Tag Archives: children

Displaced Iraqi children from Mosul now living in Baherka Camp in northern Iraq.

An uncertain future for the children of Iraq

Leaving the departures terminal in Baghdad airport is like walking into an oven. It is over 50 degrees. I haven’t been to Baghdad for three years. When I last left, I thought the country was on the right track.

Things have, however, taken a sharp turn since June last year – and not in the right direction. More than three million people have been displaced. Many ran for their lives. Children have been abducted, girls raped and tens of thousands of houses looted or seized.

It’s rush hour as we drive into the ‘International Zone’, a fortified area of about 10 square km where the United Nations offices are located. On ‘Route Charlie’ – or the ‘route of the dead’, as it was known during the 2003 conflict – dozens of Iraqi cars are queued at the checkpoint, their human cargo trying to get to work.

Displaced Iraqi children from Mosul now living in Baherka Camp in northern Iraq.

Displaced Iraqi children from Mosul now living in Baherka Camp in northern Iraq. (c)UNICEF/2015/Juliette Touma

At 7 p.m., we meet our colleague A’li in Baghdad. A’li’s just back from the camps of displaced people. He’s sweating. He tells us about the misery he’s witnessed. “The past few days have been sheer hell,” he says. “People were pleading for drinking water.” A’li and colleagues have been working to truck water into the area.

A’li is among some 40 Iraqi staff working with UNICEF in Baghdad, helping children and families in need. Every morning, they take the perilous journey to work. In the past week alone, two bombs have gone off in the capital, killing more than 100 people. According to the United Nations Mission in Iraq, July has been the deadliest month so far this year. “I have to leave my house at five every morning to avoid traffic and the bombs,” Omar, another colleague, tells me.

Back on the airport road, a huge placard reads: “The will of the people is stronger than the tyrants!” A few days later, mass protests take place in Baghdad. Iraqis are protesting the lack of electricity amid what has been reported as the harshest heat wave in decades.

We head north to Erbil, in the Kurdistan Region, which last year received the highest number of families fleeing violence in Mosul and other areas. Many left loved ones behind.

Rami, 12, recounts how his grandfather disappeared when armed groups attacked his house in Hamdaniya, outside Mosul. He now lives in the Baherka camp, which is home to 1,500 children.

As we walk through the camp, I can’t help but think: “Hang on a minute – I’ve been here before.” Except I haven’t. I realize that what this camp in Iraq reminds me of is Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. The similarities are everywhere. It is dusty, boiling hot, full of tents. In a different country going through a different conflict for a different reason, people’s analogous stories of despair sound like restless shouts into the void.

Iraq is spending 35 per cent of its budget on security, and the humanitarian funding is dwindling. On this visit, I keep thinking of the huge duty for aid workers. Up until a few years ago, Iraq was very close to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, especially when it came to children’s enrolment in education. Quite impressive, given that Iraq has gone through more than three decades of conflict, sanctions and economic stagnation. But, like Yemen and Syria, Iraq is now sinking into violence, killings and anguish. Children are at the very centre of the suffering.

A couple of frightening numbers keep popping up as a reminder of the challenge ahead of us: There are 3 million children out of school in Iraq, while 35,000 children under 5 die every year.

I hope that, when I go back to Iraq again in a few years’ time, every single one of these children will be sitting at a desk in a nice school, and all newborns will get to grow up into healthy babies. I wonder what Rami’s destiny will be. Will he continue to live in a camp? Will he get out and rebuild his life? Or will he perhaps, like many thousands, end up fleeing Iraq entirely, perhaps on a rickety boat, thinking, hoping, no matter the journey, life must certainly be better somewhere else?

Juliette Touma is a Communications & Media Specialist with the UNICEF Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa.

Children UNICEF

Children on the move through Europe dream of a ‘normal’ life

Mascut, 3, from Syria, plays with a ball at the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space. After waiting 6 hours in the sun to cross the border with his mother and sister, he recalls what it feels like to rest and play before embarking on the next stretch to Serbia.

Mascut, 3, from Syria, plays with a ball at the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space. After waiting 6 hours in the sun to cross the border with his mother and sister, he recalls what it feels like to rest and play before embarking on the next stretch to Serbia. (c)UNICEFMK/2015/TomislavGeorgiev

When I arrived on Saturday to the town of Gevgelija near the border with Greece, I witnessed people and children with utter desperation and fear in their eyes. Thousands of children and families on the move from conflict zones in the Middle East, Asia and parts of Africa had pushed through a police cordon where they had been waiting to enter the country. This resulted in a stampede as exhausted and frightened people raced towards the city centre.

Amidst the confusion, children were separated from their families and left to wander down the nearby railway tracks. My colleague and I, worried for their safety, set out to find these children so that we could bring them to a makeshift protection centre until they could be reunited with their parents and caregivers. It was a terrifying ordeal for them, but fortunately, all of the boys and girls were later able to re-join their families.

Yet for most of these children, this incident was just one more hardship in their long and perilous journeys in search of safety after having been displaced by conflict from their home countries. Some 2,000 – 3,000 people, usually in smaller groups of 50 – 100, are now crossing daily from Greece into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia after making the dangerous trip by sea across the Aegean. Soon they will move on to Serbia and then to other countries in the European Union.

