Category Archives: Expert Matters

Children in Myanmar wash their hands with soap at a hand-washing station, while other students behind them wait their turn to use latrines.

New data cast light on poor hygiene

Children in Myanmar wash their hands with soap at a hand-washing station, while other students behind them wait their turn to use latrines.

Children in Myanmar wash their hands with soap at a hand-washing station. © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-2056/Dean

This week is World Water Week. Each year, leaders and experts meet in Stockholm to discuss global challenges relating to water. This year the conference celebrates its 25th year, with a specific focus is on water for development. There will also be lots of discussion about the broad spectrum of water issues ranging from water resources and climate change to access to the most basic of drinking water and sanitation facilities. There will be some, but all too little debate about the related topic of hygiene.

Four surprising facts on hygiene

  1. Handwashing with soap is one of the most effective interventions to reduce diarrhoea and pneumonia, two leading causes of child mortality.
  2. Research studies have suggested that very few people – approximately one in five globally – wash their hands after going to the loo. Whilst these data are limited they certainly demonstrate the scale of the challenge.
  3. Last year the Guinness World record for handwashing was won when almost 13 million students washed their hands simultaneously across over 1,300 schools in Madhya Pradesh, India.
  4. Menstrual hygiene remains a taboo in many settings – with poor knowledge and misconceptions as great a challenge as access to adequate facilities at home as well as at school. Learn more about menstrual hygiene and its impacts on women and girls in the Menstrual Hygiene Matters report.

It also happens to be the 25th anniversary of the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) for Water Supply and Sanitation, whose report at the end of the Millennium Development Goals showed that 663 million people still lack an improved source of drinking water and 2.4 billion lack an improved sanitation facility.The ability to track progress on drinking water and sanitation during the last twenty-five years has helped to draw attention to people without basic services and to highlight persistent inequalities both between and within countries. Until recently, far less attention had been given to hygiene, which unlike water and sanitation, was not part of the Millennium Development Goals and has not been systematically tracked at the global level.

An adolescent girl takes part in an handwashing demonstration for a group of adolescent girls in Chowrapara, Rangpur, Bangladesh.

An adolescent girl takes part in an handwashing demonstration for a group of adolescent girls in Chowrapara, Rangpur, Bangladesh. © UNICEF/BANA2014-01296/Paul

Of the range of hygiene behaviours considered important for health, handwashing with soap is a top priority in all settings. Handwashing with soap is one of the most effective interventions to reduce diarrhoea and pneumonia, two leading causes of child mortality. But handwashing behaviours are tricky to measure – people know the “right” answer and are very likely to tell you it if you ask them directly. For that reason, the most practical approach leading to reliable measurement of handwashing is observation of the place where hands are washed and noting the presence of water and soap at that location. This lets you know whether households have the necessary tools for handwashing and provides a proxy for their behaviour. Learn more by reading the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program working paper: Practical Guidance for Measuring Handwashing Behavior.

The data for over 50 countries show consistently low levels of access to handwashing facilities in many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa but also Southern Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo fewer than one in ten people have access to a facility. In countries with higher coverage overall, such as Mongolia – the poorest are greatly disadvantaged: only one in ten have access compared with almost all of those in the wealthiest quintile (96%). Similarly, people living in rural areas are less likely to have access to handwashing facilities – as is the case in Afghanistan where they are only half as likely as people in urban areas. Explore the available handwashing data for yourself using the interactive dashboard on handwashing.

The great news is that hygiene is part of the new Sustainable Development Goals and is specifically mentioned together with sanitation in Target 6.2 which by 2030 seeks to ‘achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations’. UN member states still need to select an indicator for handwashing to track progress and ensure these ambitions are properly reflected.And you can join the Global Public-Private Partnership for handwashing campaign to advocate for a handwashing SDG indicator. Over the next few years, data will then continue to be collected in household surveys such as the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys and Demographic and Health Surveys and it will become possible to tell whether and how much the situation has improved. The data will also tell us whether the international community is giving hygiene the attention it most surely deserves.

Explore the interactive dashboard on handwashing:

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Robert Bain is a Statistical Specialist focusing on water, sanitation and hygiene in UNICEF’s Data and Analytics Section in New York.

©UNICEFMéxico/MauricioRamos

#TuVozCuenta con U-Report México

¿Se imaginan qué increíble sería si pudiéramos preguntarle a los jóvenes sobre sus intereses, opiniones y necesidades en los lugares donde viven, y que pudiéramos obtener y analizar esa información en tiempo real? Imagínense que estuviéramos diseñando un programa que ayudara a los jóvenes a conseguir empleo después de sus estudios. Bueno, pues para ello, no sólo requeriríamos información estadística y diagnósticos de la situación de la educación y el mercado laboral; sino que también necesitaríamos conversar con muchos jóvenes para entender sus aspiraciones e ideales, temores y angustias, entender los retos a los que se enfrentan y la presión que muchas veces sentimos. De esta forma, podríamos lograr empatía con sus experiencias, pensamientos y emociones; y así diseñar un programa que los entienda y apoye de la mejor forma posible.

