Category Archives: For Debate

A young child stands and smiles for the camera, outside a UNICEF supported nutrition center in Pakistan.

The UN: an incubator and implementer of big ideas?

A young child stands and smiles for the camera, outside a UNICEF supported nutrition center in Pakistan.

A young child stands outside a UNICEF-supported nutrition center in Pakistan. © UNICEF/PAKA2015-00062/Zaidi

When we advertised the coming of Sir Richard Jolly to UNICEF as a speaker in our Conversation with Thought Leaders series to talk about his book UNICEF: Global Governance that Works, we were anticipating some exciting stories about UNICEF and, yes, we knew it would be a bit self-serving.

But the conversation went beyond UNICEF as a model for global governance, to bring up some fundamental questions about the UN and its role in a rapidly changing world to which it struggles to adjust.

Building on a decade spent documenting UN history while working with the Institute for Development Studies, Jolly reminded us of the role of the UN in generating big ideas that changed the world. He recalled how, thanks to its large on-the-ground footprint, UN agencies also turned these ideas into actions, making a difference for many.

Illustrations he used included the ILO’s “Basic Needs Strategy” in the 1970’s; UNICEF’s “Adjustment with a human face” in the 1980’s; and UNDP’s “Human Development Report” created in the 1990’s. Jolly emphasized how these big ideas had a vision of human progress at their core.

As the UN celebrates its 70th anniversary, is there still an opportunity for the UN to promote big ideas?

Jolly says yes. He argues that global governance, which remains focused on economic and financial matters, is in need of a force that brings the “humane” factor back to the center stage. In his view, the UN can do it: by building on the personal commitment of its staff, working with allies in each country in which it works, and engaging with the emerging economies that are increasingly asserting their regional powers. Using these assets, Jolly calls on the UN to raise awareness about the possibility of an alternative global governance model that better addresses issues of moral and ethical concerns.

Where is his optimism coming from? Experience and pragmatism. Jolly believes there can be broad popular and political support for this vision. “First, in almost all democracies, domestic policies are made and sustained on a broader basis of human concerns, far beyond the principles of neo-liberal economics. Second, in almost all richer countries, development aid and assistance receives positive support from the electorate, and as a deliberate effort to assist people in poorer countries. […] Third, the UN itself stands consistently and considerably higher in surveys of public opinion than do the World Bank and the IMF.”

“First, in almost all democracies, domestic policies are made and sustained on a broader basis of human concerns, far beyond the principles of neo-liberal economics. Second, in almost all richer countries, development aid and assistance receives positive support from the electorate, and as a deliberate effort to assist people in poorer countries. […] Third, the UN itself stands consistently and considerably higher in surveys of public opinion than do the World Bank and the IMF.”

Why is this important? Because the many of the challenges that the world faces today and in the future, such as climate change, population growth, migration, data privacy, or cyber-security, transcend national boundaries. These challenges will grow in magnitude and affect the collective human experience. There is a greater need than ever before for international institutions, such as the UN, to deal with these transnational issues in a way that protects dignity and human rights for all people.

So, yes, listening to a story of UNICEF’s success might have been self-serving. But we were reminded that the UN system has made a difference through its big ideas coupled with actions. And with the challenges in front of us today, it was inspirational to get an optimistic viewpoint on the prospects of global governance.

To watch the event, click here.

Katell Le Goulven is the Chief of the Policy Planning Unit; Division of Data, Research and Policy.
Michelle Siegel is the Brand Development Specialist; Division of Communication.


Ay “papacito” estás bien rico

¿Cómo se ve el acoso desde otro punto de vista? Un hombre va pasando y las mujeres lo miran y le dicen “piropos” incómodos. En tan sólo un minuto, la estudiante Raisa Pimentel presenta una cara diferente sobre este tema en la Ciudad de México. Este video fue realizado en el marco del taller de cineminutos Oneminutesjr con la colaboración de UNICEFMéxico:

¿Qué les pareció esta mirada poco frecuente sobre el acoso? Y aunque este fenómeno no respeta género ni sexo, es importante que también recordemos algunas cifras referentes a las niñas y mujeres: en el mundo, por ejemplo, casi una cuarta parte de las niñas entre los 15 y 19 años (aproximadamente 70 millones) ha reportado haber sido víctima de violencia física. Además, casi 1 de cada 10 niñas menores de 20 años ha sufrido agresiones sexuales, y 1 de cada 3 adolescentes casada al menos una vez (84 millones) ha sido víctima de violencia emocional, física o sexual por parte de sus esposos o parejas. Sin embargo, casi 7 de cada 10 niñas que han sido víctimas de violencia física y/o abuso sexual entre los 15 y 19 años de edad nunca buscaron ayuda: muchas de ellas mencionaron que no lo percibieron como un abuso o como un problema.