After travelling for days on end, the youngest children in particular often arrive dehydrated or running a fever because they have been sleeping out in the open. Children and adults come barefoot, their shoes having been destroyed after so much walking.

Some families are from Syria or Iraq, while others have travelled from Afghanistan. All just want to live in peace, free from the threat of violence, displacement and death.

Lamar, 4, has travelled with her mother for just over 2 months from Syria to the Gevgelija border crossing. They are heading to Germany to reunite with Lamar's father who managed to reach Germany 4 months ago. Her mother tells us their house was burned to the ground and that they have nothing left. The hope of reuniting their family and a better life gives them courage to keep moving.

Lamar, 4, has travelled with her mother for just over 2 months from Syria to the Gevgelija border crossing. They are heading to Germany to reunite with Lamar’s father who managed to reach Germany 4 months ago. Her mother tells us their house was burned to the ground and that they have nothing left. The hope of reuniting their family and a better life gives them courage to keep moving. (c)UNICEFMK/2015/TomislavGeorgiev

Most of the children I have spoken with do not want to talk about their experiences with war. They are more interested in sharing their hopes for the future which always seems to include going back to school. Just the other day, I watched as a group of children from several different countries played together by pretending they were in a classroom. Even though they did not all speak the same language, they organized themselves into ‘pretend’ teachers and students – sharing in the same pleasant daydream of just being a ‘normal kid’.

It’s been about five days since the chaotic scene at the border and the services available for people crossing over have improved. There is a new Migrant Reception Centre about 500 metres from the Greek border and we are working with our partners to ensure that children and families arriving here are provided with essential services to help sustain them for their onward journey. A second tent at the centre is now being used as a safe space place for women and children to access support services.

Yet far more must be done to meet the growing humanitarian needs here. There is not enough shelter to accommodate the number of people passing through and many are forced to sit outside for hours in the scorching sun. More sanitation facilities are needed and there is no running water – I’ve seen parents washing their children with bottled water.

We’re here to help though and day by day, it will get better. I hope that one day soon the children I have met here will get what they want most – a normal life where they will be able to sit in a real classroom instead of an imaginary one.

Aleksandar Lazovski is a UNICEF Social Protection Specialist


Syrian women risk their lives to protect children from polio

More than 200 Syrian women risk their lives every day to save the lives of children by teaching fellow mothers about the importance of polio vaccinations in the most hard-to-reach areas, including in Dar’a in the far south of Syria, and Aleppo in the northern part of the war-torn country. UNICEF works with local partners to train these women on holding educational sessions and delivering key messages to parents of the young children.

The fight against polio in Syria is one that goes beyond administering vaccinations – it also requires changing misconceptions, especially in the most inaccessible areas.

“Being a parent myself, makes me want to protect all the children of the world,” said Suzan, a mother of three and a volunteer in Dar’a. “I learned about the importance of vaccinations from a health worker, so I vaccinated my children. But what if other mothers did not? Why should the children suffer?” she asked, explaining her drive to help out.

A woman volunteer takes the stand at a mosque in Aleppo to teach gathered women on the importance of Polio vaccinations and their safety. ©UNICEF Syria/2015

A woman volunteer takes the stand at a mosque in Aleppo to teach gathered women on the importance of polio vaccinations and their safety. ©UNICEF Syria/2015

Suzan took advantage of any opportunity to reach out to mothers and give them critical information on protection from polio. While most of her work entailed holding informative sessions in shelters for the internally displaced people, she took innovative steps to spread her knowledge.

“During major water cuts, I’d approach women gathering to fill their cans with water and talk to them about vaccination and hygiene,” she said. “I can tell how responsive they were because they asked questions and interacted with me, especially young mothers.”

Working in hard to reach areas, the mission of these unsung heroes is dotted with challenges. According to the women, a deteriorating security situation, increased restrictions on the movement of women without a male companion and resistance against vaccinations in some parts of the country are among the obstacles they face on a daily basis.

“The violence in the area is making people hesitant to take their children to medical centres to get vaccinated,” said Jinan, a volunteer in Aleppo. Jinan noted another obstacle faced by the volunteers; the misperceptions of parents over the safety of the vaccinations.

“Parents were too scared to get their children vaccinated due to rumours,” she explained. “We clarified over and over again the credibility of the source and the importance of the polio vaccine until we convinced them.”

Despite challenges, these courageous and dedicated women are reaching out to as many mothers as possible – and getting them to vaccinate their children as a result.

A volunteer with UNICEF holds in-house sessions with mothers in Aleppo and distributes informative flyers on protection from polio. ©UNICEF Syria/2015

A volunteer with UNICEF holds in-house sessions with mothers in Aleppo and distributes informative flyers on protection from polio. ©UNICEF Syria/2015

“The most exciting thing is sharing your knowledge, then watching the mothers take actions based on it,” said Mariam, another community influencer in Aleppo. “One woman went and vaccinated her three children immediately after the information session”.

“Since the outbreak of polio in Syria in late 2013 that resulted in 36 recorded cases in the country, 15 massive vaccination campaigns supported by UNICEF have been rolled out combined with raising public awareness at the community level,” explained Hanaa Singer, UNICEF representative in Syria.

The campaigns reached more than 2.9 million children under the age of five across the country. Many were vaccinated several times. “We were able to reach some children living under siege or in areas hard-to-reach. However, we estimate that some 80,000 children continue to miss out on the life-saving vaccination,” warned Singer.

