Professor Bina D'Costa

Professor Bina D'Costa

Reflections from Professor Bina D’Costa of her time at UNICEF

9 July 2020

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Professor D’Costa joined The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2016 and spent three years leading on-the-ground children and migration research programs in Asia, Africa and the Middle East for the UNICEF Office of Research — Innocenti. She has recently returned to teach in the Department of International Relations at The Australian National University. She now shares her experiences, challenges, motivation and expertise.

“Working at UNICEF was the best place to explore this and have the results of my research make the most significant impact,” she says.

Her work on the ground included refugee camps in Somaliland, Bangladesh during the Rohingya emergency and in many other refugee emergency locations in Jordan, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Kenya, Niger and Libya.

During these deployments she worked closely with humanitarian and advocacy agencies to respond to the protection risks that young people experience in the migration pathway — sexual and gender-based violence, child/early marriage, early pregnancies, domestic violence, exploitative/forced labour, and disrupted education.

Image of childrens program run by Bina's team

“The main goal was to nurture and protect these young migrants’ and refugees’ aspirations for a better future,” Professor D’Costa says.

Professor D’Costa and her team were in charge of gathering the data to guide UNICEF’s program responses and policies. In the Horn of Africa, for example, where children were being trafficked, their research found there was often no paperwork to prove a child’s country of origin.

Informed by their research, UNICEF’s developed a program response to ensure better birth registration processes, the wider use of birth certificates and a central database where the data is shared. “This enabled agencies to better track where children are moving from, and to, across multiple countries,” Professor D’Costa says.

In the Rohingya emergency in Bangladesh, Professor D’Costa, as part of the UNICEF team, used her research findings to develop guidance notes for on-the-ground implementation and advocacy strategies to work with religious leaders to prevent domestic violence and early/forced marriages.

Image of Bina in Syrian refugee camp
Dr Bina D’Costa with teachers at a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. UN photo.

In addition to designing and improving program responses for UNICEF, Professor D’Costa’s work involves advocacy to shape and influence the global narrative and research priorities around migration and forced displacement of children.

Evidence-based research can persuade international, regional and state actors.

“Research can dispel myths and anxieties – and can lead to the development of effective protection strategies,” Professor D’Costa says.

Professor D’Costa has taken her experience at UNICEF to academia to dig deep into the systemic issues facing children in migration. Her research continues to influence the public and policy debate around migration and forced displacement.

Equipped with invaluable research and practical expertise, she now teaches the Master of International Relations at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University.

For more information on the program click here.

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