UNICEF señala acciones específicas para prevenir la violencia contra las niñas: mantenerlas en la escuela; proporcionarles habilidades necesarias para la vida; apoyar a los padres, incluso con transferencias de efectivo para mitigar los riesgos; el cambio de actitudes y normas a través de conversaciones con la comunidad; y el fortalecimiento de los sistemas y los servicios judiciales, penales y sociales.

Los invitamos a ver más cineminutos creados por 16 jóvenes en el taller Oneminutesjr más reciente.

Girls in a classroom at a UNICEF supported child friendly school in Kabul.© UNICEF/ROSA2011-00004/Madhok

How do we know if social accountability initiatives are working?

Social Accountability for Children’s Rights:  Evidence, Practice and Impact


Earlier this year,Jonathan Fox, Professor at the American University and renowned expert on social accountability, gave a talk at the World Bank entitled “Social Accountability:  What does the Evidence Really Say?”

In his talk, Professor Fox challenged the prevailing view that the evidence for Social Accountability’s impact is ‘mixed’.  He did so by unpacking social accountability initiatives (SAI), and comparing the evidence between those that were tactical (solely demand-side or citizen led), and those which were strategic (the demand-side was combined with the supply-side), strengthening the enabling environment and service provider capacity.

In Fox’s analysis, the evidence for impact of strategic SAI is positive, while it is evidence of tactical SAI which is mixed.  Setting up SAI, therefore, calls for a ‘sandwich strategy’ of coordinating pro-accountability actors embedded in both state and society.


If we translate this distinction between tactical and strategic SAI into the language of accountability for child rights, what Fox seems to be saying is that when citizen groups, children and their representatives (rights-holders) — engage with the public or private-sector service providers (duty-bearers) the accountability initiatives will have a stronger impact on children’s rights than if that engagement doesn’t happen.

As such, while Fox’s articulation of the difference between tactical and strategic SAI is conceptually important, the importance of engaging duty-bearers was already very evident to practitioners at a UNICEF-led meeting on social accountability happening at the same time in London.[1]  They were unanimous in viewing constructive engagement with government as indispensable to achieving results for children from social accountability initiatives.

Such engagement includes preparing public officials to receive citizen feedback, listen to children and recognise their own responsibility for fulfilling rights.   There is complete agreement between Fox’s research findings and practitioners’ experience that SAIs which include the ‘strategic’ engagement of duty-bearers have a higher impact than those which don’t. Indeed, some would say that state engagement is indispensable to achieving impact.


A question that remains to be explored is ‘how do we define the impact of an SAI?

Is it improved, and more transparent services?   

Better outcomes for children, (defined as better school retentions rates and learning outcomes,   lower child mortality, reduced rates of child abuse, etc.)? 

Or is impact an empowered citizenry?

Where child participation in SAI is concerned, many in London considered that the empowerment stemming from exercising their citizenship rights was a sufficient impact, irrespective of whether such participation led to accountability claims being honored, services improved or outcomes enhanced.  Yet for children themselves, participating vigorously in an SAI process without an outcome may prove frustrating and disempowering.

The social accountability literature, together with the field experiences of the participants who gathered in London, is routinely able to demonstrate evidence of improved service provision and governance as the impact of ‘strategic’ social accountability. However there are few examples demonstrating that improved services led to an impact in improved outcomes for children.    So in the absence of an improved outcome, should we conclude that SAIs, strategically engaging duty-bearers or not, have no impact?

