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Safeguarding vs. Protection: Upholding Child Rights in a Safer World

Article by Ahmad Bakdad | April 29, 2024 | Global Rights Defenders


Child abuse and sexual exploitation are egregious violations of children's rights that continue to plague societies worldwide. As we strive to create a safer world for children, it's imperative to understand the distinction between safeguarding and protection in the context of child welfare. Drawing upon the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)[1] and international conventions on child protection, this article delves into the essential principles guiding our efforts and highlights the urgency of addressing these issues.

Safeguarding: Preserving the Rights of Children

Safeguarding encompasses proactive measures aimed at preventing harm and promoting the well-being of children. At its core, safeguarding prioritizes the fulfillment of children's rights, as outlined in the UNCRC. These rights include the right to life, survival, and development; the right to protection from abuse and exploitation; and the right to participate meaningfully in decisions affecting their lives.

As mentioned in Article 39 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), “take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts.”

Key components of safeguarding include:

1. Prevention through education and awareness: Empowering children, families, and communities with knowledge about child rights, healthy relationships, and recognizing signs of abuse.

2. Providing a safe environment: Ensuring that institutions, such as schools, childcare facilities, and online platforms, have robust safeguarding policies and procedures in place to mitigate risks and respond effectively to concerns.

3. Early intervention and support: Offering accessible and timely support services for children and families experiencing adversity, including counseling, advocacy, and access to healthcare.

Protection: Enforcing Child Rights and Accountability

Protection involves reactive measures aimed at responding to instances of child abuse and exploitation, holding perpetrators accountable, and providing assistance and redress to victims. International conventions on child protection, such as the Optional Protocol to the UNCRC on the sale of children[2], child prostitution, and child pornography, emphasize the importance of legal frameworks and collaborative efforts to combat these crimes.

Key elements of protection include:

1. Legal safeguards: Enacting and enforcing laws that criminalize child abuse, trafficking, and exploitation, while also ensuring access to justice and appropriate legal remedies for victims.

2. Multi-agency collaboration: Fostering coordination among law enforcement agencies, social services, healthcare providers, and non-governmental organizations to investigate cases, identify victims, and provide comprehensive support.

3. Victim-centered approaches: Prioritizing the needs and rights of child victims by offering trauma-informed care, rehabilitation, and reintegration services, while respecting their dignity and autonomy.

Addressing Child Trafficking: A Global Concern

Child trafficking remains a pervasive form of exploitation, with millions of children subjected to forced labor, sexual exploitation, and other forms of abuse each year. According to a press release by UNICEF in 2018, Children account for nearly one-third of identified trafficking victims globally[3], highlighting the urgent need for concerted action at the national and international levels.

The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, along with its Protocols, constitutes a crucial international legal framework in combating organized crime, including human trafficking and the exploitation of children. Adopted in 2000, this Convention provides a comprehensive approach to addressing the complexities of transnational criminal networks by promoting cooperation among nations, enhancing law enforcement capabilities, and facilitating the prosecution and punishment of offenders. The Protocols supplementing the Convention, such as the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, serve to bolster efforts to combat specific forms of organized crime, emphasizing the protection of vulnerable populations and the promotion of human rights. Through collective action guided by these instruments, the international community endeavors to dismantle criminal networks, disrupt illicit activities, and safeguard the well-being of individuals, particularly children, who are most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.[4]


In our pursuit of a safer world for children, safeguarding and protection are indispensable pillars that uphold their fundamental rights and dignity. By embracing a holistic approach that combines prevention, intervention, and accountability, we can create environments where children thrive free from fear and exploitation. As we stand at the crossroads of progress, let us reaffirm our commitment to safeguarding the rights of every child and building a future where their voices are heard, their rights respected, and their dreams realized.


[1] General Assembly resolution 44/25, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 20

November 1989.

[2] Resolution A/RES/54/263 at the fifty-fourth session of the General Assembly of

the United Nations, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the

Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, 25

May 2000.

[3] UNICEF. (2021, December 10). Children account for nearly one-third of

identified trafficking victims globally [Press release]. Retrieved from

[4] United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the

Protocols Thereto, UN General Assembly, 15 November 2000, by resolution


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