Child and youth participation – July 28 2022

Child and youth participation at the core of the Ombuds recruitment process in Benin: Simon’s story

Simon was 7 when his parents died, and he was welcomed in the SOS Children’s Village in Natitingou, northern Benin: “I am grateful to SOS Children’s Villages. I think I am lucky. During the holidays I go back to the neighborhood where I was born, to visit my older brother, and every time I’m there it makes me realize how many opportunities I have now compared to my past," tells Simon. 

A few years ago, he was elected Youth President of his village, and soon after, he became the representative of all young people across the three different programmes in Benin. He was elected by fellow children: “They had faith in me and believed that I could be good enough to represent them. Also, I really like to manage and lead a team," he says. 

Simon is in college now, and his dream is to attend university to study business management. He sees himself in the future as a successful entrepreneur, managing his own enterprise. “I think this is what I am good at, and what I love. Being youth president helped me realize it and understand that I could make use of these skills for my future career,” he tells.  


The Ombuds project  

Among his different tasks, Simon has been very much involved in the recruitment process of the first Ombuds of SOS Children’s Villages Benin. 

Simon and other youth representatives recently gathered together to discuss their expectations and outline the Ombuds’ profile: "adults will take care of the technical skills of the candidate, and we will look at his/her profile and orientate them to what type of person we would like to hire."

What is an Ombuds? 

An Ombuds is officially defined as a "designated, independent, neutral person who provides support to children or young people, as well as staff, to solve a conflict in case they are not satisfied with the solution of the child safeguarding procedures. It is a complementary channel of last resort when safeguarding systems fail. An Ombuds also provides check and balance of existing child safeguarding procedures." Simon and his team, in addition, defined the Ombuds as a person who is in charge of receiving the complaints of children and proposing solutions: "also, he/she needs to be independent and cannot be an SOS Children’s Villages member of staff."

As complaints, they identified difficulties and problems that children can face in the village, related to the violation of their fundamental rights. They also insisted that children should be able to communicate directly with the Ombuds via phone or Whatsapp, therefore a special hotline should be put in place, free of charge. 

 "After every trimester, there should be an evaluation to monitor the Ombuds’ performance and make sure that children are happy," says Simon. 

How should the Ombuds be? 

Simon explains that an Ombuds should have a good heart, be well-mannered, and comfortable with traveling from one place to another across the country and adds:

"An Ombuds should also have good eyes for observing what goes on and some expertise in working with young people." 

How can he/she do a good job?

According to Simon and the other youth representatives, an Ombuds needs to know how to gain the trust of children and effectively communicate with them. 

"In his first 100 days of work, I hope he/she will get in touch with us and try to create strong bonds. Also, I expect him/her to adjust to the role quickly, showing us his/her skills by already handling the first complaints," Simon concludes.