©UNICEFMéxico/MauricioRamos

©UNICEFMéxico/MauricioRamos

Este proceso de consulta llevaría muchísimo tiempo, por lo que en muchas ocasiones, los programas se diseñan tomando sólo en cuenta la información de diagnósticos y estudios hechos por especialistas. Lamentablemente, por falta de tiempo, muy pocas veces se les pregunta a los jóvenes qué es lo que quieren, cómo lo quieren y por qué lo quieren así.

El pasado jueves 13 de agosto, como parte de las celebraciones del Día Internacional de la Juventud, compartimos con cientos de jóvenes la buena noticia de que U-Report había llegado a México. Con U-Report los jóvenes de más de 17 países en el mundo están utilizando la misma tecnología que usan para comunicarse entre amigos para participar con sus ideas y opiniones en el desarrollo de sus comunidades y de sus países.

©UNICEFMéxico/LuisCedeño

©UNICEFMéxico/LuisCedeño

U-Report permite a UNICEF, y a sus aliados en México, consultar en tiempo real a los jóvenes sobre lo que sucede en sus comunidades, los servicios que reciben, los temas públicos que son de su interés, sus necesidades y expectativas. Esta valiosa información se recibe, analiza y procesa en segundos, para generar un reporte que es entregado a las personas que están tomando las decisiones públicas que tienen efecto en la vida de todos los jóvenes mexicanos. De esta forma, U-Report ayuda a tomar decisiones más informadas, a diseñar servicios y programas públicos que tomen en cuenta la visión, opiniones e intereses de los jóvenes.

Ese jueves, el auditorio se llenó del entusiasmo de cientos de personas que participaron con novedosas ideas para enfrentar los retos en educación, salud, bienestar económico y convivencia social que viven los jóvenes en México. A partir de ese momento, cientos de jóvenes se hicieron U-Reporters y serán embajadores de este movimiento por el cual nuestra voz adquiere el súper poder de unirse a millones más para que sea escuchada fuerte y clara donde quiera que sea.

©UNICEFMéxico/LuisCedeño

©UNICEFMéxico/LuisCedeño

Jaime Archundia es Responsable de Innovación de UNICEF México

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A group of young people attend a computer workshop at a Youth Centre in Kasala. Sudan.

Why we need more research on children’s use of the Internet

A group of young people attend a computer workshop at a Youth Centre in Kasala. Sudan.

A group of young people attend a computer workshop at a Youth Centre in Kasala. Sudan. © UNICEF/SUDA2014-XX488/Noorani

It is becoming difficult to imagine a day in a teenagers’ life – in all parts of the globe – without internet access: to socialize with peers, seek information, watch videos, post photos and news updates or play games. As the internet rapidly penetrates all regions, children’s experiences worldwide are increasingly informed by their use of information and communication technologies (ICTs).

The ITU estimates that by the end of 2015, 3.2 billion people will be using the internet, 2 billion of which will be in developing countries. This exponential growth is largely attributable to the rapid spread of mobile broadband technology with 3G mobile coverage reaching close to 70% of the total world population.

What implications does this have for children worldwide, particularly in the regions and countries where UNICEF works? We may see more and more children in lower income countries going online and more children accessing the internet through ‘mobile first’. We may see a digital divide growing not only between those who have access to the internet and those who do not, but also between generations: parents/grandparents/caregivers and children. We may see children’s educational experiences being hugely enhanced by access to the internet, but we may also see more children at risk of negative experiences (abuse, bullying, exploitation) because they lack guidance, support and mediation from their parents and educators who have not caught up yet with the fast pace of internet development.

ITU facts and Figures 2015

With this kind of advance in technology comes growing concern by child rights organizations, regulators, the private sector and other stakeholders that children’s rights need to be realised online as well as offline. The conditions that influence children’s access and behaviour online need to be recognised when internet technologies, services and policies are developed.

However, we are not yet in a position to say what implications the internet will have on children’s lives globally. There is little robust evidence coming from lower income countries that examines the whole spectrum of child rights in the digital age. Where research exists, there are major challenges related to comparability of different national data sets, capturing the speed of technological change, varying cultural and contextual realities that influence how children behave online.

In order to address this urgent need for evidence the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti in collaboration with the London School of Economics and EU Kids Online has supported the establishment of a global research consortium that involves key actors and universities from the Global North and the South. The first meeting of this research consortium took place in February 2015 when the group discussed:

  • What research should be conducted to understand how children’s rights are being enhanced or undermined in the digital age, especially on a global basis?
  • What data gathering and analytical tools do researchers need, and how can these best be designed and shared among different countries?
  • What standards for rigorous methods of cross-national comparison need to be in place?
  • What have we learned about how to compare findings across countries so as to share best practice, generalize knowledge where possible and anticipate future issues?

Experts attending this symposium agreed that a research toolkit to facilitate global research on child rights and the internet is urgently needed. It should also be robust yet flexible enough to take account of variations in national contexts and children’s diverse living experiences.

Moving ahead…

As a result, a new research partnership was formed. UNICEF Innocenti, four UNICEF Country Offices: Argentina, the Philippines, South Africa and Serbia, the London School of Economics and EU Kids Online agreed to collaboratively design a research toolkit to guide the research efforts worldwide. It will consist of a modular survey, qualitative research protocols and a survey administration toolkit that would include methodological guides and expert reports.