Social accountability is a relatively young field in development, and barely in its infancy when applied to accountability for children’s rights.    Some evidence exists that indicates that timing is crucial to determining whether social accountability results in better outcomes for children, in addition to better processes.  A longitudinal study of public participation in the formulation of municipal budgets in Brazil found that between 1990 and 2004, popular preferences shifted the municipal budget by approximately 2% points on the allocation for health and sanitation, representing between 20-30% of this sector’s budget share.  This in turn resulted in an average reduction in infant mortality of approximately one infant for every 1,000, or between 5% and 10% in total IMR, as compared to states without participatory budgeting.  However this outcome, presumably an effect of improved sanitation and health services, was only detected after four years.[2]

So the child rights community, together with the development community, need to come to a common understanding of what is meant by the ‘impact of social accountability’.  At the same time, for those who claim that SAIs’ have no impact, one must challenge them with the question, “No impact as compared to what?”  For it is difficult to imagine that even when SAIs fail, and accountability claims of participating citizens of all ages are not honoured, or services not improved, that someone has not gained something in the practice of democracy, a system of governance that is forever and everywhere, a work in progress.

Elizabeth Gibbons,
FXB Center for Health and Human Rights,
Harvard University

Prior to her current role as a Senior Fellow and Visiting Scientist at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, Ms Gibbons held the positions of Deputy Director for Policy and Practice and Associate Director of Gender, Rights and Civic Engagement at UNICEF New York headquarters. Her career in social development and humanitarian affairs has spanned close to 30 years, during which she lived and worked in Togo, Kenya and Zimbabwe, and served as head of UNICEF’s offices in Haiti and in Guatemala. During her UNICEF career and beyond, Ms Gibbons has focussed on supporting the CRC’s implementation through research, law, policy and practice at both global and national levels.


[1] UNICEF, Workshop Report Rights in Principle and Accountable in Practice: Social Accountability and Children’s Rights in the post 2015 World, London U.K. 3-4 March 2014 (UNICEF: Human Right Unit, April 2014), page 10

[2] Goncalves, S. “The Effects of Participatory Budgeting on Municipal Expenditures and Infant Mortality in Brazil.”  World Development (2013).  Available at



WorldWeWant consultation in Bonn brings together youth from four continents

World We Want – youth journalist from Burundi speaks out

Peace Sekamwese at WorldWeWant consultation in Germany

Peace feels that education is the key for a better future. (c) UNICEF/2014/Eliane Luthi

The sun is setting, and I have just flown into Bonn, Germany, with Peace Sekamwese, a 16-year-old child journalist from Burundi. It’s Peace’s first time outside of East Africa – and she is over the moon. She’s here to participate in the consultations, alongside an inspiring mix of 19 other young people from the four corners of the world. They’re aged between 15 and 23, they’ve come from as far away as the Philippines, Colombia, Liberia, and India, and they’re here to talk about what it is they want for the post-2015 world – the world that they are about to inherit. As I sit in the gathering, I’m struck by how passionate some of them are: about climate change, about social inclusion and diversity, about “the system.”

WorldWeWant, a global platform created by the United Nations and civil society, is all about amplifying people’s voices as we build the new global agenda for sustainable development. For Peace and many of the other youth here, building that new agenda has to go through education – ensuring all children have access to education, and that that education is given by competent teachers. It’s also about preparing young people for the workplace, so they can contribute to developing their countries.

“Education is the key to solving all issues. If we had better quality education, some youth would create companies after finishing university. Then other youth could benefit from newly created jobs. In this way, the country could become economically developed,” she says.

Quality of education in Peace’s home country Burundi has suffered from overcrowded classrooms, reduced learning time and lack of school materials. Ranked 178th on the Human Development Index, the country is in a situation of generalized poverty. In this situation, education and employment are on the top of many young people’s minds  – systematically coming in first among young people’s concerns when we at UNICEF send out polls on social media and U-report here.

WorldWeWant consultation in Bonn brings together youth from four continents

Peace and delegates from other countries discuss development issues. (c) UNICEF/2014/Eliane Luthi

For Peace, making sure young people are able to speak up about these concerns is crucial to changing that situation. “Young people’s involvement is in the post-2015 process is important because they are the leaders of today and tomorrow.”

As part of UNICEF Burundi’s child journalist programme, Peace plays her part by hosting a weekly radio show in which she talks about the situation of children in her country. But she feels strongly about getting the word out beyond the borders of Burundi – and social media and international exchanges are key to that.

“I’m so thrilled to be here. Talking to other youth, I realise that despite all of us coming from different countries and different backgrounds, we all dream of the same thing – a world which is better for young people, a world that listens to them.”

The and Friends consultations took place in Bonn, Germany, from 10 – 12 May 2014. Find out more at

Eliane Luthi is a Communications Specialist at UNICEF Burundi.

