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A Delicate Balance: protecting and empowering young people in South Asia

(22 May 2018) UNICEF’s latest Strategic Plan explicitly prioritises the crucial second decade: adolescence. This is a period of huge vulnerability and a great opportunity to make investments that can pay enormous dividends today as well as for future generations. However, in order for adolescents to thrive and reach their full potential, legal and policy frameworks must be improved to ensure all children’s rights are respected and protected. Adolescent girls run and play kabaddi in the playground of the Government Middle School in Badhwa, India.  A recent report, Realising an Enabling Environment for Adolescent Wellbeing: An Inventory of Laws and Policies for Adolescents in South Asia, provides an overview of these essential frameworks (through 2016) and how they relate to adolescents’ evolving capacities. The inventory, compiled by UNICEF Innocenti’s Elena Camilletti, provides a platform for policy makers and programmers to understand what has been enacted in the South Asian region. It also provides analysis of what can be further improved in order to bring legal and policy frameworks in line with international standards to ensure adolescents can fulfil their potential, make decisions and participate fully in society.With 340 million adolescents in South Asia, there are more young people living here than in any other region in the world. India alone is home to more than 250 million adolescents. This stock-taking exercise of eight South Asian countries - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka - sheds light on the similarities and differences among these countries regarding the translation of international human rights law into national normative frameworks. Nine domains of child rights are examined: political rights; protection; education; health; marriage; protection from child labour; social protection; digital rights; equality and non-discrimination. Research has revealed that this transformative period offers a unique window of opportunity to influence the development and outcomes of children and young people. The delicate balance between protection and empowerment presents a challenge unique to this increasingly independent age group. Laws and policies, then, must strike a balance between protecting adolescents from vulnerabilities and risks, while recognising their growing autonomy and capacity to make responsible decisions. The study reveals that this challenge can result in incoherent legislation, including loopholes that raise concerns over the effective protection of adolescents as well as opportunities for their empowerment.Commenting on the results, Elena Camilletti observes that “grey areas are exposed throughout the analysis. In some countries and in some of the nine domains of rights examined, the policy and legal frameworks don’t clearly contradict international standards, but they also do not enable adolescents to thrive.” Laws and policies are not always enacted in a coherent and integrated way, for example discrepancies exist between the minimum age for the end of compulsory education and the minimum age for admission to employment. This is important, as the issues affecting adolescents are complex and intertwined and thus call for policy action across multiple lines. Significant exceptions in laws and policies, for example in relation to early marriage, similarly limit their effectiveness. There are examples of outright contraventions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child with some minimum age requirements lower than those prescribed.The table shows selected laws and policies, and compares these national provisions with international standards. Cells are coloured according to whether a country’s legal and policy frameworks are fully in line with international standards, including by providing specific protections for adolescents (green), partially in line with them (yellow) or clearly contravene them (red). Grey cells denote frameworks for which there are no clear requirements in international law, or for which no information was found. “Each country has made efforts to meet minimum international standards, but each country also has a lot left to do” according to Camilletti. “In particular, improvements can be made in the protective sphere, for example doing more to protect adolescents from exploitation.” She also stresses the importance of appropriate and coherent laws and policies which consider adolescent rights in their indivisible entirety.This study is a first step towards understanding the legal coverage for the protection and empowerment of adolescents in specific institutional contexts. Recognizing that implementation gaps (the effective coverage) can undermine legal protection, this report calls for future studies to explore laws and policies in practice, where the interpretation, enactment and enforcement may influence the fulfilment of rights for adolescents. Another consideration is how adolescents themselves perceive these laws. Parallel UNICEF initiatives, including Latin America and the Caribbean region’s study on legal minimum ages and the Europe and Central Asia region’s Age matters! Project conducted by Youth Policy Labs, are exploring these questions in different contexts and helping to fill evidence gaps in the area.The eight countries analysed share some cultural, political and social similarities, yet are at the same time incredibly diverse. Beyond human rights codified by international standards, the Sustainable Development Goals are an opportunity for the governments of these countries to systematically address development issues and work towards the 2030 deadline. The interests of young people are represented in many of these goals, targets, and indicators. With this in mind, national laws and policies, in addition to programmes and interventions, must be advanced to better protect and empower adolescents.
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Could families be the key to achieving the SDGs?