The results of this initiative will be shared globally through an open access web portal hosting the research toolkit, national reports, a synthesis report and other resources. We invite you to visit these special UNICEF and LSE web spaces which will help you take part in this important global research partnership. We hope that this work will inspire researchers and practitioners to generate more knowledge that will support the global policy efforts on child rights in the digital age.

Jasmina Byrne is a lead researcher on children’s rights in the digital age in UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, Florence, Italy.

Sisters complete schoolwork together in Kenya ©UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0763/Noorani

Giving girls a chance

Mounting evidence from systematic reviews, such as these on early childbearing and HIV risk, suggest that cash transfers have positive impacts on youth transitions into adulthood. Yet, data illustrating how these programs affect outcomes is generally scarce.

Now new research from the UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, published in Social Science & Medicine, recently presents evidence of these impacts, suggesting that unconditional cash transfer programs targeting orphans and vulnerable children may significantly reduce the likelihood of early pregnancy.

Sisters complete schoolwork together in Kenya ©UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0763/Noorani

Sisters complete schoolwork together in Kenya ©UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0763/Noorani

Most cash transfer programs in Africa are unconditional, leaving the decision on how to spend the cash with the beneficiaries. These decisions, in turn, can play a key role in determining the magnitude of impacts on the household. National statistics report that approximately 32% of Kenyan women aged 25 to 49 were married by age 18 and 14.5% of 15 to 19-year-old girls had given birth to at least one child. Researchers studied whether the Government of Kenya’s main anti-poverty program: Cash Transfer for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, had potential beneficial effects on adolescent girls, in particular if there was an impact on early pregnancy and marriage. While the primary objective of the Kenya cash transfer program is poverty alleviation, it appears to make an important contribution to the successful transition of young women into adulthood.

At the time of the study, in 2011, the Kenya cash transfer program benefitted nearly 280,000 orphans and vulnerable children in 135,000 households – it has more than doubled in coverage since that time. By design, the program provides a monthly stipend of approximately $21 intended to represent 20% of monthly total household expenditures. While the cash transfers were unconditional, beneficiaries were provided a message during enrollment that they were expected to use the money for the care and development of the orphans and vulnerable children that lived in the household. As a way to encourage self-sustainability and, ultimately, independence from the program, once the children turn 18, they are no longer eligible to receive benefits.

The research found that the program reduces the probability of early pregnancy for young women aged 12 to 24, who had never given birth, by 5 percentage points (34% decrease). The researchers attributed this effect partially to increased enrollment and attainment of young women in school, increased financial security as well as a delay in sexual debut. Notably, the largest impact was among the group of most disadvantaged girls (those not enrolled in school).

Essentially, the cash transfer program kept vulnerable girls and young women in school longer and delayed their engagement in sexual activity, thereby reducing their chances for early pregnancy.

Although the study found no impacts on early marriage, the authors believe that the study was not designed to identify impacts, since adolescent girls who migrated out of households due to marriage, as is custom in Kenya, were not tracked. Therefore, while the findings on early pregnancy are significant, the researchers suggest that follow-up studies are necessary to more adequately gauge the dynamics of how cash transfers can impact outcomes, including:

  • focusing in on the link between marriage (including those already married), fertility and adolescence for girls who move out of study households;
  • learning more about the behavior of boys vis-à-vis their female counterparts; and
  • understanding complementary strategies that can improve reproductive health and life trajectories for young women which can be bundled with cash transfers.

What directions are suggested by this study? Given that Kenya’s cash transfer for orphans and vulnerable children program is similar in design to other cash transfer programs in Eastern and Southern Africa, there is considerable scope to magnify these effects with proper targeting and messaging from policymakers, program designers and other relevant stakeholders.

 Michelle Mills is based at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti

For further research on the impact of cash transfers on youth transitions, see: The Government of Kenya’s Cash Transfer Program Reduces the Risk of Sexual Debut among Young People Age 15-25 and Child-focused state cash transfers and adolescent risk of HIV infection in South Africa: a propensity-score-matched case-control study. Click here to learn more about Transfer Project research and evaluations. Stay tuned for further results from ongoing government-run unconditional cash transfer evaluations and impacts on adolescents in Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

A young girl from Bangladesh smiles as her uncle picks her up.

Global Governance 2.0: insights from former Australian Premier

A young girl from Bangladesh smiles as her uncle picks her up.

A young girl from Bangladesh smiles as her uncle picks her up. © UNICEF/UNI175476a/Noorani

Is there a future for the UN in a fast evolving landscape of new global challenges (as well as some old unsolved ones) and growing number of other multilateral institutions?

Yes, said Kevin Rudd, Chair of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism and former Prime Minister of Australia. The Honorable Kevin Rudd recently came to UNICEF to debate the future of multilateralism with UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and a large audience, as part of UNICEF’s Conversations with Thought Leaders series.

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, with Kevin Rudd.

UNICEF Executive Director, Anthony Lake, with Chair of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism, Kevin Rudd. (c) UNICEF/2015/Kania Azrina

Calling the UN “the Parliament of Humankind,” Kevin Rudd was clear: “we should remind ourselves of why the institution itself is inherently valuable. We should cherish what we have. We have been handed by those who have come before us a fragile institution. If it falls apart, it will be extraordinarily difficult to reconstitute anything of its kind.”

