Kristin Barstad (Norway, MIA/MDEV, 1995)
Policy Advisor, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
You completed a degree in Development Studies at the Graduate Institute. Was there a course that triggered your career choice?
It became clear to me early on that humanitarian work interested me the most. The courses on international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law probably sparked further interest in this field for me. I actually started off my career at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
What recommendations do you have for students who might be interested in working for the ICRC?
Many colleagues at the ICRC have studied at the Graduate Institute. The best advice would therefore be to apply. We offer one year paid internships and have many former students from the Institute in these positions. For a position as delegate, having some field experience as well as several languages is indeed valuable.
What was your first field assignment for the ICRC like?
The position I presently have is my first assignment with the ICRC. It is extremely interesting, challenging and varied.
"Many colleagues have studied at the Institute..."
What are the major obstacles you are faced with in your attempt to prevent child recruitment by armed groups in war ravaged countries?
There are many. However, the main obstacle is probably poverty, as many children join due to lack of better options. Another set of obstacles are local traditions and customs. Often, it is culturally acceptable and even encouraged to carry weapons, especially for young men entering adulthood. The end of "Childhood" and the beginning of "Adulthood" are culturally determined. This being said, many girls also join armed groups or armed forces, albeit sometimes for different reasons than boys.
You were active in the relief campaigns in Haiti after the earthquake. How is the situation there at the moment, five months after the disaster?
The situation is still very difficult for the Haitian population. Security problems are obviously a main concern for all those living in open "camps" in and around Port au Prince, but also outside the city. Their living conditions are extremely difficult. Children, in particular those who are unaccompanied, but also all those who were injured, amputated or made homeless, pay a particularly high price, and are still at high risk to abuse, neglect and disappearance.
The ICRC’s efforts in tracing and reuniting children with their family members in moments of crisis naturally conflict with those of human traffickers involved in clandestine orphans adoption. What are the most effective measures in that regard, and who are your allies in the battle against child trafficking?
Human trafficking is indeed a serious protection concern that is exacerbated in times of armed conflict. Often it is said that the traffickers are on the spot even before the humanitarian workers.
The ICRC and other humanitarian agencies with us do not encourage adoption to take place at times of armed conflict or natural disaster. Even if parents are lost, we might find them back again, or at least other family members. In order to make sure traffickers do not pretend they are family members of unaccompanied children, there are several methods used in order to verify family links including photo identification family interviews as well as cross-checks with neighbours and other community members. The ICRC does not however encourage or use DNA testing for family reunification purposes. Our partners in the battle against child recruitment are national authorities and other child protection agencies, both UN and NGOs.