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The Adolescent Brain: A second window of opportunity

With 1.2 billion adolescents under its global mandate, it is crucial for UNICEF to identify the right periods or “windows of opportunities” for cost-efficient, scalable interventions to improve adolescent well-being. Over the past decade, a growing body of scientific knowledge has improved understanding of how experience and environment combine with genetics to shape the adolescent brain. Advances in neuroscience reveal that the adolescent brain is still a work in progress, offering a crucial second window of opportunity to influence the development of children in their second decade of life.In The Adolescent Brain: A second window of opportunity, a new compendium publication produced by UNICEF Innocenti, eight experts in adolescent neuroscience present emerging findings from their research. Using accessible language, the main aim of the publication is to foster better collaboration between the scientific research community and social service providers to better counteract the effects of trauma and vulnerabilities and lay a better foundation for optimal adolescent development. The compendium builds on the discussions initiated at the 2016 symposium of the same name hosted at UNICEF headquarters, where presenters delivered their findings to review the state of science related to adolescent brain.“Evidence from neuroscience.” said Nikola Balvin, one of the UNICEF Innocenti editors, “was really important to galvanizing support for early childhood development investments, for changes in policies, interventions for young children. With this compendium, we are building on what we know from early childhood development and early investments made during that period, to understand better what is going on in the brain of adolescents”.The commentaries summarize the positive and negative impacts on brain development, including the effects of poverty, violence, stress, technology, but also socio-emotional learning, stress management, nutrition, counselling and positive relationships.Ron Dahl, University of California, Berkeley at the Adolescent Neuroscience Symposium at UNICEF in New York, United States.Ron Dahl and Ahna Suleiman, from the University of California Berkeley, focus on early adolescence and highlight the transition from childhood to puberty as an experience leading not just to physiological changes, but also to structural remodeling and neuronal reconfiguring of the adolescent brain, with particular impact on neural circuits involved in processing emotions, risks, rewards and social relationships. Behavioral and emotional patterns experienced across adolescence can spiral into positive or negative outcomes as a result of complex interactions of social, emotional, psychological, behavioral and neuro-developmental processes.Suparna Choudhury from McGill University, discusses the concept of ‘situated brain’ and reflects on the influence of culture on the development of the adolescent brain, challenging the culture/brain dichotomy as false. On the one hand the human brain is a fundamentally social brain which has evolved to have a biological preparedness to negotiate complex social groups and acquire culture; on the other hand, culture and biology interact to create different experiences of what can be considered ‘biological processes’. [Watch the entire UNICEF Adolescent Brain Neuroscience Symposium here]The development of neuroimaging has advanced the ability to assess dynamic processes in the brain related to behavior. Recent brain imaging research shows that adolescence is characterized by a dual system in which adolescents display an adult level of cognitive reasoning which is often stifled by motivation towards immediate rewards. However, Beatriz Luna from the University of Pittsburgh highlights that outcomes cannot be determined by developmental science only, and that the tendency of adolescents to seek immediate rewards and social advantages should inform practices relevant to education and health for durable and positive outcomesAccess UNICEF Innocenti's well-known series of research methods briefs focusing on adolescents in low- and middle-income countries Neuroscience has often been criticized for missing causal evidence, and providing only correlational evidence. The commentary by Kimberly Noble from the Columbia University tries to debunk this belief by presenting the first ever randomized experiment testing the causal connections between poverty reduction and brain development. A longitudinal study tracking low-income families in the US will assess the causal impact of unconditional cash transfer on cognitive and brain development of children through adolescence and beyond.  With poverty affecting one billion children and adolescents across the globe, disentangling links between socio-economic disparities, experiences and brain development represent a critical priority for future research to maximize the potential of adolescents with policy programming and advocacy.“Because we are interested in holistic approach to adolescent well-being” Nikola Balvin says “neuroscience helps to understand what happens in adolescent brains and how programmes and policies we advocate for can respond to that”.The effects of stress on well-being and mental health of children and adolescents are reviewed in the commentary of Sonia Lupien from the University of Montreal. She describes how the developing brain is particularly sensitive to the effects of stress with a chronic production of stress hormones affecting learning, memory, emotional processing and mental health.Resiliency programmes which help children to cope with biological and environmental stressors can lead to great benefits in physiology and mental health. Elizabeth Ward, chairperson of Violence Prevention Alliance in Jamaica illustrates the benefits of programmes like BALANCE which assist adolescents to un-learn and re-learn behaviors that minimize risk-taking activities.On a related subject, the advantages of mindfulness meditation are highlighted by Yi-Yuan Tang from the Texas Tech University, a low cost and effective intervention which can support building self-control of cognitive, affective and social capacities in adolescentsFinally, Melina Uncapher from the University of California shares her research on action video games and other interaction with technology. A growing body of evidence from neuroscience and behavioral science proves that playing action video games has beneficial effects on the adolescent brain, including improving decision making; speed of processing; ability to overcome attention capture; ability to remember visual information and multi-tasking ability. However, the positive effects of such games must be balanced with their potential negative effects such as aggressive thoughts, and lack of exercise, social engagement and interaction with the natural environment. A healthy “technology diet” is necessary. As research on the impact of technology on developing brains is still recent, much more research is needed to understand how, when, where and in what combinations technology consumption can be beneficial or harmful for adolescent brains.The compendium has been designed to encourage further dialogue to bring neuroscience research to bear on programme interventions and public policies for adolescents. 