In his view, the UN is doing an “extraordinarily bad job” at explaining what it achieves. Hence, Mr. Rudd insisted “for the UN to have a future, we must recapture the imagination of the human family… not just in their hearts, but also in their heads through the record of achievement on the ground.” How? By investing in public relations. There needs to be a much more substantive investment in telling the wider public what it is that the UN does for peace, security and development.

At the same time, Mr. Rudd was realistic: often a swift action on emerging global challenges requires a smaller coalition of the willing and those who have influence. Just think of the global economic crisis. It required a smaller group of major players (the G20) who could take rapid decisions to avert the crisis. Similarly, he was optimistic about the international community reaching a climate change deal in Paris in December. Why? There is a clear commitment that China, India and the US have demonstrated in recent months, which is in turn creating a momentum for a global deal.

Reflecting on the ambitious task ahead – the Sustainable Development Goals – Mr. Rudd wasted no time on pondering where the funding would come from. He suggested to put global private capital to greater use in development, particularly to finance the infrastructure in developing countries. The international community should construct a deal whereby private capital takes on infrastructure projects in developing countries, often an underpinning challenge for development of any kind.  The governments’ role would then be to finance the gap between the real return on investment and the minimum required to attract private capital. Mr. Rudd believed this would “turbocharge” the development agenda. How sustainable would this be in the long term, one may ask? It is an interesting idea to consider, which perhaps deserves a separate conversation altogether.

These are just some of the takeaways from the insightful Conversation with Kevin Rudd on the future of multilateralism. A need for a rolling policy research capacity at the UN to capture lessons learned and a global summit on people’s flows were some of the other ideas he put on the table.

Want to learn more? View the full Conversation here and let us know what you think!

This discussion took place on 10 July 2015 as part of UNICEF’s Conversations with Thought Leaders series. Yulia Oleinik is a Policy Officer in the Policy Planning Unit, Division of Data, Research and Policy at UNICEF.

A mother from Luhansk in Ukraine, breastfeeds her child.

Combatting breastfeeding myths in Ukraine

A mother from Luhansk in Ukraine, breastfeeds her child.

A mother from Luhansk in Ukraine, breastfeeds her child. © UNICEF Ukraine/2015

Over the past month I’ve been working with UNICEF Ukraine to support nutrition interventions during the emergency response. Advocating for early initiation of breastfeeding, six months exclusive breastfeeding and complementary breastfeeding for up to two years is a regular part of my job. It is driven by my medical background but also my experiences as a father of two children who enjoyed the benefits of breastfeeding.

Beyond providing technical assistance to partners in the Ministry of Health, technical institutions and local authorities, I work with partners to advocate and support breastfeeding because it gives the healthiest start in life for each child.

Time after time, I cite the facts and quote global studies to mothers and those who can play a crucial role in supporting them – their extended families:

  • Breastfeeding plays a critical role in reducing preventable infant deaths.
  • Breastfeeding protects against infectious diseases.
  • Breastmilk provides essential nutrients.
  • Breastfeeding promotes brain and cognitive development, contributing to higher IQs.
  • Exclusive and extended breastfeeding has been linked to longer school attendance and higher incomes as adults.

According to country survey data from 2012, only 66 per cent of Ukrainian mothers start breastfeeding newborns within one hour of birth, even though early initiation of breastfeeding is a very important step to ensure healthy start in life. And only 20 per cent of children under six months were exclusively breastfed.

Aiming to support nutrition interventions in Eastern Ukraine, UNICEF is working with partners from the US Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and Save the Children to support ongoing data collection about infant and young child feeding.

It is very important to use different opportunities to disseminate the message to Health professionals, media, outreach activities, volunteers, families, religious leaders that breastfeeding is the best for children and there is no need for any additional food or water up to six months.

From my work I have seen that mothers around the world have managed to breastfeed their children in very difficult situations – during conflicts and displacement, lacking water and sanitation. In fact, exclusive breastfeeding can be a lifesaving practice during crises and emergencies, protecting babies against diseases and malnutrition. It can mean the difference between life and death.

Here in Ukraine, the conflict has had an impact on breastfeeding. Based on an assessment conducted earlier this year in three regions, exclusive breastfeeding among internally displaced children under six months is only 26 per cent. Providing water, breastmilk substitutes and early complementary foods for children under six months are common practice. Some health workers provide incorrect advice to parents about the early introduction of water, complementary food, and even breastmilk substitutes.

Several humanitarian organizations are supporting displaced people and providing family food baskets. Some also distribute food packets for children. Nevertheless, the practice of distributing infant formula to large numbers of families with young children should be discontinued immediately and urgently, as per global guidelines.

Tragically, almost half of the internally displaced mothers stopped breastfeeding their infants under six months because they perceive a drop in breastmilk due to the stress of their vulnerable situation. While the weight of their situation understandably causes tremendous worry for new mothers, stress does not have a substantial, long-term impact on breastmilk production. In fact, only the “let down” – for which mothers need to be relaxed – is affected. With caring, emotional and practical support, mothers can continue to breastfeed.

Considering this, we need to join efforts and resources to provide evidence-based information about breastfeeding to policy makers, decision makers, health workers and parents to permanently dispel myths about breastfeeding.

This situation can be improved by supporting mothers, providing counselling and education in health centres and in their communities. Research has shown that continuous support of mothers by fathers and other family members is very important to achieve exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months.

