defense.
5. Exchange of money, employment, goods, or services for sex, including sexual favors or other forms of humiliating, degrading or exploitative behavior is prohibited.
CHILD PROTECTION PROCEDURES
Organizational Awareness and Policies
All EPI employees and volunteers will be informed of EPI’s child protection policies, and compliance with them is expected. Any breach is treated with the utmost seriousness and will be investigated and dealt with accordingly.
Child protection awareness will be included at all stages of EPI operations, including the hiring, orientation and training of all employees and volunteers who will come into contact with children at all levels and in all offices.
EPI will ensure that all EPI employees and volunteers have read these policies. All employees and volunteers will be required to sign an acknowledgment that they have both read the policies and will comply with the requirements. Any changes made to the policies will be communicated immediately.
Recruitment and Staff Management Practices
EPI is committed to child-safe recruitment, selection, and screening practices to ensure that the organization does not employ or retain persons who pose a risk to children. All EPI staff and volunteers will be informed of this policy during the recruitment process.
When EPI determines it is necessary or appropriate, background checks may be required of employees and volunteers who conduct work that brings them into direct contact with children. Background checks may include police records or criminal history checks.
All staff will be required to provide official or government-issued proof of identity documents, such as a passport and relevant qualifications, when requested by EPI to do so. Additional screening measures will include verbal reference checks and interview questions.
EPI may refuse to employ or may terminate the employment of any person who it reasonably believes may pose a risk to children.
This policy will be made available to all staff, volunteers, and others visiting or involved with EPI projects. It is the responsibility of the Program Manager to ensure that all EPI employees and volunteers under his/her supervision have a copy of this policy and that all EPI staff members under his/her supervision are aware of and trained on this policy.
Staff will be made aware of the importance of and their own responsibility in the upholding and implementation of this policy. Any violation of the policy (including any suspected or known abuse or exploitation) must be reported directly to the Program Coordinator and Program Manager.
Photographic, Electronic, and Printed Material
EPI undertakes all reasonable precautions to protect paper and electronic information about children. At all times, staff members are required, to the best of their abilities, to adhere to the following EPI policies in relation to privacy and photography or use of image:
(a) All communications involving children must use pictures and text that are decent, respectful, and age-appropriate. Children should be appropriately clothed for their culture and the activity and not in poses that could be perceived as sexually suggestive.
(b) Photographs, films, videos, and DVDs must present children in a dignified and respectful manner and not in a vulnerable manner that endangers their safety. Children should be appropriately clothed for their culture, the activity, and not in poses that could be perceived as sexually suggestive.
(c) Images should be honest representations of situations and the facts.
(d) The identities of children in photographs, images, and videos are not disclosed without the consent of the parent or legal guardian. Once consent is given, a child may only be identified by his or her first name and home country.
(e) Photographs, film, and videos not utilized must be securely stored with access being limited only to relevant staff.
(f) Images should not be used for more than two years after the date of consent form unless further consent is agreed (Belize only).
ALL EPI EMPLOYEES AND VOLUNTEERS ARE REQUIRED TO REPORT IMMEDIATELY TO THE PROGRAM COORDINATOR AND PROGRAM MANAGER ANY OF THE FOLLOWING*:
Disclosure or allegation from a child, community member or EPI staff regarding the safety, abuse or exploitation of a child;
Behavior by any EPI employee, vendor or volunteer that breaches this policy or the Child Protection Code of Conduct;
Inappropriate use of EPI technology including computers and photographic equipment;
Any person engaging in suspicious behavior that could be associated with child abuse, exploitation or trafficking;
Any involvement in any situation where one’s actions could be misinterpreted or likely to bring the organization into disrepute; or
Anyone being investigated for any crime or charged with any criminal offense.
*Program Managers should reference the ERS Handbook for the next steps.
IF A PERSON KNOWINGLY CHOOSES NOT TO REPORT AN INCIDENT OR ANY SUSPICION OF CHILD ABUSE OR EXPLOITATION, THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH EPI WILL BE SUSPENDED OR TERMINATED, BASED ON THE RESULTS OF AN INVESTIGATION.
Investigating and Reporting Guidelines
If an incident is reported:
1. The Program Manager will conduct an investigation in a timely and thorough manner and may require the assistance of external mediation services, legal or other expert advice. The investigation and its outcomes will be appropriately documented.
2. The investigation may require the interview of the person making an allegation, other witnesses, and the alleged perpetrator or suspect. The matter may be referred to the local police or other authorities if it is considered to involve criminal behavior.
3. All reports will be handled professionally, confidentially, and expediently. In all reports reviewed by people other than the immediate investigative committee, the names of people involved and the details will remain confidential. Any disclosure of reports or information will be on a “need to know” basis or will be made if required by relevant law or child protection authorities.
4. All reports made in good faith will be viewed as being made in the best interests of the child, regardless of the outcomes of any investigation. EPI will ensure that the interests of the person reporting child abuse, neglect, or exploitation in good faith are protected.
5. Any EPI representative who intentionally makes false or malicious allegations will face disciplinary action.
6. The rights and welfare of the child are of prime importance. Every effort will be made to protect the rights and safety of the child throughout any investigation.
7. During an investigation, the best interests of the child may warrant the suspension of an EPI staff. Any staff member suspended in this manner will continue to receive full pay, recognizing that the staff member is entitled to a fair process and that this action is not a pre-judgment of the outcome of any investigation.