“Mothers listen and relate better to other mothers,” said Dr. Nidal Abou Rshaid, UNICEF immunization officer. “The volunteers’ role is extremely important because they are more capable of delivering the information.”

Yasmine Saker is a Communication and Reporting Consultant working with UNICEF Syria.

2015-07-17_Haiti_Artibonite_St Michel d'Attalye_ACF (52)

Tackling cholera in Haiti

A child fetches water from a local waterpoint.

A child fetches water from a local waterpoint. (c) UNICEF Haiti/2015/Walther

After recently spending 24 hours in Gonaives, Artibonite department, the link between water and health is once again engraved in my mind. The day – spent on the ground with UNICEF partner Action Against Hunger (ACF) in and around the commune of St Michel d’Attalye – illustrated the direct connection between safe water and cholera, between life and death like no infographic or report could.

Gonaives was the first place I visited after arriving in Haiti in September 2014. At the time, it was among the hotspots of the still ongoing cholera epidemic, with over 470 cases that month. Today the situation has calmed down all over the country with a 90 percent reduction in reported cases between 2014 (27,388) and 2011 (350,000). However, with an ambitious target of reaching less than 1,000 suspected cases a year (an incidence of <0.01%) to reach elimination by 2022, each confirmed cholera case is of concern.

This is particularly true in the capital Port-au-Prince and in the departments of North and Center which account for over half of all cases and where over 2,000 cases have already been observed for 2015 (nearly 6,000 in Port-au-Prince alone). In contrast, Artibonite has entered a quiet period, meaning that although cases continue to occur (an average of 55 cases a week), NGO partners can dedicate more attention to prevention and strengthening community-based response mechanisms to cholera alerts.

A group of children walk to collect water.

A group of children walk to collect water. (c) UNICEF Haiti/2015/Walther

The Haitian government and its partners, including UNICEF, implement a four-pronged approach to eliminate cholera in the country.

  • One: rapid response and investigation of all cholera alerts led by Ministry of Health emergency response teams (EMIRA) and supported by UN and NGO partners.
  • Two: complementary investments in the underlying structural causes of the epidemic, in particular access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation.
  • Three: strengthening of epidemiological surveillance (to control an epidemic it is crucial to have timely information about the number and location of cases) and the enhancement of health services at national and local levels.
  • Four: sensitization of individuals on good hygiene practices via mass media campaigns and face-to-face community outreach activities. Whenever possible community-based interventions are prioritized

When I visited Gonaives in September 2014 cholera agents of the ACF-team were working hand-in-hand with the EMIRA and other local government agents to ensure a professional response within 48 hours after each cholera alert. Once a patient was registered at a cholera treatment center (CTC) the agents’ task was to disinfect his/her home and to establish a ‘sanitary cordon’ (‘cordon sanitaire’) around the neighboring houses of the cholera patient – usually around ten houses. The latter involves disinfection of neighboring houses if required, sensitization activities, and provision all of cholera kits that contain a month’s supply of soap, water, chlorine tablets (to disinfect drinking water) and oral rehydration salts (to compensate lost minerals in case of diarrhea) to families.

An ACF agent conduct a refresher training for community volunteers.

An ACF agent conducts a refresher training for community volunteers. (c) UNICEF Haiti/2015/Walther

To ensure quick local response capacities, ACF is now benefitting from the relative calm to conduct prevention activities and to refine a mechanism of community-based agents, which may eventually replace the need for external assistance. In high-risk areas, ACF has trained community volunteers called ‘brigadiers’, who know how to prevent cholera and what to do when a case is registered. Besides, they are in charge of keeping their communities attentive to the risk of cholera and encouraging good hygiene practices and other preventative behaviors. This approach has a triple advantage. Being themselves from the communities the brigadiers know the area by heart, they have more credibility than outsiders, and they are on site when an outbreak occurs.

Currently, the cholera epidemic in Haiti remains an emergency with the acute risk of major outbreaks. In particular the current rainy season (which will last until November) makes experts itchy. The spike in cases last November illustrates the need for ongoing vigilance and rapid response. Despite continued progress against the disease, for a large part of the population the risk of cholera remains the same as in 2010. The localized epicenters of cholera outbreaks continue to be characterized by a lack of water and sanitation infrastructure, insufficient social services, and the high mobility of populations.

To break the chain of transmission and get rid of cholera in Haiti, clean water and sanitation together with improved hygiene behaviour are the key. Today’s challenge is to break the chain of transmission and to eliminate the remaining risk, once and for all.

Cornelia Walther is the Chief of Communication at UNICEF Haiti


Achta’s dream of education

With the security situation improving in some parts of the Central African Republic, plans are being made to restore access to education.

With the security situation improving in some parts of the Central African Republic, plans are being made to restore access to education. (c)UNICEF CAR /2015/Le Du

The 24th of July was a very sad day for Achta. The seventeen-year-old was sitting in her house, fretting over her dream of getting an education. She was supposed to take an entrance test for secondary school that day, but the exam was taking place on the other side of town, controlled by one of the armed groups active in CAR, the anti-Balaka. As a Muslim, she was afraid of going, for fear of being attacked.