I encourage all to support breastfeeding and make sure that Ukraine’s children, and all children in displaced situations, get the best start in life.

Agron Gashi, MD, MP, is a Health and Nutrition Officer working at UNICEF Kosovo

© UNICEF/NYHQ2006-1355/Versiani

The benefits of breastfeeding go well beyond health

© UNICEF/NYHQ2006-1355/Versiani

According to Dr. Cesar Victora, investment in breastfeeding is an investment in the future of the country. A long-term study from Brazil shows the positive consequences of breastfeeding for children and mothers. © UNICEF/NYHQ2006-1355/Versiani

Dr. Cesar Victora is a world-renowned Brazilian researcher who led the recently published 30-year Brazilian breastfeeding study. He spoke with UNICEF about his research findings and the association between breastfeeding duration with higher performance in intelligence tests, education attainment, and income at age 30. Below is a synthesis of our conversation with him on 9 July 2015.

We know that breastfeeding protects against disease and death, but your study found that there were educational and economic benefits?
Breastfeeding may have long-term consequences not only for the child’s health but for the mother’s health as well. I think there is a general mistake that breastfeeding is only important in poor countries because much of the early research on breastfeeding was on its role in reducing pneumonia, diarrhea, and other infections. It is a mistake to think that breastfeeding is not important in high- or middle-income societies.

Breastfeeding is one of the care interventions that programmes an individual for being healthier later in life. We have evidence that breastfeeding may prevent obesity later in life and it also reduced the risk of Type 2 diabetes. We are just scratching the surface regarding two biological mechanisms that may explain these connections.

First, there may be a gene that is switched on by exposure to breastmilk in the early stage of life. The second is that the characteristics of the microbiome in a person’s gut are programmed for life by early exposure to foods and other environmental bacteria. So children who are breastfed may be protected against conditions such as obesity because of their different microbiome.

For the mother, we have evidence that women who breastfeed longer are less likely to develop breast cancer, which is the number one cause of cancer death in women. It also protects against ovarian cancer.

We’re just now realizing the importance or breastfeeding. Breastfeeding has a definite impact on IQ. Our study published in April in The Lancet demonstrated that children who were breastfed longer were not only more intelligent but once they were adults they had more schooling and their salaries were substantially higher than similar individuals who were not breastfed as children.

How do you see this information shaping policy makers decisions regarding breastfeeding and then parent’s decisions regarding breastfeeding?
I think breastfeeding is not just a matter of health; it’s a matter of human capital. By investing in breastfeeding we will have healthier, stronger and more productive adults in the next generation. It’s a long-term investment. Allocating resources to breastfeeding promotion and moving mothers toward breastfeeding will have a long-term economic benefits for the country.

Our paper in April got a huge coverage in the media, a lot of positive coverage but we also had some negative covers – mainly mothers saying “Oh, you’re making mothers feel guilty! This is not fair.” A study that shows that breastfeeding is great for mothers and children isn’t a critique of women.

This not a personal issue. This is a societal issue. Society has to be breastfeeding friendly. By that I mean having the right policies in place about maternity leave and being able to have a nursery in the work place so women can breastfeed [or] express breast milk during work hours. Brazil has implemented fines for anyone who tells a mother not to breastfeed in a public place.

You mentioned people are fined for criticizing a woman breastfeeding in public. What about the policies for private and public employers on breastfeeding in the work place?
[In Brazil] maternity leave is not just about breastfeeding. It is also about being around to help the child in many different ways. We have four months mostly paid maternity leave in Brazil that [we are trying to] extend to six months. There was a strong movement here and there [are] lots of members of Parliament interested in pushing for [six months leave]. I think it will go through and be successful.

That’s the sort of thing that needs to be done everywhere. Fathers now get a week. The hope is that they will get at least a couple of weeks to stay home with pay.

Maternity leave should be part of society’s role – it should be society’s responsibility and it should not be economically penalizing those mothers who cannot afford to be without pay for over a month.

Even with six months of maternity leave, your studies showed nursing for additional six months bumped up benefits even further. Is there anything you’ve seen that stands in the way of the benefits of that extended breastfeeding?
I think it’s important to recognize that the current recommendation by the World Health Organization and UNICEF [is] exclusive breastfeeding up to six months. We need a policy that will allow a woman to breastfeed exclusively during the first six months. That’s why the maternity leave is so important.

After the first six months we know that the child will need more types of food. We do not recommend that they receive other types of milk but they can definitely receive some fruits, vegetables, meat, and so on. That means the mother doesn’t have to be with the child for 24 hours a day but she does need either a day-care centre close to where she works or we need other arrangements for the mother to breastfeed.

In Brazil there has been societal change. When I started studying in the 1980s, the total duration of breastfeeding – any breastfeeding, not just exclusive breastfeeding – was three months. Now the median duration is fourteen months. Having changed the median duration from three to over fourteen months in one generation is remarkable. Thirty years ago it was only 10-20% that would breastfeed at all up to a year. It’s a huge change.

Do you have any final remarks?
Breastfeeding is important for rich and poor individuals alike and for rich countries and poor countries. Not only for the short term benefits to the child but for the long-term benefits for the child, the mother, the economy and the environment too.