#BringBackOurGirls: time to get serious about drivers of violence

The abduction of more than 200 high school girls in northern Nigeria has touched a global nerve. The twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has generated millions of posts. UNICEF and other agencies have issued special statements. Superpowers are offering to send in military aid.

It’s not the first time a horrendous act of violence against children has moved the world. I am pretty sure it won’t be the last. These moments of global concern about violence affecting children are usually brief, yet sadly, they don’t often result in level-headed responses.

A child formerly associated with armed forces or groups  in Central African Republic holds her mother's hand.

A child formerly associated with armed forces or groups in Central African Republic holds her mother’s hand. © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-2308/Matas

The acts of violence that make the headlines often have to do with deeply rooted and longstanding social norms—cultural, political and economic—that make girls and boys around the world vulnerable to many forms of violence, including forced early marriage, as well as child trafficking and abuse of children in armed conflict.

When violence stays in the headlines there is a risk that we can miss an opportunity to focus in on the systemic social drivers of it. Policies and programmes are sometimes abandoned or hastily changed. Social protection services are pressured to drop what they are doing and deliver immediate results. Millions of dollars may be thrown into hasty policy re-directions based on thin evidence of success.

What can make a difference? Believe it or not, one of the most important tools in ending violence against children is better research that improves understanding of what drives these violent outbursts, as well as the hidden ones that go on day in and day out around the world.

What? More research? This is a crisis. Grab a shovel, pitchfork and scythe. How on earth will research #BringBackOurGirls?

UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti is gearing up for a major four-year action research project in Italy, Peru, Vietnam and Zimbabwe, which aims to significantly increase understanding of what drives violence against children and how best to respond to it. A global team of top child protection researchers will analyze evidence on effective responses and rigorously measure their impact on children. The aim is to generate a substantial multi-country knowledge base to help build more effective interventions.

In 2013 UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Liam Neeson joined UNICEF in urging people to speak out when they witness or suspect violence against children. More information about the #ENDviolence initiative is available here: © UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0512/Toledano

In 2013 UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Liam Neeson joined UNICEF in urging people to speak out when they witness or suspect violence against children. More information about the #ENDviolence initiative is available here. © UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0512/Toledano

Violence against children is a constant which we still poorly understand.   It is pervasive: in the homes, neighborhoods, and schools where children are supposed to be safe. It is more often committed by the very people children ought to be able to turn to for protection. Growing evidence suggests 1 out of 4 children experience serious sexual, physical or emotional violence or abuse in their lifetimes. My gut feeling tells me it’s much higher, with most incidences going unreported.

Some progress has been made on understanding violence against women, and there is much to learn from that in relation to children. However, too often theories about the dynamics of violence fail to take into account the extraordinary implications of age and its links with gender. Children grow, their capacities and vulnerabilities evolve and change, and, for example, what drives violence against a two year old girl may be quite different than that which affects a 14 year old boy, with different societal and individual consequences.

Violence is nurtured by a culture of silence and the complex interplay of age-old assumptions on gender, age and authority. It is a social disease – and it happens in every country. Once we understand the underlying patterns of this virus, our policies and programmes are more likely to help stop it.

Let’s unite and raise our voices in an effort to #BringBackOurGirls. But let’s also get to work on generating solid evidence on how to prevent and reduce the complicated phenomenon of human violence against the young and vulnerable, and in the process protect millions of children.

© UNICEF/MLYA20131201/Balasundaram

Now for the long term – for the next generation

“Reform” is a word often heard in global governance debates. And it’s hardly surprising, as negotiations stall along issues as far ranging as climate change to trade rules, it’s almost universally recognized that we need to do things differently.

Through UNICEF’s Conversations with Thought Leaders, we had an opportunity to engage with those at the forefront of these debates. At the beginning of May, Chair of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations, Pascal Lamy came to UNICEF to present the Commission’s recently-published Now for the Long Term report.

It is the result of a year-long consultation process with 19 eminent leaders from around the world, including Michelle Bachelet, Lionel Barber, Professor Roland Berger, Professor Ian Goldin, Arianna Huffington, Dr. Mo Ibrahim, Luiz Felipe Lampreia, Minister Liu He, Professor Kishore Mahbubani, Minister Trevor Manuel, Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Minister Nandan Nilekani, Lord Patten, Baron Piot, Lord Rees, Professor Amartya Sen, Lord Stern and Jean-Claude Trichet.

