Child Abuse

Violence, abuse and exploitation of children are unfortunately not new. Forms of physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children have come to be recognised as crimes against children. The devastating consequences that violence has on children’s development and on societies as a whole are slowly coming to light.

In the Child Abuse Programme, we envision a world in which all children are protected from sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. We support initiatives that: eliminate the sexual exploitation of children; engage men and boys in combating the sexual abuse of children; and promote the prevention of violence against children.

In the Child Abuse Programme, we envision a world in which all children are protected from sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Recognising that for many children these forms of abuse do not exist in isolation from other forms of abuse and violence, Oak supports initiatives that:

  • directly address sexual abuse and sexual exploitation; and/or
  • diminish other forms of abuse and violence that are related to or impact upon sexual abuse and sexual exploitation.

To support effective programming, the promotion of child rights, wellbeing and full development is at the heart of our funding.

We have a particular interest in promoting and supporting learning from the work of partners. This is done through the identification of learning opportunities within our existing partnerships as well as through new partnerships specifically designed to drive learning forward across the sector.

Priority Areas

We support initiatives that:

  1. end the sexual exploitation of children by: reducing societal tolerance of the sexual exploitation of children; preventing entry of children into sexual exploitation; creating strong, enforceable legislative environments to protect children from sexual exploitation; and ensuring that children who are sexually exploited have access to a range of services that enhance their safety and wellbeing and support exit from sexual exploitation.
  2. engage men and boys in combating the sexual abuse of children by: providing greater opportunities for men and boys to engage positively in children’s lives and to protect them from sexual abuse; increasing the respect between boys and girls for their different and equally valuable contributions to families and communities; addressing potential abusers; and reducing the incidence of sexual abuse of children and levels of recidivism.
  3. promote the prevention of violence against children and the protection of children from all forms of violence, including sexual violence.

In addition, initiatives that will be a feature of our work in the next five years include: protecting children who move from their homes and are therefore especially vulnerable to abuse; and ending the long-term placement of children in large, anonymous care institutions through the development of alternative solutions within families and communities.

Strategy and Evaluations

In 2014/2015 our team reviewed the Programme strategy and developed programme frames for each of our three focus areas:

As a Foundation, we aim to evaluate programme strategies every five years. We will begin a rolling process of programme reviews starting with our work in focus area 2. This will be followed in subsequent years by reviews of focus areas 1 and 3. We will publish the results on our website.

We fund organisations in Switzerland, Bulgaria, Latvia, Moldova, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania. In addition, we fund international agencies for worldwide research and policy-related work.

For the Child Abuse Programme, learning is not an isolated function or an end in itself. Learning is one of the strategies through which we can support improvements in programming and policy-making in the field of child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Ideally, learning combines evidence from practice and academic research and is enriched by the connection and interplay of both. Combining the rigour of academic thinking with the wisdom and experience of  practitioners, and recognising expertise from both the North and the South, are key for credible, relevant and accessible learning.

1. Learning Action Partnerships
Promoting cooperation and partnerships is clearly not an approach that is limited to Oak Foundation, but we believe that this approach is particularly helpful and relevant to work aimed at preventing child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation and other forms of violence. Preventing such violence, particularly primary prevention, is complex, challenging and difficult. Given what we know about the scale of children’s experience of violence, and the intractability of the attitudes and norms that contribute to sexual violence against children in many contexts, it is clear that no one sector or intervention can be effective on its own.


2. Risk and Resilience – Converging Themes from Global Research
Oak’s Child Abuse Programme held a learning event in Tanzania in May 2014. The event focused on an understanding of risk and resilience in children and communities. It also examined implications for practice and policy. The main purpose of the event was to review three global research projects covering more than 20 countries and to determine converging themes emerging from the research.


3. Eastern African Regional Meeting of Partners - putting the protection of children and adolescents from all forms of violence at the heart of communities
The regional meeting of partners of Oak Foundation’s Child Abuse Programme reflected on a number of new initiatives being undertaken to promote the prevention of violence to children, including sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Four major themes emerged:
1. Understanding the theme
2. Evidence based programming
3. Improving practice
4. Issues for further reflection
More >>

4. The Bamboo Project on Child Resilience
Following consultations with partners and experts in the field, we recognised the need to understand more about practice and approaches that claimed to integrate ideas about resilience. While a great deal has been written on the subject of resilience, much of this work failed to take explicit account of the realities and experience of children and families living in the most difficult environments, including those in which the experience or risks of sexual abuse and sexual exploitation were especially high. Our effort to address some of these gaps in knowledge is the Bamboo initiative.

More >>

5. Learning from grant-making
The Child Abuse Programme has invested funding over recent years in generating learning about promising practice and potential solutions that are at the heart of the Programme. In 2008 Oak Foundation hired a Programme Officer to support learning and to help the sector improve the evidence base for successful programmes.

The series of five papers focus on what we are learning about combating the sexual exploitation of children and engaging with men and boys as allies in combating violence against children. They are a reflection on grant-making over the past 5 years and an attempt to share with our partners what we as a team are learning through our work. We hope they are a useful contribution to the sector.

The papers were written by Jane Warburton, an Oak Fellow (until March 2014) based in the International Centre for Research on Child Sexual Exploitation, Violence and Trafficking, University of Bedfordshire, UK, with inputs from the whole Child Abuse Programme team.

Download the learning papers below:

Oak Foundation and Learning: Reflections from Grant-Making and Beyond
What We Are Learning About the Prevention of Violence towards Children
Engaging Men and Boys as Actors in the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation
Reducing the Risk of the Sexual Exploitation of Children
Implications for Grant-Making

We put the child at the centre of all our work. The following principles, which are interrelated and mutually reinforcing, are statements that apply to and guide our work:

  1. Child rights based — All interventions should reflect the fact that children have rights and that states and civil society, including families, have obligations to respect and facilitate their realisation. These rights are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. Children’s agency and competency to participate actively in realising these rights is recognised but varies with age and stage of development.
  2. Child participation — We are committed to the meaningful involvement of children in all decisions that affect their lives. This includes promoting greater respect for children and their inclusion in decision-making within their families and communities. Children’s capacities to participate and contribute need to be strengthened, and environments that encourage and support children in applying those capacities, created. The nature of children’s participation will vary, reflecting their evolving capacity.
  3. Non-discrimination — All the work we support must be implemented in a way that does not discriminate on the basis of race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion or other status of the child or his/her parents or guardians. Any affirmative action targeting a specific group should be designed to promote equality and inclusion.
  4. Best interests of the child — We recognise that in all decisions impacting children, their best interests should be a primary consideration. This applies at two levels. First, decisions and actions affecting an individual child should reflect his or her unique circumstances, second, all actions and decisions — whether legislative, administrative.
  5. Respecting and building on strengths — We recognise that children, families and communities have strengths and capacities that should inform and orient interventions. An understanding of their social context and positive traditional practices may provide effective, sustainable options and opportunities for protecting children.
  6. Do no harm — Our work and the work we support may have unintended and unexpected results. These can be positive or negative. Monitoring and evaluation should be designed to identify both, and support the revision or reorientation of interventions if indicated.
Photo band © Rachel McKee/Oak Foundation