Girls look at a mobile phone at All Children Education (ACE), a private school for immigrant children, in Philipsburg, the capital. Most of the students lack legal documentation of their immigration status. Open since 2001, ACE had been one of the few schools for undocumented child immigrants prior to the 2010 education reform that permitted their attendance at public schools.

In September 2011, Sint Maarten, a year after gaining its autonomy from the Netherlands, continues working to advance the welfare of its children. Nevertheless, like its sister islands in the Caribbean – Aruba and Curaçao – Sint Maarten remains part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and bound by its international treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). To assess the status of Sint Maarten’s children, UNICEF was invited to undertake a ‘situation analysis’ – UNICEF’s core methodology to define child welfare in the context of an array of social, economic, political, institutional and historic factors. The aim was to evaluate progress and challenges in realizing the rights of children and women in the country and to make recommendations for policies and social actions to improve these conditions. The analysis noted Sint Maarten’s generally favourable economic status but also its high dependency on tourism, which provides limited employment options for islanders and makes them highly vulnerable to global economic downturns; by 2010, unemployment rates had surpassed 12 per cent. Child health indicators have improved in key areas – under-five child mortality rates were reduced from 12.7 per 1,000 live births in 2005 to 7.6 per 1,000 live births in 2008. However, unlike Curaçao and Aruba, Sint Maarten has limited healthcare insurance, available only to those who hold a legal job, leaving the families of the unemployed and undocumented immigrants to pay out of pocket. Additionally, although the country’s vaccination programme for children aged 0¬

What can mobile operators do to protect children from violence?

Girls look at a mobile phone at All Children Education (ACE), a private school for immigrant children, in Philipsburg, the capital. Most of the students lack legal documentation of their immigration status. Open since 2001, ACE had been one of the few schools for undocumented child immigrants prior to the 2010 education reform that permitted their attendance at public schools. In September 2011, Sint Maarten, a year after gaining its autonomy from the Netherlands, continues working to advance the welfare of its children. Nevertheless, like its sister islands in the Caribbean – Aruba and Curaçao – Sint Maarten remains part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and bound by its international treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). To assess the status of Sint Maarten’s children, UNICEF was invited to undertake a ‘situation analysis’ – UNICEF’s core methodology to define child welfare in the context of an array of social, economic, political, institutional and historic factors. The aim was to evaluate progress and challenges in realizing the rights of children and women in the country and to make recommendations for policies and social actions to improve these conditions. The analysis noted Sint Maarten’s generally favourable economic status but also its high dependency on tourism, which provides limited employment options for islanders and makes them highly vulnerable to global economic downturns; by 2010, unemployment rates had surpassed 12 per cent. Child health indicators have improved in key areas – under-five child mortality rates were reduced from 12.7 per 1,000 live births in 2005 to 7.6 per 1,000 live births in 2008. However, unlike Curaçao and Aruba, Sint Maarten has limited healthcare insurance, available only to those who hold a legal job, leaving the families of the unemployed and undocumented immigrants to pay out of pocket. Additionally, although the country’s vaccination programme for children aged 0¬

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-2000/LeMoyne

Despite the continuous development of the Latin American and Caribbean region, violence against children, especially against girls, is still prevalent. Most of the times violence against children goes unnoticed, unheard, or even unreported, impacting children for life. Only a small proportion of acts of violence, exploitation and abuse are reported and investigated, and few perpetrators are held accountable.

Facing these grim realities, we want to understand the role of the telecommunications industry, particularly mobile operators, in ending violence.

To start, they can collaborate with child helplines that connect children with youth care centers through whatsapp messages, text messages, mobile applications or free calls. Through these services, children receive assistance when they are victims of physical abuse, neglect, bullying, cyberbullying, or other forms of violence.

According to Child Helpline International, the global network of helplines, more than 200,000 children have contacted such lines during 2012 and 2013 in our region. In most cases (19%), children asked for assistance and intervention in suspected cases of abuse or violence.

Led by the GSMA, the association representing the mobile industry at a global level, mobile operators cab facilitate young users’ access to these lines through free calling and helpline promotion and dissemination support.

Another fundamental contribution of mobile operators and other providers of internet services is to prevent the misuse of their networks and services to disseminate child sexual abuse content. It is essential that more companies work together, in collaboration with government, to create and promote hotlines in each country. This will allow better blocking and faster deleting of such content online. Fortunately, countries like Peru and Colombia are already advanced in their blocking systems, and other countries are showing significant progress, thanks to the leadership of Millicom/Tigo, Telefonica, and Governments.

INHOPE, the network that brings together 51 hotlines around the world, processed 89,758 url complaints regarding child sexual abuse material content online in 2014; 63% more than in 2013. From all these websites or pages, almost half (48%) had their ‘hosting’ in the Americas and the vast majority of victims (72%) were children between 9 and 12 years old. Despite the progress, it is difficult to understand why in our region, company networks are still being misused to access websites that have been blocked for many years in other countries.

Mobile operators should also continue working with parents and educators to promote a responsible and safe use of technology. Likewise, adults should also engage in this online experience. It’s understandable that it is not easy for them because children know more about technology. Yet, children are the ones surfing online without their parents’ knowledge or any type of supervision. Another opportunity for collaboration would be generating mechanisms to identify pre-paid users that are under 18 years old in order to receive a differentiated service.