© UNICEF/MLYA20131201/Balasundaram

Now for the Long Term focuses on the interests of future generations – and examines how action, or lack of, will impact  them.    ©UNICEF/MLYA20131201/Balasundaram

The Now for the Long Term report stands out from a multitude of similar recent efforts, by taking the interests of the future generation as its starting point. At the heart of the report is the notion that global negotiations are driven by political short term interests rather than long term strategy. It provides a welcome opportunity to take a step back and examine how our actions (or inactions!) today will impact the next generation, and to think through what institutional arrangements will allow us to build a more sustainable and equitable future.

The report starts with identifying global mega trends that will define the world of the future generation, outlining the environmental, technological, demographic, and socio-economic landscape. It then looks at the past for lessons on tackling complex global issues – why it worked in some cases (ozone layer, Y2K, and HIV/AIDS), and failed in others (financial regulations before the crisis, oceans, and climate change).

Finally, the Commission puts forward 15 recommendations, which as Mr. Lamy stresses, are practical and doable. Mr. Lamy suggested that he and the Commission would be willing to put their energy and support to those recommendations which gain a foothold in some part of the complex landscape of global governance. In different ways, several recommendations have gained traction, including:

  • A Coalition of the Working between countries, companies and cities to counteract climate change. Recognizing that the current dialogue on climate change at the international level is failing, the Commission calls for a different type of coalition to lead the charge. Calling it “inclusive ‘minilateralism’”, the so-called C20-C30-C40 Coalition would include only (1) the critical actors and (2) those who are ready to take action. This means the 20 countries that are the largest emitters (the G20), 30 multinational companies affiliated with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and 40 big cities (building on Bloomberg’s C40 initiative).

  • ‘Fit cities’ – a network of cities to fight the rise of non-communicable diseases and share practices to minimize the costs they inflict on the health systems – would focus on the availability of healthy food, quality of health education, and effective mechanisms to enhance healthy lifestyles in the world’s rapidly growing cities.

And where exactly is the next generation in the report? One recommendation particularly stood out: Attack poverty at the source or break intergenerational persistence of poverty through social protection measures such as cash transfers. From UNICEF’s perspective, we could not agree more. Evidence shows that child poverty can destroy the future potential of individuals, communities and societies.

UNICEF works with governments and other partners across the world to develop child-sensitive social protection systems and other programs targeted at the eradication of child poverty. Yet, much more remains to be done, including through a greater emphasis at the global level, particularly in the context of the next set of global goals – hence, UNICEF’s call for prioritizing child poverty within the post-2015 agenda.

It is encouraging to see the prominence the Commission attaches to child well-being and investing in the next generation. It is today’s children who will suffer most if we fail to come together to address challenges from climate change to communicable and non-communicable diseases. Putting the next generation at the center of how we tackle global challenges is our best chance for creating the future we want. Now – for the long term.

Pascal Lamy, former head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and current Chair of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations, joined UNICEF for our Conversations with Thought Leaders event on 1 May 2014. Mr. Lamy presented the Commission’s report Now for the Long Term and its key recommendations with UNICEF’s staff.


Forum of Hope – The countdown has started in the DRC!


Children listen and reflect on childrens’ rights and the importance of peace in their country. DRC, Kinshasa. ©UNICEF/2014/Serge Wingi


Children met in the 11 provincial county seats – their objective – Peace.

“Us children, we are in the best position to state why peace is important to us. Together with other children from the Great Lakes region, we have a message to spread: the war must end,” confides Eunice, 13 years old, who hopes to participate in the Hope Forum in Bujumbura, Burudni, from the 30th May to the 1st June.

“The Forum of Hope”, a platform for Peace

On the 24th of February 2013, acknowledging the danger of recurrent cycles of conflict and violence which persist in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), eleven African countries signed a Framework Agreement for peace, security and cooperation in the DRC and the Great Lakes region.

Faced with the fact that children are at the heart of any sustainable peace, UNICEF has worked since February 2014 to establish the “Hope Forum”, a platform through which children can express themselves about the peace which will determine their future, and to contribute to the process. Preparations are materialising and key dates are confirmed. At this time, children are choosing their representatives in the 11 countries (DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Angola, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania and Zambia).