Achta and Cecile. (c)UNICEF CAR

Then Achta heard a voice outside the house calling for her. Some people were looking for her. “I ran out of the house, and there I saw the principal of my school and a lady wearing a UNICEF t-shirt”, she recalls. “She told me I had to go to UN OCHA base the next morning at 7,” says Achta, “and that a car would pick me up, drive me to the school where the exams were taking place, and then drive me back home to safety when I was finished”.

“I cried with relief, and I prayed to God and asked him to bless this angel that had come to rescue me”, says Achta.

A few days later she got her results: she passed, and she will be going to secondary school next month.

The situation in CAR has developed from a silent emergency into a visible and complex humanitarian and protection crisis, as a result of a rebel offensive that began in December 2012 and a seizure of power in March 2013. Fighting in the capital reached a peak in December 2013 as armed and community-based self-defence groups calling themselves Anti-Balaka rose up in revenge against ex-Seleka, the rebel group who had orchestrated the coup nine months earlier. The violence spread out across the country, with large-scale human rights abuses committed on both sides, followed by a serious deterioration in the humanitarian situation.

Children at a temporary learning space.

Children at a temporary learning space. (c)UNICEF CAR/Logan

With hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by violence, and regular education services disrupted, UNICEF was able to set up temporary learning spaces for children. Now that the security situation is improving in many areas of the country, UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and partners are working towards ambitious programs that aim to rebuild the school system with funding from the European Union and the Global Partnership for Education.

In Batangafo, where Achta lives, the peak in violence was reached in June 2014, with clashes between ex-Seleka and Anti-Balaka armed groups. The town has now been divided for over a year, with most of the non-Muslim population (over 28.000 people) living either in an internally displaced persons camp, or in a small part of town, away from the Muslim population.

In August 2014, the Anti-Balaka armed groups attacked Achta’s neigborhood. Her father was killed. Her mother fled, her fate unknown to the girl until she got word that she had safely reached Cameroon. Achta then ended up living with her sister and grandparents. She would spend her days sitting in front of the house, selling peanuts and salt, in order to provide for the family.

Achta’s regular school had closed, because it was located in the ex-Seleka controlled part of town. Over the last few months Achta has been able to attend classes in one of the Temporary Learning Spaces set up by UNICEF and partners. However, the secondary school entrance exams were organised in one location only- and it was in the non-Muslim part of Batangafo. There was no way she could go there on her own.

Achta was doing well in school and her teacher knew it. I happened to be in Batangafo on that day, and he asked me if UNICEF could help. I will never forget her tears of joy when she finally found out she had passed. After months of suffering –and probably many more difficult times to come, being able to attend secondary school is giving Achta hope for the future.

Cecile Pango is an education officer working with UNICEF CAR focusing on Temporary Safe Learning Spaces.

Back in April, residents fill their containers with water at outdoor taps in Sana’a.

Checkpoints, water and the children of Yemen

A boy pushes a wheelbarrow filled with jerrycans in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen.

A boy pushes a wheelbarrow filled with jerrycans in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-1291/Yasin

My job is to ensure that more people have access to water and sanitation in Yemen, one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. After less than a month there, I had to leave Sana’a, along with other international United Nations colleagues, because of the escalation in conflict.

It is now the holy month of Ramadan and I’m back in Sana’a. Although it feels good to be back, my return comes with mixed feelings. The lively and bustling city that I left just three months ago is now deserted, except for the kilometres-long lines of cars waiting for petrol and the garbage piled up on the streets. We drive past a checkpoint, where I see a boy with a rifle, clearly too young to be holding a weapon. A bit further down the road, people queue up at a mosque to fill their jerry cans with water. Desperation is visible in their eyes.

The conflict in Yemen has brought the country to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. A colleague describes it as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. Schools, hospitals, roads and bridges are damaged, and public services have collapsed. Supplies of food, fuel and medicines are critically low, and the lack of safe water and proper sanitation poses serious health risks to millions of people.

It is clear that the people of Yemen are suffering and need urgent help. And that’s exactly why I came back. My team and I are working around the clock to provide children and their families affected by the conflict with clean water and basic hygiene kits that contain necessities like soap and jerry cans.

Back in April, residents fill their containers with water at outdoor taps in Sana’a.

Back in April, residents fill their containers with water at outdoor taps in Sana’a. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-0870/Hamoud

The United Nations estimates that 80 per cent of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance, a number that gives me goose bumps. But small things continue to inspire me, like the trucks on the streets of Sana’a that have started to collect garbage strewn all over, which has in part been possible because of UNICEF’s contribution of fuel to the local authorities. UNICEF is also providing fuel for over 10 cities in the country, to keep the pumps of the urban water systems operational, thereby reaching millions of people.

From time to time, emotions overwhelm me. Of course my heartbeat goes up when my bed shakes from the loud bombing nearby at night. But it affects me more when I get the news that a staff of one of our local partners was shot by a sniper while delivering water to a community, and another constructing latrines for displaced people was kidnapped for a week. At the same time, there are heroic stories of those involved in transporting supplies and fuel to pump water to areas where heavy conflict is ongoing, and where no assistance was able to reach before.