We acknowledge that everyone can and should do more to promote a safer digital environment for children. This is why UNICEF, as part of our work to promote children’s rights in the technology sector, launched ‘Stand Up Mobile’. The campaign shows, through humorous skits, children’s use of mobile phone and promotes particular actions for mobile operators to protect children online.

The skits are being watched in the Latin American region through Comedy Central and Paramount Channels with the support of Viacom.  The mobile operators’ response has, in general, has been positive, and we are reaching them with our message using a different approach.

So, what do you think? Here you can see the spots featuring comedians Ricardo Quevedo, Juan Barraza and Fabrizio Copano with English subtitles:

Marcelo Ber is the Specialist on Business and Child Rights at the UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office

© UNICEF/HIVA2015-0010/Schermbrucker

Why we must invest in children if we want a better future

A mother smiles as she hold her baby.

For the first time, there is global recognition that children have to be a key investment priority if we want development to be sustainable and equitable.© UNICEF/HIVA2015-0010/Schermbrucker

The third Financing for Development conference (FFD3) closed on 16 July, after four intense days in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda (or ‘AAA’ as it will be called in short) was agreed to on Wednesday evening after difficult negotiations, particularly around strengthening global tax cooperation, and to a somewhat lesser extent the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR). The outcome will hopefully facilitate agreement on the broader post-2015 agenda, including the SDGs, at the General Assembly in September, as well as a strong climate deal in Paris towards the end of the year.

In many ways, Addis was the perfect location for an FFD conference given this special year and the trends unfolding and challenges we see ahead. Ethiopia is a ‘Least Developed Country’ (LDC) making rapid development progress, fueled by solid development assistance from traditional donors and significant investments from China and other emerging economies; but first and foremost by mobilizing and directing domestic resources toward development priorities such as health, infrastructure and agriculture. Ethiopia has been among the leaders across the developing world in integrating the MDGs into the fabric of their development strategies and budgets, and will surely do the same when it comes to the SDGs.

At the same time, and despite being a very poor country, Ethiopia is determined to tackle climate change head-on, aiming to adapt to the unavoidable while pushing aggressive industrialization while going carbon neutral by 2025. This was also clearly apparent in the immediate surroundings of the conference centre. Addis is undergoing what has to be among the most dramatic transformation of any capital city in the world. Everywhere you look, new buildings are coming up and new roads and railways are being laid. Ethiopia’s capital is testing both itself and its global partners as to whether sustainable development can in fact happen.

From the perspective of children’s rights and interests, the AAA is a significant milestone. We can celebrate that, for the first time, there is global recognition that children have to be a key investment priority if we want development to be sustainable and equitable. The AAA establishes that investment in children is of critical importance as a development finance strategy in its own right, and highlights investments in basic services, social protection systems and the protection of children’s rights.

With this outcome, we are beyond merely treating children as yet another “vulnerable group”. The AAA makes an investment case for children and also recognizes children as actors in their own right. Combined with the SDGs, which also put a very strong emphasis on a range of issues of core importance for children, we are now on the verge of having an intergovernmentally-agreed upon development agenda for the next 15 years which aligns remarkably well with UNICEF’s worldview and priorities, while at the same time challenging us to think beyond our comfort zone.

Looking ahead we should take a sanguine look at what Addis did, or did not, achieve and then move quickly forward to ensure the AAA will matter for children on the ground. The outcome document concludes intense intergovernmental negotiations that spanned a period of almost 6 months. It is not surprising that many initial ambitious commitments were boiled down to the lowest common denominator in the process.

But the document also outlines a new agenda that is both more ambitious and more holistic than previous agreements. With this outcome document, Financing for Development has essentially become Financing for Sustainable Development. There is no longer a development discourse separate from sustainable development. The document also moves beyond a ‘traditional’ ODA-centric view by engaging new emerging pillars of development finance, including domestic resource mobilization, South-South cooperation, and innovative and private finance.

Once international negotiations have concluded on the SDG goals and targets, attention will and should shift to the country level. Child-focused agencies like UNICEF can make progress here by focusing advocacy and support to nationally appropriate targets for children and relevant social spending that goes beyond what could be achieved in the AAA.

From our work in country offices we already have many examples how work in crucial sectors like Early Childhood Development, education, health, nutrition, WASH, child protection and social protection can be translated into national policies and budgets, even in environments with constrained fiscal space. Other priorities include engagement with non-traditional donors and the private sector to leverage and raise additional resources (keeping in mind that private finance should benefit as much as possible the least advantaged children). Finally, we can continue and strengthen our work around the disaggregated analysis of poverty data by gender and age, or by evaluating how public spending benefits children and other relevant groups.

Let’s quickly recharge our batteries now that the AAA has been accomplished, and then work hard to make this a truly meaningful agenda for children around the world.

