Decolonising international child protection in an era of climate crisis

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Social and Policy Sciences


Children alive today face a world characterized by economic, political, social and ecological instability as a result of Covid-19, conflict and climate collapse. Children from the Global South and those who already live in adversity are the worst affected. In response, international non-governmental agencies (INGOs) are scrambling to adapt their child protection programming to respond to these systemic disruptions. A major challenge lies in determining how mainstream understandings of violence against children, defined in largely interpersonal terms, are impacted by the concept of 'slow violence' which entails the gradual, invisible destruction of the planet and its marginal peoples (Nixon, 2011).
In parallel, calls for the decolonization of aid are gaining ground in the international development sector, focused around dismantling systems of oppression, exclusion and 'white saviour' mentality that have permeated INGOs' work. While these calls are slowly emerging in the international child protection community, much debate remains in spaces where children and young people are excluded. Children and young people are ever more aware of their existential fragility are taking action to address it through protest and social movements. Yet they remain frustrated by the unwillingness of both governments and civil society to give them a seat at the table in reforming the broken international aid sector.
Aims & methodology
The overall aim of the research is to investigate the implications of the decolonisation of aid for international child protection programming in the context of the climate crisis. The research seeks to explore the following questions :
How is the era of climate crisis, characterized by 'slow violence', challenging colonial legacies in international child protection programming?
To what extent has the decolonisation of aid impacted on international child protection practice, particularly in relation to child participation and climate action?
What are the implications of the decolonisation of aid for future international child protection programming and advocacy in an era of climate emergency?
Drawing on the work of my proposed first supervisor (Howard 2017), my research aims to build a multi-sited, multi-layered picture of international child protection. This will entail working at the 'global level', within the headquarters and amongst senior officials of large international child protection institutions. I will complement this with two national level case studies, providing a window into how theory and practice are translated 'down' in differing cases from the Global North and Global South. The fieldwork will include a combination of key informant interviews; focus group discussion; ethnographic methods (participant observation); and participatory action research (PAR). The PAR processes at global and national levels will bring together INGO representatives, local climate activists, children and young people.
The research will constitute the most in-depth study to-date of the ways in which decolonial thinking impacts current international child protection practice in the context of ongoing crisis.
By using PAR with INGO actors, climate activists and children in contexts of adversity, the research will open up critical reflection on systemic oppression and power imbalances. This has the potential to catalyse new modalities for sharing power with children and young people as a cornerstone of a new paradigm for responding to climate change as a form of structural violence against children.
The research fits within two priority areas of the ESRC: climate change and sustainability; and politics and governance. It has the potential to transform strategic planning of INGOs, UN agencies and donors to generate new insights for the future of child protection programming on a fragile planet.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2874875 Studentship ES/P000630/1 30/09/2023 29/09/2027 Kristen Burchill