I feel a lot of respect for all of my Yemeni colleagues who continue to go out and serve those displaced while putting their lives at risk. Being back in Yemen has brought me closer to my team. I’ve begun to understand the difficult conditions people face every day, and that it hasn’t stopped us from planning big and going the extra mile. What if we could negotiate access to collect the solid waste in Aden, where a disease outbreak is looming? What if we could distribute hygiene kits to the people who are left behind in Sa’ada, because they have no means to leave the area?

Reaching these people is so important, because our biggest fear is that the children of Yemen won’t die of bullets and bombs, but of preventable diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia. In addition to medical services and vaccinations, providing clean water, a toilet and a piece of soap can literally save a child’s life. Even if the conflict rages on, and we are denied access time and again, we will continue to try to reach out to those most in need. But most importantly, we will continue to hope that one day this conflict will end and peace will return to the people of Yemen.

Marije Broekhuijsen works in Yemen as a UNICEF Water, Sanitation and Hygiene specialist. This post was written during the month of Ramadan.

Zainab [NAME CHANGED], 16, holds her hands in front of her, casting shadows on a sunlit wall, in a UNICEF-assisted transit centre for recently released former child soldiers, in the town of N’dele, capital of the northern Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. Wanting to avenge the death of her fiancé, Zainab joined an armed group but, once recruited, was frequently sexually abused by male soldiers. She is now recovering at the centre, where she receives basic business training to pursue her dream of owning a restaurant.

A day of rage

Friday was a particularly hard day. Work interspersed with outrage.

No, not outrage. Simple rage. Because, among other issues, we were focused on various reports of rape. The terrible rape and enslavement of women and girls in Iraq. The horrific rape of a twelve-year-old in the Central African Republic. Sexual violence against humanitarian workers. We could go on and on.

There is a “new normal” in the world: The ugly spread of conflicts and violence in every region, against which the capacity of the humanitarian response does not keep pace, despite the efforts of people and governments of good will.

Zainab [NAME CHANGED], 16, holds her hands in front of her, casting shadows on a sunlit wall, in a UNICEF-assisted transit centre for recently released former child soldiers, in the town of N’dele, capital of the northern Bamingui-Bangoran Prefecture. Wanting to avenge the death of her fiancé, Zainab joined an armed group but, once recruited, was frequently sexually abused by male soldiers. She is now recovering at the centre, where she receives basic business training to pursue her dream of owning a restaurant.

Zainab*, 16, stands in a UNICEF-assisted transit centre for recently released former child soldiers in Central African Republic. © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0884/Sokol

But the sexual abuse of women, girls and boys in conflicts is anything but “new.” And we must no longer think of it in any way, as “normal.”

Women and girls have long been seen as one of the spoils of war. There is a reason that “pillage” is preceded by “rape” when we read of the past destruction of castles and cities by victorious armies.

In the earliest days of Rome, when the Sabines refused to provide their women as wives for the Romans, the latter simply seized them.

Even ancient religious texts, reflecting the outlook of the men who wrote them and their times, today still give the perverted a veneer of morality for their brutality. As reported by The New York Times on Thursday, those carrying out the systematic enslavement and rape of women and girls in Iraq are “justifying” their acts by texts from the Quran.

Before non-Muslims pass judgment, they should recall that the ancient texts of other religions could similarly be misused. Moses told his men after a battle, as recorded in Numbers 31:17-18: “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known a man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.” In other words, enslave the virgins.

No one of any good sense and sensibility should take such passages as religious instruction or absolution for such vile acts. But such texts show that rape is not an aberration; it is the most outrageous result of the historic lens through which men have seen women — as possessions.

The ancient code of conduct for Hindus, the Manusmriti, repeatedly views women in this way. For example, “Pita rakhshati …..” — 9/3. “Since women are not capable of living independently she is to be kept under the custody of her father as child, under her husband as a woman and under her son as widow.” Possessions with which he/they can do as they please. An attitude that can have terrible consequences.

Women stand in a shelter for girls and women who have endured sexual and gender-based violence, in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Women stand in a shelter for girls and women who have endured sexual and gender-based violence, in Mogadishu, Somalia. © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0712/Holt

Consider this one vile statistic from the United Nations: Worldwide, it is estimated that one in five women will become a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.

The hard fact is that we don’t have hard facts about the numbers of women and children suffering sexual violence in conflicts. It is certainly many more than one in five.

It is estimated that over 200,000 women have suffered from sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo since armed conflict began there. Somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 women were reportedly raped during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In Bosnia, at least 20,000 women are believed to have been raped or suffered sexual violence during that conflict, although the true number will probably never be known. It is hard to even find an estimate of the women and girls raped in Darfur. A partial list of a global horror.

Women and girls are not only seen as the spoils of war and conflict, but their rape has been used as an instrument of war to terrorize populations and enemies into surrender and submission. They become the particular victims of genocide.

So on Friday, as we worked on speeding up our internal reporting procedures at UNICEF — both about alleged cases of sexual violence and about the work our colleagues in the field are doing to help care for the victims — we felt again our rage. Not only at how so many women and children are violated. But, at how, after so many centuries, we human beings continue to violate our own best hopes for ourselves.

In the end, while we in the United Nations — and many others — struggle with complex legal issues and procedural efficiencies, what matters most is that all of us avoid the moral numbness that can come with the statistics and stories of sexual abuse — and feel, instead, a rage for action.