(18 May 2018) The family is the fundamental social unit of all modern societies. We learn to communicate, to empathise, to compromise within these small, vital social structures. The importance of the family is reflected in national public policies, such as child allowances and paternity leave, which focus on family policies as a way to improve the living standards of future generations. Thus, families, and the national policies that support them, play an important role in national efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).Former UN Secretary General in 2010 stated that “the very achievement of development goals depends on how well families are empowered to contribute to the achievement of those goals. Thus, policies focusing on improving the well-being of families are certain to benefit development.”Djénéba Diarra, her husband Mamadou Doumbia and their daughters Sitan Doumbia, 5, and Assitan Doumbia, 3 months, in Baraouéli village, Ségou Region, Mali.  Given these realities, understanding how families contribute to social progress is key to finding the most effective route to achieving the SDGs. Despite this, global data on families is lacking, prompting the UN Secretary General in 2014 to call on governments and relevant stakeholders to “support data collection and research on family issues and the impact of public policy on families and invest in family-oriented policy and programme design, implementation and evaluation.”In response, a team of family policy experts, including Dominic Richardson, UNICEF Innocenti’s Education Officer, have compiled a synthesis Report “Key Findings on Families, Family Policy and the Sustainable Development Goals” to analyse how these policies are being used to meet the SDGs. The project calls on policymakers, practitioners and the general public to act.The report summarises the evidence across six SDGs: poverty; health; education; gender equality; youth unemployment; and ending violence - all of which can be positively impacted by well-designed family-focused policies. By analyzing over 150 quality-assured family policy studies, evaluations and literature reviews, every region of the world is covered, with the sole exception of the Middle East.Promising PracticesEvidence across the six SDGs shows that family-focused interventions are often positively evaluated, with desired effects on family outcomes being achieved to varying degrees in the majority of cases across all goals. However, there is no ‘silver bullet’ in family policy or programme design. Instead, aspects of different policies are shown to be effective when designed for a specific purpose. Additionally, implementation choices impact results, including where the policies are hosted and who is involved in their application. Efficiencies in Complementary Goals Spill-over effects of policies from one SDG to another were observed. For example, well-designed family poverty interventions have positive spill-overs into education and health. This indicates opportunities for optimizing effects within and across social progress measures by integrating policy portfolios. Equally, poorly-designed policies can negatively impact the outcomes in other goal areas, highlighting the need to consider the order of interventions. For example, efforts to address employment outcomes for women will be sub-optimal whilst gender inequality in leave entitlements continue to exist.Considerations for PolicymakersThe report highlights key messages for each individual goal, as well as cross-goal considerations for policymakers and practitioners. Firstly, the review clearly shows the need for more data on the family. National and international organisations can work together to build the evidence base, and in doing so, support evidence-informed family policy, cross-sector integration, and implementation strategies.Secondly, policymakers and practitioners should recognize that, although global goals are the same, a family policy will not work in the same way in different contexts. This indicates a need for further evidence on the scalability and transfer of family policies. Comparative studies, including this report, can only provide an indication of potentially effective practices rather than a prescription for action. Finally, evidence shows that family environments can be the cause of and solution to negative social outcomes. Practitioners working with families should be conscious of the important role played by family professionals, early interventions, and family involvement in physical and mental health treatment.Father Dejan, mother Stefana, son Filip (4 years) spend time together in their home in Belgrade, Serbia.  The study highlights the importance of working for families, and with families, in order to meet the SDGs. Efficiencies in complementary goals show that even single-purpose policies can achieve multiple goals. As an elementary social unit, the progress of families will inevitably influence the progress of the societies in which they are part. Those seeking to meet the SDGs should not underestimate the role of strong families as enabling agents for achieving the SDGs. 
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The Breastfeeding Paradox

(11 May 2018) This Mother’s Day, UNICEF is calling attention to the importance of breastfeeding, particularly in high-income countries. A UNICEF report released yesterday, Breastfeeding: A Mother’s Gift to Every Child, reveals that worldwide, approximately 7.6 million babies a year are not breastfed.
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Facilitator Feedback: the key to programme success?