Olav Kjorven is the Director of the Public Partnerships Division, UNICEF NYHQ

On 29 May, Centia, 12, walks barefoot across dusty ground in Kirundo Province. She and her younger brother, 10-year-old Divin, recently fled alone to Rwanda. Their mother, Joséphine, said that, as insecurity worsened in the country, “My oldest daughter, who is married, kept warning me that things were getting bad and that I should get the children out. But I brushed it off. Then, one day, she said we will all be killed tonight; we must leave now, or the children and I will die. I became so frightened, so very frightened. I had to save at least my children. I said to myself they will not die in this house.” She then paid the equivalent of US$7 to an acquaintance to help the children escape across Lake Cohoha, which straddles the border between the two countries. Around 4 a.m. that morning, when it was still dark, Centia and Divin climbed into a wooden pirogue with nine other people, including three children, and paddled as fast as they could across the lake. “It took three hours to cross,” Centia recalled. “We were all very quiet. … I kept saying a prayer in my heart that we would be OK. Then we walked two hours to get to a house, and the next day, we were taken by car to a camp. We were given beans and corn once a day, but a nun brought us more food sometimes. And then, one day, my brother and I got very sick. It was malaria.” Joséphine, who had remained in touch with her children via mobile phone, grew increasingly worried. The rumours of violence in Kirundo had not materialized, but now another fear had replaced the first one: that she would lose her children to illness, somewhere far away. As soon as she felt it was safe, Joséphine crossed the lake herself to bring her children back home, but she says she is prepared to repeat her actions if it is necessary to protect her children. “I don’t regret it. I will do it again if my children’s lives are threatened,” she said.

In late May 2015 in Burundi, civil unrest and the ensuing response

How does adolescence offer a second chance to vulnerable teenagers?

As you read this, a teen somewhere is making a decision they may regret for the rest of their lives, one with high costs for themselves, their families and their communities. Joining a gang or a terrorist organization or committing a serious crime.

Every teen everywhere faces a turbulent transition to adulthood: the rapid development of identity, blossoming of emotions and onset of puberty. Neuroscientists explain the turbulence as caused by asymmetrical adolescent brain development. The socio-emotional processing system starts to respond to incentives and provocations from the early teens, but the cognitive control system, which is needed to filter those decisions is not fully developed until the early twenties.[1]

Over the past twenty years, there has been good news and bad news in research on adolescence. The bad news is that many more children than we ever thought before are entering adolescence with broken childhoods characterized by heartbreaking adverse experiences: abuse, neglect and dysfunctional parenting driven by addiction, violence or unaddressed mental health issues. This is multiplied further in areas affected by conflict, crime, and poverty. Science shows that the more adversity experienced in childhood the more difficult it is for the adolescent to navigate his or her way around the opportunities and risks they face and to make sensible decisions that don’t harm them or their communities.

The good news from neuroscience is the discovery of neuro-plasticity — that teenagers can strengthen the performance of their “executive function”, the part of the brain that coordinates behavior, choice and reaction, through learning non-cognitive or character skills. Thus, as much as adolescence is fraught with risk and possible lifelong consequences, it can also provide a second chance to get teens back on track to lead a stable, fulfilling and happy life.

To divert for a moment from vulnerable children to all children, character skills are increasingly recognized in many countries as being as critical as IQ in determining academic and lifelong success for all. They are seen as essential for long-term economic competitiveness and socio-economic development and are being mainstreamed in K through 12 education. Character skills include instrumental skills such as optimism, curiosity, motivation, perseverance and self-control that drive overall performance in school and life. But they also include integrity and locally-determined values that ensure performance is harnessed to the common good and can contribute to shared expectations and values within communities.

In Harvard sociologist Robert D. Putnam’s recent best seller ‘Our Kids – the American Dream in Crisis’ on inter-generational poverty and the decline in social mobility, he reviewed all of the recent American studies on childhood and concluded that in addition to the impact of poor nutrition and material poverty on children’s life chances, parenting and schooling had a massive impact: “Well educated parents aim to raise autonomous, independent and self-directed children with high self-esteem and the ability to make good choices, whereas less educated parents focus on discipline, obedience and conformity to pre-established rules.” [2]

Whether talking about teenage ‘child soldiers’ in war-ravaged, poverty stricken countries, or abuse victims, or gang members in high-income countries, we need to look beyond obvious interventions that tackle material poverty or provide vocational learning or housing. If traumatic childhoods have left them with a chaotic and untrusting view of the world — they will find it very hard to hold down a job, or maintain a house, or build healthy relationships. We need to complement material interventions with the development of the type of character skills that will help them become more autonomous, self-directed and build more self-esteem to make good choices.

In Montenegro we have joined forces with Birmingham University to support the Ministry of Education in developing character education in schools and within a global partnership with ING to support the development of such skills with especially vulnerable youth in a non-school setting. This includes young people leaving state care, Roma and other minority children, and young people in conflict with the law.

Character education is only one part of a range of interventions that are needed to help young people get back on track. Vocational training, support for accessing basic health and other services and even psychological therapy are also essential. But character — skills including integrity — are an essential part of the jigsaw. While there is now a strong global investment case that public funds in early childhood promote positive life outcomes and long-term competitiveness, adolescence is our second — and perhaps last —chance to harness the public good to ensure our most vulnerable teenagers build better lives — and eventually better societies. Let’s not waste that chance.

Benjamin Perks is the UNICEF Representative in Montenegro.

[1] The Influence of Neuroscience on US Supreme Court Decisions about Adolescents Criminal Culpability. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Laurence Steinberg. 2013
[2] P199. Our Kids-the American Dream in Crisis Robert D Putman Simon and Schuster