In the wake of the Moroccan earthquake: a much-needed response to children’s distress

Posted on Posted in Children's Rights, Environment, Human Rights

In early September of 2023, a natural disaster struck the heart of a major Moroccan city, Marrakech, and its surrounding areas. Not only did the earthquake claim many lives and leave a trail of devastation behind it, but numerous children were left distressed, wounded, and unprotected. In view of the human rights situation of Moroccan children, on which Morocco has undertaken firm legal commitments, the earthquake has nonetheless placed Moroccan children in a precarious situation that calls for in-depth consideration and attention on the part of both Morocco and the international community.

Obligations toward Moroccan children under law 

The Constitution of Morocco guarantees equal legal protection and equal social and moral consideration to all children, irrespective of their family circumstances (Council of Europe, 2022). At the domestic level, Morocco has also pursued its efforts to protect children against various forms of neglect, violence, and exploitation under the Integrated Public Policy for Child Protection 2015-2025, including the creation of integrated territorial child protection mechanisms in the 8 provinces of the country (United Nations Human Rights Council, 2022).

At the international level, Morocco became a member of the United Nations in 1956 (United Nations, n.d.). Morocco then signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (‘CRC’) in 1993 (United Nations, n.d.). As such, Morocco has obligations under international law, and according to United Nations treaties, to uphold the human rights of its nationals and consequently, its children. 

Accordingly, Morocco commits to “respect and ensure the (human) rights (…) to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind” and recognizes “the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development” (Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989).

The earthquake and its consequence on children

On 8 September 2023, an earthquake of 6.8 magnitude struck Morocco (Plan International, 2023). The tremor’s epicentre was located in the province of Al-Haouz, in the southwest of Marrakech (RadioFrance, 2023). Most casualties were reported near this epicentre, in the High Atlas Mountains, an area which is difficult to reach (RadioFrance, 2023).

The reported casualties were as follows: approximately, if not possibly more than, 300,000 people were directly impacted in Marrakech and the High Atlas Mountains, and more than 2,600 people were killed (UNICEF, 2023). Among the casualties are children, with more than thousands wounded and an estimated 100,000-plus children were also impacted (UNICEF, 2023).

Additionally, over 50,000 of homes were destroyed, displacing families and exposing them to severe weather during a time of year marked by temperatures that plummet rapidly overnight (UNICEF, 2023). Schools, hospitals and other medical and educational facilities were either damaged or destroyed (UNICEF, 2023). The earthquake also resulted in the loss of identification and administrative papers belonging to many families located in the stricken areas (Le Matin Maroc, 2023).

During any emergency, children are always among the most vulnerable (ReliefWeb, 2023). As evidenced above, an estimated 100,000-plus children were impacted by the earthquake, and “while it is still unclear how many children have been impacted by the destruction”, a greater number of children have probably been impacted and displaced as a result of the destruction of their homes or the loss of family members (ReliefWeb, 2023). 

Morocco’s actions safeguarding children’s rights following the earthquake

The very day after the earthquake, His Majesty King Mohammed VI convened a working session for the adoption of a range of measures “to ensure a rapid response to this major natural disaster” (Industries Maroc, 2023). These included the deployment of the military, the establishment of an inter-ministerial commission in charge of overseeing the ensuing humanitarian crisis, the provision of comprehensive care for the victims, the involvement of the Mohammed V Foundation for Solidarity, and the creation of a special account for an emergency fund (Industries Maroc, 2023).

Concretely, the government has supplied tents and distributed tents, blankets, clothes and mattresses to the affected families; provided food and medicines; made available a psychological service for traumatised children; and announced the implementation of an emergency plan to support the victims of the earthquake, including a rehousing plan and a plan to rebuild the destroyed houses (Figaro, 2023). In addition, many doctors and hospitals are mobilised to tend to the thousands of injured (Le Monde, 2023).

Moreover, His Majesty King Mohammed VI requested that the orphaned children now left without family or financial means in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Al Haouz be registered and granted the status of “Pupille de la Nation” (APA News, 2023). This status is provided by Law n°33-97, according to which children under the age of 20, in the event of the death, disappearance or incapacity to work of their father or main carer, are placed under the responsibility of the State, which then takes them in charge through moral protection and material assistance (Medias 24, 2023).

Since 14 September 2023, not even one week following this disaster, His Majesty King Mohammed VI has been pressing for the above-mentioned law to be amended so as to encompass the children made orphans by the earthquake (Medias 24, 2023).

International aid for Morocco

The international community has also responded swiftly, and humanitarian assistance was dispatched to Morocco. In addition to the $1 million in emergency humanitarian assistance provided by the Australian government, Morocco has also accepted aid from the UK, Spain, Tunisia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (France 24, 2023; ReliefWeb, 2023). As a consequence, search-and-rescue teams, and vehicles, which includes also military units with 56 rescuers, sniffer dogs, and 60 specialists, were dispatched on the ground (Aljazeera, 2023). 

Police rescue, ambulance teams, medical and paramedics have also been mobilised (Aljazeera, 2023; The Guardian, 2023). Moreover, advanced thermal monitoring devices, a drone to detect victims under the rubble, a field hospital, rescue equipment were sent (Aljazeera, 2023; The Guardian, 2023).

The path forward for Moroccan children

Morocco’s reaction and corresponding actions following the reverberations of the earthquake are encouraged. However, the relief and rescue measures, taken together with the humanitarian aid provided by the international community, serve as a bandage for a wound whose true repercussions remain largely unaccounted. The following initiatives must be sustained and reinforced, with a strong priority given to hard-to-reach outlying villages: 

  • Provide continuous shelter, safe drinking water, health, and medical help, and food and nutrition support (ReliefWeb, 2023).
  • Offer child protection services including psychosocial support will be critical in helping children and parents process their distressing experiences (ReliefWeb, 2023). 
  • Ensure that children get back into school (ReliefWeb, 2023).
  • Guarantee that, as part of the reconstruction plan for the destroyed houses and buildings, they are strengthened and that they comply with anti-seismic standards (Figaro, 2023).
  • Help the population affected by the earthquake to reproduce identity and administrative documents destroyed in the collapse of houses caused by the earthquake, and ensure that temporarily undocumented children are not exposed to exploitation and abuse (Le Matin Maroc, 2023).

With 674,892 children still in areas severely impacted by the earthquake, 530 schools and 55 boarding schools damaged, the urgency and prioritisation must also continue to be focused on children, in order to guarantee their safety and fundamental rights (UNICEF, 2023). 

Humanium, as a child-right organization actively conducting numerous projects worldwide, remains committed to safeguarding children’s human rights, including their rights to life, protection, and education. If you want to contribute to Humanium’s specific causes to improve children’s lives, please consider making a donationvolunteering or becoming a member.

Written by Moïra Phuöng Van de Poël


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