(18 April 2018) A recent UNICEF Innocenti paper, Delivering a Parenting Programme in Rural South Africa: The Local Child and Youth Care Worker Experience, explores the perceptions and experiences of parenting programme facilitators in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The qualitative study builds on previous quantitative research and helps answer the question: How effective is parenting support in reducing violence? Anyone who has ever had a teenager living under their roof understands that raising adolescents can be a challenge. These difficulties become even more pronounced in vulnerable communities, such as the Eastern Cape in South Africa. In 2012, 49% of households in this region had no employed adult, with 80% of children living in income poverty. 33% of children were not living with their biological parents. The area had the highest percentage of assaults in South Africa in 2016. Despite these figures, the Eastern Cape provincial government is committed to change and has invested in community-owned parenting programmes. Child maltreatment is a serious public health problem. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse affects an estimated 95 million children across the world every year. The high prevalence and seriousness of child maltreatment has resulted in a growing interest in parenting programmes. These preventative interventions can improve child and adolescent well-being by increasing positive parenting leading to reduced violence in the home. “SinovuyoTeen Parent Programme” is one such programme.The programme was the result of a collaborative effort between multiple bodies. Child and Youth Care workers of the Isibindi programme were trained by Clowns without Borders to facilitate SinovuyoTeen Parent Programme in 2014. A recent Innocenti study describes the perceptions and experiences of the SinovuyoTeen facilitators. The publication forms part of a suite of papers emanating from an exploration of the effectiveness and scalability of a parenting programme in South Africa. A pre-post study, conducted in 2014, quantifiably revealed the positive impact of SinovuyoTeen in the Eastern Cape, including reducing child abuse and improving positive parenting. This study complements the quantitative results with the narratives of the programme facilitators, without whom the programme could not have been offered.CARE WORKERS: THE KEY TO PROGRAMME SUCCESSThe analysis of focus group discussions revealed four consistent themes:Programme ownership and adaptations:  facilitators provided recommendations, including content adaptions and logistical suggestions.Professional synergies: complementarity existed between traditional child and youth work tasks and SinovuyoTeen activities.Value of trust between child and youth care workers: facilitators had a pre-existing level of trust with the families who benefitted from the programme owing to their child and youth care work in the community.Personal impact on the facilitators as parents: facilitators themselves reported a positive impact on interactions with their own children.These results culminate to highlight the importance of understanding and considering the perceptions and experiences of the facilitators who deliver a parenting programme. Their accounts can contribute to programme improvement, ensuring cultural acceptability and logistical viability, prior to scaling-up the initiative. Additionally, involving facilitators in programme adaptation increases their sense of ownership of the programme, which can in turn affect successful programme delivery.A group of children and adults in a National Association of Childcare Workers (NACCW) safe park in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Complementing previous work, this study revealed insights that were best captured through qualitative methods, especially focus group discussions among facilitators. This is particularly significant when considering the vital, multi-dimensional role facilitators played in testing SinovuyoTeen while continuing their family support work.“The value of our qualitative work was to hear the voices of a range of people involved,” says Heidi Loening-Voysey, UNICEF Innocenti’s Research and Evaluation Specialist (Child Protection). “You can get a sense of how their professional and personal lives have changed as a result of the programme.” Follow UNICEF Innocenti on Twitter and Facebook to be informed when the full suite of studies is released. You can also view other content related to this topic in the column on the right. Find out more about the World Health Organisation’s Parenting for Lifelong Health programme here. 
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UNICEF RESEARCH BLOGS

30.6 million new internal displacements in 2017, children are among the most vulnerable

by Vicente Anzellini, Bina D'Costa
(2018-05-17) This week, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) launched its 2018 Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID 2018), which presents data and ...

A ‘toxic cocktail’: How life on the margins can exacerbate children’s vulnerability to violence

by Alina Potts, Lanie Stockman
(2018-04-06) For too many children, the places where they should feel safe—at home, at school, in their communities—are the first and most frequent sites of violence. The ...
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INNOCENTI blogs

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