Child protection policy

Keeping the most vulnerable safe

Purpose and scope

Synaps may operate in a world of adults, but children are never far away. They are members of the communities we work in, and are sometimes part of our research themselves. Although we don’t provide services to children as such, some of our partners and suppliers do just that. Children also count among the street vendors and menial workers we interact with around the workplace, more often than we would like to think. In other words, children are part of our professional lives; denying this reality only exposes them to greater harm.

Within society, children form an inherently vulnerable group, which is why they must be treated in ways that are distinct from adults. When it comes to defining a child, there are discrepancies between international standards and national legal frameworks, and the same country may identify the transition from childhood to adulthood at different ages, depending on what is at stake: marriage, labor, voting, crime, and so on. Our approach to child protection gives precedence to international standards whenever they provide greater protection than the laws applicable within the countries we operate in.

First and foremost, this policy represents our zero-tolerance approach to child abuse, whether by our staff, our partners, or our suppliers. We will take immediate action in the face of proven abuse; we will err on the side of maximum caution in the interests of the child when dealing with ambiguous cases; and we will invest in prevention measures to reduce any risk of enabling abuse, as explained in this policy.

However, children are also human beings in the fullest sense: They enjoy rights, have opinions, and should participate in decisions that affect them. This policy therefore also aims to strike the right balance between protection and recognition, in the context of our research, and thus ensure that children’s best interests are always counted and represented in the safest ways possible.


Effective child protection requires understanding a few operational definitions.

A child, for the purposes of this policy and per UN standards, is a human being under the age of 18. In defining a child, Synaps does not abide by the age of majority as stated in any domestic law. Moreover, a child’s gender, physical appearance, stage of puberty, socioeconomic background, or cultural context does not in any way change or nuance his or her status as a child. All children must be considered equally vulnerable to abuse, regardless of such differences.

Child abuse refers to all acts that harm a child by undermining their physical, emotional, or psychological wellbeing. Obvious forms of abuse can therefore be physical (such as hitting or burning a child), emotional (for instance in the form of insults, humiliation, or constant criticism), and sexual (notably molestation). Child abuse extends to passive behaviors, when the failure to act allows harm to take place.

Child neglect is another form of abuse. It is a failure to provide for a child’s basic needs, including adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical care, supervision, emotional support, and education.

Child exploitation is a form of abuse in which an adult uses a child for their personal gain, through child labor, trafficking, or involvement in criminal activities.

Child labor is a form of abuse that occurs when a child undertakes work that is harmful to their physical, mental, social, or moral development. This covers a broad range of activities, such as the employment of a child under the legal age set by national legislation; hazardous work putting the child at risk; exploitative work conditions; and work that deprives children of their dignity, their right to play, or their access to education and healthcare. Conversely, child labor does not apply to revenue-generating activities that do not negatively affect the child’s development.

Child protection concerns is an expression that encompasses all suspicions, observations, or evidence indicating that a child is at risk of abuse. Signs of abuse may include physical injuries or weakness, poor hygiene, unexplained absences, inexplicable behaviors, or comments made by the child or any third party.

Safeguarding describes the measures that can be taken to protect a child from abuse.

Key touchpoints

Synaps staff may encounter children in many unanticipated ways and places during the course of their work. The list below does not aim to be exhaustive. Instead, it provides practical guidance for the most obvious forms of interaction.


Synaps cannot employ staff, whether full-time or part-time, unless they fully comply with this policy. Violations may include underage marriage or children taken out of school. Although Synaps respects its staff’s private lives, this policy overrides other considerations.

In addition, Synaps will not hire staff who have been convicted of crimes relating to child abuse, and reserves the right to dismiss staff if a past conviction of this nature came to surface during their employment.


While conducting field research, Synaps staff may witness child abuse firsthand, or see indications of it. Children are sometimes present during interviews, and therefore participate, directly or indirectly, in the research process. Occasionally, we even interview children themselves. If they express their views, these must be heard and acknowledged rather than ignored or dismissed. But such inclusion also presents emotional risks that researchers are rarely equipped to manage.

Therefore, any research process involving children requires a specific research methodology, a tailored approach to informed consent, staff training on protection and referrals, a risk assessment and mitigation plan, and a proper oversight mechanism, to ensure the right balance between child participation and child protection.