MONUSCO presents the Addis Ababa Framework Agreement to North Kivu children during preparations for the Hope Forum. ©UNICEF/2014/Serge Wingi

Ambassadors for peace

Under the auspices of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the Hope Forum will bring together child representatives (13-17 years) of the signatory countries of the Framework Agreement, to share their opinions and to talk about their dreams. They will have the opportunity to better understand one another; to discuss concrete measures that need to be taken in order to make the Framework Agreement applicable in their communities; and on their return, they will act as peace “ambassadors”, sharing the information with children in their country.

In order for the children’s recommendations to be taken into account at the political level, four Forum representatives will continue the dialogue with the Office of the Special Envoy for the Secretary General, Mary Robinson, and the ICGLR Secretariat. The final Declaration of the Forum will be presented by the children themselves during the ICGLR Heads of State Summit in Mombasa in June 2014.

The preparation agenda in the DRC is quite full: on the 7th and 8th April, a national jury (UNICEF, ICGLR, Coordination of the Follow-up Mechanism for the Framework Agreement, Secretary General of the Ministry for International Cooperation) selected 15 children from among the candidates chosen by the children in the provinces to represent the DRC at the Forum, as well as four chaperones. Girls and boys are equally represented.

“The children were chosen based on their knowledge of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the quality of their oral expression and their ability to synthesise the topic. They must seize this opportunity to show the world that they are already cultivating peace and are its most beautiful promise,” explains facilitator Jean Pontien.

The next step was the national Forum which took place in Kinshasa 25-27 April. The selected children prepared the national memorandum and “a postcard from the DRC” to present at the Forum.

Follow us for more news next week!’

To learn more about Congolese children’s engagement for Peace, I invite you to watch the film “Flame of hope” made during the Francophone Summit (2012) which recalls the promise made by the states when they ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Article published on Pona Bana (French)

Forum de l’espoir: Le compte à rebours a commencé en RDC!

Follow DRC youth ambassadors on:

– The Forum of Hope special Blog: Tumblr

– All the pictures are posted on: Flickr

– Twitter

– Facebook

Photos: UNICEF RDC / Serge Wingi / 2014


The global agenda must prioritise child poverty

Children bear the brunt of extreme poverty. This is not hyperbole; it’s statistical fact. The World Bank’s most recent poverty data show us that almost half of all the people living on less than $1.25 day, are 18 or younger. Yet, children under 18 represent only about 31% of the global population. And around 400 million children in the world under the age of 13 live in extreme poverty – that’s more than the entire population of the United States.


There is global consensus that poverty is not just about income – it is about the wellbeing of people. ©UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0585/Pirozzi

The world agrees that eradicating poverty must remain high on the agenda. In fact, it’s the first priority listed in the UN General Assembly Open Working Group document released earlier this year, on the road to setting new global goals, and the World Bank last year set its own target of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030.

Extreme poverty measures tend to capture the extent of poverty in lower income countries, and indeed in most regions of the developing world children fare the worst. But the same is true in the rich world: In OECD countries, more children than adults live in relative poverty (that is, in households with incomes below 50% of the median). UNICEF’s 2012 review of child well-being across 35 industrialised countries found that 30 million children – one out of eight in the OECD – are growing up poor.

Children are over-represented among the poor

Of course, there’s global consensus that poverty is not only about income. It’s people’s wellbeing that matters in the end. For a child, that means everything from whether she or he can go to school and learn, to whether she or he is well-nourished and healthy, to whether she or he is safe, happy and cared for in her family and community. The need to understand and measure these aspects of poverty is what led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Policy & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) to develop the Multidimensional Poverty Index. At UNICEF, we’ve developed child-focused multi-dimensional poverty measures, and currently have data for 25 lower income countries, with more to come.

Eliminating child poverty is of course a matter of child rights, and is also central to human progress. At UNICEF we cheered when the latter point was brought home by Jim Kim, President of the World Bank, who said, on releasing their new poverty data in 2013: “We can reach our goals of ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity, including sharing that prosperity with future generations, but only if we work together with new urgency. Children should not be cruelly condemned to a life without hope, without good education, and without access to quality health care. We must do better for them.” We are glad also that the EU is working on a strategy to help countries address child poverty.

I’ve been struck since taking up my current job at UNICEF’s Headquarters about the passionate debate around how we should consider, and address, child poverty in the global development agenda – among my colleagues, and in the wider world. While the Millennium Development Goals gave the world something to strive for, and real progress has been made, it is also clear children living in poverty have benefited the least from these gains.Some of the questions that keep coming up include:

  • Is it worthwhile to measure the number of children living in monetary poverty?
  • Should we focus only on the more complex multi-dimensional approaches?
  • What’s the best way to ensure needed attention to children’s wellbeing and rights?