Anthony Lake is Executive Director of UNICEF. Geeta Rao Gupta is a Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.

This blog post was published by The Huffington Post on 17 August 2015.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.


#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.



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.



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.



Jaime Archundia es Responsable de Innovación de UNICEF México

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(From left to right) Mbasa Mengzuva, 14, Gcobisa Maroloma, 12 and Anathi Mlengana, 13 are amongst the best students of the Bijolo School situated in a disadvantaged rural area in Eastern Cape, South Africa.  Each of the three friends has a dream that they hope to achieve through education. Mbasa wants to become a pilot, Anathi – a writer and Gcobisa hopes one day to work with technologies. 

The Bijolo School, providing quality education to over 400 students per year, is part of a project launched in 2005 by the Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development, with the support of the Schools for Africa initiative and UNICEF. The Nelson Mandela Institute works closely with 120 teachers across Eastern Cape to design, build, distribute and test in their practice pedagogical tools for children in rural areas. As part of the methodology the children are also able to learn in their native Xhosa language, which significantly increased the school results. In addition, the Bijolo School was also entirely rehabilitated and furnished with suitable school material.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda: strengths, weaknesses, and the way ahead

On the evening of July 15th negotiators reached agreement on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. The Action Agenda outlines an ambitious roadmap for the implementation of the sustainable development goals and will influence the work of governments, development experts and other stakeholders for years to come. We would like to share with you a review of strengths and weaknesses of the document and suggested follow-up activities. The key paragraphs for children are listed at the bottom of the email.  The full Addis Action Agenda can be found here.

Strong points

From development finance to sustainable development finance: With the Addis Action Agenda sustainable and inclusive development truly moves to the centre of development finance. Compared to previous Financing for Development agreements the document outlines a more comprehensive and forward-looking development agenda, including goals to end poverty and hunger, protect the environment, and promote inclusive economic growth and social inclusion (para 1). The Agenda also recognizes the importance of aligning climate, humanitarian and development finance (62-66).

Investing in children is identified as an integral part of the sustainable development agenda: The outcome document (paragraph 7), establishes a clear link between investing in children and the Post-2015 agenda’s overall goal of achieving inclusive and sustainable growth (‘we recognize that investing in children and youth is critical to achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development for present and future generations’). Contrary to previous agreements of Monterrey and Doha, children are no longer viewed as passive recipients of social support but as agents of future growth and development.

A ‘holistic’ approach to achieving wellbeing for children: The Action Agenda makes progress by recognizing the multidimensionality of poverty. It also outlines an approach to child wellbeing that extends far beyond what would normally be expected of a document primarily concerned with questions of development finance. Several paragraphs make reference to ‘systemic’ issues, such as enforcing respect of children’s rights in the private and business sector (37), rights of child migrants (111) and tackling violence against children (112). These references complement multiple commitments to invest in basic services and social protection ‘floors’ with a specific focus on the needs of children, youth, and other ‘vulnerable’ groups (12, 77, 78, 114).

Improved data and monitoring: Member States agree to ‘increase and use high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by sex, age’, and other socioeconomic categories relevant in national contexts (126). Signatories also pledge to support civil registration and vital statistics systems and to ensure broad access to the tools necessary to turn data into useful, actionable information (128). These commitments will help continue the data revolution for children which –in many countries- effectively started with the systematic collection of administrative data and surveys like MICS, DHS and Living Standard Measurement Surveys. In addition, the Agenda makes progress by shifting the focus to data literacy, better integration of different data sources, and improved use of evidence for policy making.

Three students from the Bijolo School situated in a disadvantaged rural area in Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Three students from the Bijolo School situated in a disadvantaged rural area in Eastern Cape, South Africa. © UNICEF/PFPG2015-3304/Miltcheva


FfD – Means of Implementation for the SDGs? With negotiations on SDG goals and targets progressing in parallel, FfD was increasingly expected to provide a strong working definition of the Means Of Implementation for the SDG agenda. Does the outcome document deliver on this goal? Yes and no. On the one hand, developing countries managed to inscribe references to international coordination and financial and technical support in areas like fighting corruption and illicit finance, scaling up infrastructure investments, and knowledge and technology transfer. On the other hand developed countries often pushed back firmly against the creation of new and potentially costly institutional mechanisms and partnerships for the SDGs. The result is often vague language to ‘explore’ (rather than ‘implement’) new partnerships.[1] The document is also studded with commitments to address developing country concerns through existing institutions and coordination bodies, such as the IMF, World Bank Group. Whether these commitments will be sufficient to bridge political divides in FfD will depend on the extent to which future reforms move beyond the current status quo to allow developing countries greater participation in the governance mechanisms of these institutions.

Spending commitments: Addis was never meant to be a pledging conference; however, what was agreed remained below expectations of even seasoned negotiators (including in particular the Addis co-chairs). Ambitious numeric targets on domestic spending, tax collection and ODA included in the first (‘zero’) draft were struck down in the early phases of negotiations by a large coalition of developed and developing countries. Most targets are now expressed in non-numeric terms and are thus harder to monitor (e.g. paras on domestic tax reform). Others are formulated as voluntary commitments. For example for ODA, one of the few remaining numeric targets, the document ‘reaffirms the commitment by many developed countries to achieve the target of 0.7 per cent of ODA/GNI’ and ‘welcomes’ the unilateral decision by the European Union to do so within the time frame of the post-2015 agenda. ODA targets to Least Developed Countries further remain below the current share of approximately a third of total ODA allocated to LDCs (the document speaks of allocating 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of ODA/GNI to LDCs).