During fieldwork and other professional activities, Synaps staff will avoid any situation that leaves them alone with a child in a closed space. Staff must quickly report such situations, whenever they cannot be avoided, to their managers, to decide whether any action should be taken.


As part of Synaps’ work with communities, we often organize and take part in events that include children. We also use photography to document, illustrate, and promote our work. As a rule, we do not use pictures of children in any material we disseminate. This applies to pictures taken by Synaps staff, pictures to which children have explicitly consented, as well as pictures that have already been published by other organizations and are free of rights. Exceptions must be systematically justified.


Some of Synaps’ partners may provide services to children, such as education, entertainment, psychosocial support, vocational training, and healthcare. Whenever children feature in a partnership, even indirectly, it is essential to both review our partner’s childhood protection policy and share our own with them.


Synaps depends on a variety of suppliers, for services ranging from equipment, maintenance, and repair work to transportation, catering, and lodging, as well as software development, visual design, and marketing. Some of these suppliers may resort, directly or indirectly, to child labor as we define it in this policy. Other child protection concerns may arise unexpectedly in the course of our interactions with our suppliers. It is therefore essential to share our child protection policy as part of our contracting process, both to clarify our expectations and to guide our response to such concerns.


Child labor and child abuse are more prevalent in our professional environment than we tend to assume. Examples of child labor range from children begging on behalf of adults in the streets to underaged workers who endure exploitative conditions in construction, agriculture, and delivery services. Violence against children is also widespread.

Synaps staff are expected to strictly abide by this policy, especially when they are operating in their professional capacity. That extends to meals during work hours, deliveries at the office, social interactions in a professional context or in the office’s vicinity, and all forms of fieldwork. For instance, Synaps staff, especially when acting in their professional capacity, must not give money to children begging on the streets—a particularly egregious variety of child labor. Staff may be supportive in non-financial ways, such as referring children to adequate services, in coordination with their families.

Reporting procedure

Synaps staff must report all child protection concerns that arise during their work. This applies a fortiori to cases of sexual abuse or indications thereof. A report may implicate a staff member of Synaps, a supplier, a funding partner, a peer organization, or any other third party. Claims that cannot be proven one way or another will cause no damage or prejudice to the person making them.

The reporting procedure follows the same process as the one stated in our anti-harassment and complaints policies.

As a staff member, you may raise such child protection concerns, in person or in writing, with your director, your manager, or the person in charge of human resources, depending on whom you feel most comfortable speaking to.

If you are the person receiving a report of child abuse, you must first:
  • Listen. Assume that all claims are legitimate until proven otherwise. Hear out the person reporting the concerns.
  • Document. As soon as you are approached, the documentation process must start. Take detailed notes on the initial report as well as all subsequent exchanges, and safeguard them; failure to carefully document a report of sexual abuse, for example, is a serious violation of this policy.
  • Inform. Share this policy, explain the process it stipulates, and reassert our principle of non-retribution in the event their claims could not be proven.
  • Protect. Consider whether temporary measures must be taken to ensure the safety of the child or children at risk, for instance by referring them to specialized services or seeking the latter’s advice on informing the police. Throughout the process, you must also protect the privacy of all concerned.

A report must then be investigated, according to the following five steps:
  • Appoint. Depending on the gravity of the concerns, Synaps will either appoint a person to oversee the case or form a committee of three people deemed sufficiently impartial to do so.
  • Research. The investigator(s) will gather any testimonies and evidence relevant to the case. They will do so with discretion, ensuring the privacy of all involved.
  • Deliberate. Either the single investigator will present and debate the outcomes of their investigation with other colleagues, or the three-person committee will debate among themselves, and assess the solidity of the claims. A transcript of any debates, along with the investigation material, shall be included in the case’s documentation.
  • Decide. The same colleagues will agree on remedial measures.
  • Communicate. Synaps will then close the case with some form of communication, whether public or private, with the person who reported the case and any other relevant parties. This shall also be recorded in the case’s documentation.

Child abuse, if established beyond reasonable doubt, is cause for dismissing the offending employee, however high-ranking or high-performing. Likewise, it is also a cause for ending a relationship with a client or service provider, however important that relationship may be.

Given the gravity of these accusations, staff must be all the more diligent in following the above procedure. This policy will therefore be shared with staff each time we sign or renew their employment contract.

Illustration credits: Brett Jordan Batman duck via Unplash / licensed by Unsplash; Lego by Iconic from Noun Project licensed by Creative Commons CC BY 3.0.