It seems to me that child poverty is absolutely multi-dimensional, and finding better ways to measure and address it is crucial. At the same time, studies routinely show strong correlations between income or wealth quintiles and poor outcomes for children. Moreover, mounting evidence from child-sensitive cash transfer programmes seems to suggest that income can make a difference. If a monetary measure is going to be part of the new goals, shouldn’t children be included?

So how should child poverty be measured and addressed in the new agenda that will guide development after 2015? This is a question on which UNICEF is looking for inputs from organisations and individuals from around the world. UNICEF has teamed up with the UN Major Group on Children and Youth and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) to run open on-line discussions on this topic. We invite you to come take a look at what has been said and to join the debate. And if you miss the discussion, we can always continue the debate here on UNICEF Connect or via Twitter (@AlexandraYuster). We hope to hear from you one way or another.

How to get involved:

Join the live online discussion on 10:00 – 11:30 EST 10 April 2014. Participate here. More details here.

Share your views on child poverty on the online platform through 14 April 2014.

P.S. this post is written with thanks to my colleagues Martin C Evans and Antonio Franco Garcia, whose research and analytical work on child poverty has enriched the content.

Alexandra Yuster is an Associate Director at UNICEF’s Headquarters in New York, leading UNICEF’s work on social inclusion, child poverty and discrimination.


Five Things You Didn’t Know About Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting

More than 125 million women and girls in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East have experienced Female Genital Mutilation or Cutting (FGM/C). UNICEF released a report on FGM/C last year that revealed some thought-provoking attitudes about the practice.

Here are five things about FGM/C that might surprise you.
Click on the numbers and links for visualizations of the data.

1. Boys and men state strong support for stopping the practice.   It’s often presumed that men condone FGM/C and that it is one of the ways that they keep women subservient. This appears not to be the case. In fact, in countries such as Guinea, Sierra Leone and Chad, substantially more men than women want to see FGM/C end.

2. Girls and women consistently underestimate the proportion of boys and men who want FGM/C to end.  In many countries, a large percentages of both women and men are unaware of what the opposite sex thinks about FGM/C.

3. The majority of girls and women want FGM/C to end.  Girls’ and women’s attitudes about whether or not FGM/C should continue vary widely across the 29 countries where it is concentrated. However, in most of these countries, the majority thinks that FGM/C should end.

4. The need to gain social acceptance is the most frequently stated reason for supporting the continuation of FGM/C.  Social acceptance trumps other reasons like better marriage prospects, preserving virginity, more sexual pleasure for the man, religious necessity and cleanliness/hygiene.

5. Many girls who are cut have mothers who are against the practice.  Though a daughter’s likelihood of being cut is much higher when her mother thinks the practice should continue, many cut girls have mothers who actually oppose FGM/C. Some mothers may thus have their daughters cut despite their personal feelings about the practice.

So what can we learn from these five points? First, more dialogue and communication is essential. Ways have to be found to make bring to the fore the “hidden voices” that oppose FGM/C. Girls and women need to be empowered to speak out. Since substantial numbers of men and boys want the FGM/C to end, they can potentially be important agents of change and should be engaged in the conversation. There is clearly also a need for more open dialogue between men and women, and between boys and girls so that prevailing social expectations around FGM/C can be challenged.

A lot of progress had already been made in eliminating FGM/C. With continued effort and commitment many more girls can be spared the fate of their mothers and grandmothers.

UNICEF’s report on FGM/C was produced at UNICEF headquarters by the Statistics and Monitoring Section, Division of Policy and Strategy with contributions from the Child Protection Section. Claudia Cappa, Francesca Moneti, Nicole Petrowski and Cody Donahue contributed to this blog post.

fgm map

Notes: This map is stylized and not to scale. It does not reflect a position by UNICEF on the legal status of any country or territory or the delimitation of any frontiers. In Liberia, girls and women who have heard of the Sande society were asked whether they were members; this provides indirect information on FGM/C since it is performed during initiation into the society, as explained in Box 4.2. Data for Yemen refer to evermarried girls and women. The final boundary between the Republic of the Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan has not yet been determined. Sources: DHS, MICS and SHHS, 1997-2012.