Illicit finance and tax cooperation: Developing countries fought long and hard to rectify illicit outflows of resources and tax evasion by calling for a new and stronger UN body for tax coordination that would allow for stronger representation of developing countries’ interests than existing mechanisms within the OECD. The deal they got – an increased frequency of meetings of the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters of two meetings a year – falls behind this target. However, it is worth noting that also developing countries resisted new commitments to raise domestic tax to GDP ratios or make the use of public revenues more effective and equitable (for example, a commitment to phase out harmful fuel subsidies was only adopted after long and painful discussions). Looking forward, progress on tax matters will require stronger political commitments from both developed and developing countries.

Lack of concrete information on the interaction between ODA and climate and humanitarian finance: Although environmental and humanitarian concerns are addressed head-on in the Action Agenda, negotiators were often cautious not to forestall debates with more direct mandates on these issues, including the COP 21 in Paris and the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. This left gaps on important questions, such as whether the international public response to climate change and humanitarian disasters would be financed from ODA or additional resources and the appropriate level of burden sharing between developed and developing countries. As it stands, the Addis document outlines broad principles of climate, development and humanitarian finance, with more concrete agreements and commitments to follow from the climate and humanitarian tracks of Post-2015 negotiations.

What’s next?

Once negotiations have concluded on the parallel track on SDG goals and targets, attention will shift to the country level. UNICEF can make progress here by focusing advocacy and support on nationally appropriate targets and implementation plans. Without claim for completeness, at least four priorities can come to mind:

  • Identify domestic investment plans and spending targets that reach beyond general commitments identified by the Addis action agenda: Through UNICEF’s work with governments, we know that increased investments in children’s development are possible, even in environments with constrained fiscal space. UNICEF country teams can build on these experiences to advocate for strong national commitments to invest in essential services for children. Sharing of experiences and information across countries can also encourage reforms within practical reach of governments.
  • Support child-focused data collection and analysis: The need for improved data and monitoring is now widely acknowledged among relevant actors. Resulting political support should be used to advocate for the closing of remaining data gaps. In countries that are already well into the data revolution the priority is probably not the collection of just more data, but of improved analysis and integration of existing data sets. For example, UNICEF in the context of FfD could engage more in the integrated analysis of administrative and household expenditure data to better understand the distribution of the benefits of public spending across relevant groups and children. Other important aspects include improved disaggregation of poverty data by gender and age at country and global levels. Joint work in these areas is already ongoing in the World Bank and UNICEF.
  • Mainstream work in country offices around FfD and the SDGs objectives: Existing UNICEF country programmes provide several entry points for child-related priorities identified in the Action Agenda. For example, policy advice and budget analysis leverages and fosters equity-focused public investments in children; advocacy for child rights under the CRC relates to FfD commitments for children around private finance and migration; while future work under the planned global Child Protection partnership will address violence against children head-on. All of these actions can be aligned and, where necessary, reinforced to directly support national FfD and SDG implementation plans.
  • Explore new and innovative approaches to raise additional resources for children: The organization already works on several innovative approaches to expand available financing for children. Examples where UNICEF is actively participating include the Bridge Fund of the US Fund for UNICEF to accelerate access to life-saving assistance to children in need around the world, and Power of Nutrition, which is a catalytic fund to scale-up finance from public-private sources for high-impact nutrition programmes in collaboration with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation as lead and the World Bank. In addition, UNICEF is working with key partners and the World Bank, such as in the country-based Water Finance Facilities (water banks). This instrument aims to pool investment opportunities or “blended funding” (domestic public and private with international public resources, including loans, grants, bonds, tariff and taxes) for WASH programmes.

By Olav Kjorven, Director of Public Partnerships Division; Nalinee Nippita, Senior Adviser, Multilateral & Intergovernmental Partnerships; and Frank-Borge Wietzke, Public Partnership Specialist.


Key paragraphs on children in the Addis Action Agenda
1 – Opening paragraph: sustainable growth and children. “We will promote peaceful and inclusive societies and advance fully towards an equitable global economic system in which no country or person is left behind, enabling decent work and productive livelihoods for all, while preserving the planet for our children and future generations.”

7 – Investing in children. “We recognize that investing in children and youth is critical to achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development for present and future generations, and we recognize the need to support countries that face particular challenges to make the requisite investments in this area. We reaffirm the vital importance of promoting and protecting the rights of all children, and ensuring that no child is left behind.”
12 – Social protection and essential public services for all. “To end poverty in all its forms everywhere and finish the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals, we commit to a new social compact. In this effort, we will provide fiscally sustainable and nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, with a focus on those furthest below the poverty line and the vulnerable, persons with disabilities, indigenous persons, children, youth and older persons.”

37 –Child labor issues and Convention on the Rights of the Child. “We will foster a dynamic and well-functioning business sector, while protecting labour rights and environmental and health standards in accordance with relevant international standards and agreements, such as the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and the labour standards of the ILO, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and key multilateral environmental agreements, for parties to these agreements.”

