Medical Volunteers International Safeguarding Policy

A) Purpose of the Safeguarding Policy

The purpose of this policy is to protect people, particularly children, adults  at risk and beneficiaries of assistance, from any harm that may be caused due to their coming into contact with Medical Volunteers International. The policy lays out the commitments made by Medical Volunteers International, and informs staff and associated staff of their responsibilities in relation to safeguarding. It applies to all Medical Volunteers International staff, volunteers and guests (including, for example, visiting donors, journalists or photographers).

B) Definitions

The language in this safeguarding document applies primarily to Medical Volunteers International’s interactions with children, although its underlying intention clearly also applies to all of our patients. Under Article 1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a child is defined as anyone under the age of 18 years.

Child abuse consists of anything which individuals, institutions or processes do or fail to do which directly or indirectly harms children or damages their prospect of safe and healthy development into adulthood. The World Health Organisation breaks child abuse down into the following five main categories: physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and negligent treatment, sexual abuse, and exploitation.

  •       Physical abuse: actual or potential physical harm perpetrated by another person, adult or child. It may involve hitting, shaking, poisoning, drowning and burning. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or caregiver fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces illness in a child.
  •       Sexual abuse: forcing or enticing a child to take part in sexual activities that he or she does not fully understand and has little choice in consenting to. This may include, but is not limited to, rape, oral sex, penetration, or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching. It may also include involving children in looking at, or producing sexual images, watching sexual activities and encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.
  • Neglect and negligent treatment: allowing for context, resources and circumstances, neglect and negligent treatment refers to a persistent failure to meet a child’s basic physical and/or psychological needs, which is likely to result in serious impairment of a child’s healthy physical, spiritual, moral and mental development. It includes the failure to properly supervise and protect children from harm and provide for nutrition, shelter and safe living/working conditions. It may also involve maternal neglect during pregnancy as a result of drug or alcohol abuse and the neglect and ill treatment of a disabled child.
  • Emotional abuse: persistent emotional maltreatment which has an impact on a child’s emotional development. Emotionally abusive acts include restriction of movement, degrading, humiliating, bullying (including cyber bullying), and threatening, scaring, discriminating, ridiculing or other non-physical forms of hostile or rejecting treatment.
  • Child exploitation: includes child domestic work, child soldiers​, the recruitment and involvement of children in armed conflict, sexual exploitation​ and pornography, the use of children for criminal activities​ including the sale and distribution of narcotics and the involvement of children in harmful or hazardous work​.

C) Zero-tolerance policy

Medical Volunteers International has a zero-tolerance policy towards abuse and other harmful behaviours. It is the duty of all Medical Volunteers International staff, coordinators and volunteers to ensure that our activities comply with this safeguarding policy and to report any potential breaches immediately, as identified in Section F) of this policy. Failure to stick to  the policy may result in immediate dismissal.

D) Medical Volunteers International’s responsibilities

Medical Volunteers International is committed to ensuring that its staff and volunteers are suitable to work with children and vulnerable adults.

We therefore request that all staff and volunteers provide us with proof of their suitability in the form of a criminal background check from your country of origin or residence issued within the last 12 months. In the event that this is not possible for reasons of residency status, that staff member must at all times be supervised by another staff member who has provided this criminal record.
We also ensure that all staff members have access to, are familiar with, and know their responsibilities within this policy.

E) Behavioural protocol

In the following, we identify the behavioural protocol that Medical Volunteers International staff, volunteers and guests must follow to mitigate the risks that our activities present to children.

Medical Volunteers International staff, coordinators and volunteers must not:

  •       Physically punish or discipline children.
  •       Do things for children or vulnerable adults of an intimate, personal nature that they can do for themselves.
  •       Act in ways intended to shame, humiliate, belittle or degrade children or vulnerable adults, or otherwise perpetrate any form of emotional abuse.
  •       Engage in sexual activity with children regardless of the age of consent locally.
  •       Use language or behaviour around or towards children or vulnerable adults that is inappropriate, harassing, abusive, sexually provocative, or demeaning.
  •       Invite child beneficiaries into their home, unless the coordinator has agreed that it is absolutely necessary and for the protection of the child.
  •       Sleep in the same bed as a child beneficiary. If it is necessary to sleep in the same room, ensure that another adult is present and that supervisor’s permission has been obtained.
  •       Discriminate against, show differential treatment to, or favour particular children to the exclusion of others.
  •       Hire children for domestic or other labour which violates national labour laws, is inappropriate given their age or developmental stage, interferes with their education or recreational activities, or places them at significant risk of injury.
  •       Develop relationships with children or vulnerable adults that could in any way be deemed inappropriate, exploitative or abusive.
  •       Use any computers, mobile phones, video cameras, or social media to harass children or vulnerable adults.
  •       Access child pornography through any medium.

Medical Volunteers International staff, coordinators and volunteers must:

  •       Ensure that they are informed of the relevant child protection authorities in their location and that the contact details of these authorities are readily available.
  •       Ensure wherever possible that when working with individual children, another adult is present – ideally their parent or another caregiver.
  • Ensure that images taken of children are accurate and respect children’s privacy and dignity. Children must be adequately clothed in images. Sexually suggestive poses are prohibited.
  • Obtain informed consent from children and their caregivers before taking photographs of them, except under exceptional circumstances where this may not be possible or may not be in the best interest of the child. Caregivers should be informed of how the images will be used.
  • Restrict use of images of child beneficiaries to professional, respectful, awareness-raising, fundraising, publicity, and programmatic purposes.
  • Ensure that any image or recorded case history of a child does not place him/her at risk or render him/her vulnerable to any form of abuse.
  • Respect principles of confidentiality, abide by data protection protocol, and only share children’s personal information on a need-to-know basis.
  • Make all effort to minimize risk of harm to child beneficiaries.
    This list is not exhaustive. Medical Volunteers International and its staff and volunteers are required to constantly assess the implications of their actions on children in light of the principle of best interest of the child, as enshrined in Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

F) How to report a safeguarding concern

Medical Volunteers International staff, volunteers and guests are duty-bound to report any potential breach of this policy that they may observe while working for Medical Volunteers International. They should do so through one of the following avenues, depending on what they deem most appropriate and what they feel comfortable with:

  • Report the concern to the Medical Volunteers International field coordinator in the location of work, unless they are, in your opinion, involved in the potential breach.
  • Report the concern to Medical Volunteers International’s president, unless they are unless they are, in your opinion, involved in the potential breach.
  • Report the concern to Medical Volunteers International’s board member for legal affairs, who is not involved in the day-to-day running.