77 – Multi-stakeholder partnerships for health, including for women and children. “We welcome innovative approaches to catalyse additional domestic and international private and public resources for women and children, who have been disproportionately affected by many health issues, including the expected contribution of the Global Financing Facility in support of Every Woman, Every Child.”

78 – Education. “We recognize the importance for achieving sustainable development of delivering quality education to all girls and boys. This will require reaching children living in extreme poverty, children with disabilities, migrant and refugee children, and those in conflict and post-conflict situations, and providing safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all. We will scale up investments and international cooperation to allow all children to complete free, equitable, inclusive and quality early childhood, primary and secondary education, including through scaling-up and strengthening initiatives, such as the Global Partnership for Education. We commit to upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and increasing the percentage of qualified teachers in developing countries, including through international cooperation, especially in least developed countries and Small Island Developing States.”

111 – Migrants. “We reaffirm the need to promote and protect effectively the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, especially those of women and children, regardless of their migration status.”

112 – Violence. “We will strengthen regional, national and subnational institutions to prevent all forms of violence, combat terrorism and crime, and end human trafficking and exploitation of persons, in particular women and children, in accordance with international human rights law.”

114 – Access to technology and science. “We will promote access to technology and science for women, youth and children. We will further facilitate accessible technology for persons with disabilities.”

126 – Disaggregated data by age. “We will seek to increase and use high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by sex, age, geography, income, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.”

2015-06-23_Haiti_Jacmel_Dieulande (75)_edited

Putting the spotlight on children’s lives in Haiti

11-year-old Djolanda sits outside her home.

11-year-old Djolanda sits outside her home. (c) UNICEF Haiti/2015/Walther

Jacmel, in Haiti’s South East and its surroundings are a picture of Caribbean beauty, with white beaches, azure-blue ocean, and dazzling sunshine. On the other hand and in the midst of this tropical treasure, children and their families struggle every single day to make ends meet.

I was recently in Jacmel to visit the Cine Institute, a Haiti-based organization that trains young Haitians who aspire to become film-makers. It is the only film academy in Haiti and it is bursting with talent. The partnership that brings UNICEF and the Cine Institute together is new and exciting in its approach because it seeks to place children’s voices at the center of storytelling. Our shared ambition is to put the spotlight on those who usually live at the margins of society, and yet who master every single day with bravery and imagination.

Weeks of scouting by the film-makers resulted in a whole list of prospective stories illustrating the resilience of Haitian children when faced with challenges. Edile (13) and Djolanda (11) were chosen for the video project that will be the beginning of a new storytelling philosophy. Their living conditions are a far cry from the principles that are enshrined in the International Convention of the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by Haiti 20 years ago, declaring that children must have access to everything they need to survive and thrive.

13-year-old Edile makes his way home.

13-year-old Edile makes his way home. (c) UNICEF Haiti/2015/Walther

Every child has the right to go to school and to play, they have the right to not be enrolled in labor. Yet while we can never condone that children are working, we must be aware that this remains the reality for thousands of children today. Awareness is the first step to change and UNICEF is working hand-in-hand with the Government towards a country where the words of the Convention become tangible. Edile’s and Djolanda’s stories illustrate that we must push further.

Who are they?

Edile stays with his father and his sister, who lives with disability. His mother left the family two years ago and has since re-married. Suffering from hypertension since having a stroke in 2013, his father is no longer able to work. To contribute to the meager family income, Edile decided to make some money by working three half-days in the neighborhood bakery.

Edile and his father sit outside their house.

Edile and his father. (c) UNICEF Haiti/2015/Walther

With his small earnings, he manages to take care of his father and to put some money aside for schooling. It is tough, and he missed the last school year due to insufficient funds, yet he keeps trying, every single day, aware that education is crucial for his future. His dream is to become an agronomist. “So many people go hungry here. I want to feed the country,” he says. “I hope that adults who see this video will do more to bring all children into school.”

Djolanda’s father abandoned the family when she was very young. Her mother raised the girl and her brother on her own, on a very tight budget. Djolanda matured quickly through witnessing her mother’s struggles for years. She is concerned for her mom and feels that she must learn to help provide for the family. Every day she goes to school, giving her best to be the best. But she does not stop there. Persisting in her quest, she found a local association which teaches sewing classes for adults and signed up.

The inside of Djolanda's home.

The inside of Djolanda’s home. (c) UNICEF Haiti/2015/Walther

Every evening after school, Djolanda is learning dressmaking, surrounded by women in their 40s and 50s. She has been enrolled in the course for several months now and already made a number of dresses, including her school uniforms. Djolanda has two dreams: she want to become a nurse to help people who are sick, and she aspires to save enough money to build a house for her mother. “My mom is the only one who takes care of us. I am worried about her health. There is a lot of disease around here..”

Edile and Djolanda are just two of many, yet they exemplify the courage and hope that propel Haitians at all ages forward. They do not wait for help. And yet they have the right to get as much support as possible. To bring children like Edile and Djolanda further on the way towards education, health and happiness we must do whatever we can. Every girl and every boy has the same rights, no matter where s/he was born and lives. The story of poverty and inequality sounds different from their perspective; because the narrative changes – from misery to hope, inspiring action, not pity.

Please stay posted for updates and the finalized videos.

Cornelia Walther is the Chief of Communication at UNICEF Haiti