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‘Solutions Summit’ Highlights Need for Research to End Violence by 2030

(20 February 2018) Global leaders and researchers gathered in Stockholm last week for the first Agenda 2030 Solutions Summit to End Violence Against Children. The summit brought together governments, UN organisations and non-intergovernmental organisations, civil society, the private sector, academics, and children to design and share bold solutions for preventing and responding to violence against children as part of the Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030 commitments.The two-day event, hosted by the Swedish government, the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, and the WeProtect Global Alliance, took place 14-15 February 2018. More than 400 participants from around the world, representing more than 60 countries, were invited to discuss new initiatives, solutions, successes, and shortfalls, as well as to raise awareness to increase commitments to act to end violence against girls and boys. Mary Catherine Maternowska, a former senior research and evaluation specialist at UNICEF Innocenti, who now heads the data, evidence and solutions programme at the Global Partnership to End Violence Secretariat, oversaw the content for the summit in Stockholm, working closely with counterparts in the Swedish Government and the Childfund Alliance to ensure the summit’s goal of building political will, accelerating action, and engaging collaboration.“This was the first summit of this caliber, ever. Less than eight years ago, it was nearly impossible to even mention the words ‘violence against children’ to almost any government in the global North or South.  The field has been changing rapidly with increased data collection and improved rigour around the implementation of violence prevention interventions,” she said. “A variety of stakeholders from the UN, academics, children, CSOs and governments who have dared to confront violence affecting children, have all contributed to the change in the violence prevention landscape. The summit was a clear indicator that there is now a global movement underway,” Maternowska said.Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of UNICEF, speaks at the opening of the Solutions Summit to End Violence Against Children in Stockholm on 14 February 2018 Daniel Kardefelt-Winther, UNICEF Innocenti’s expert on digital technology and child rights, was invited to participate as an expert research practitioner in the summit’s workshop on online violence against children, which included high-level roundtable discussions on the WeProtect Global Alliance’s agenda, including what steps to take moving forward to protect children from online violence.Kardefelt-Winther stressed the importance of evidence and the need for better and more data collection to combat violence against children online. “For online violence against children, it can be difficult to find enough high-quality comparative data, or even to understand what constitutes violence against children online” Kardefelt-Winther said. He noted that participants at the summit expressed a need to define more clearly what constitutes online violence against children. “We need to separate the narratives and make it very clear what we mean by online violence against children. WeProtect has made a promising start by creating a new threat assessment that categorizes the risks of online violence against children by age group – for example, as children grow older, they are exposed to different types of risks of online violence, which may require different prevention or response strategies” he added.UNICEF Innocenti’s evidence-generation project on children’s online experiences, Global Kids Online, has collected data on several indicators of violence against children, such as cyber bullying and sexual exploitation/online grooming. “We generate baseline evidence that will help us get a first indication of the extent of some forms of violence against children online, but more focused research will be needed to truly understand the depth and breadth of this issue,” Kardefelt-Winther said. “Global Kids Online is working to strengthen the evidence base, not only by expanding the scope to include more countries, but also in how we study online violence,” he added.  In addition to the importance of evidence to help end violence against children, Kardefelt-Winther noted, “It’s equally important to generate political will and strong commitments to end violence against children – the summit was critical in gathering the global community around this issue and in highlighting the evidence gap – now we should prioritize getting more and better data to inform our multi-stakeholder response and to generate better solutions.”Tia Palermo, social policy specialist at UNICEF Innocenti, was also invited to participate in a side event of the summit, led by the Economist Intelligence Unit – the research arm of The Economist magazine, in discussing indicators on the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, including the following four dimensions: prevalence of sexual violence, risk factors for sexual violence, laws and policies, and enforcement of those laws and policies. Echoing other calls for more evidence at the summit, there are several limitations of existing data on the topic according to Palermo. “On prevalence, the data that does exist is not very comparable across countries: there isn’t enough data across ages ranges or disaggregated by gender,” she said. “There is much less known about risk factors just for sexual violence, and more for violence in general,” she added, noting that addressing evidence gaps by country and analyzing country responses to violence against children would be a good first step in addressing the issues. “There is a need to collect more data on violence against children in order to better understand the problems that exist.”  Prevalence of violence by gender and age group from UNICEF Innocenti's research presentation: Disclosure, reporting and help-seeking among child survivors of violence.Maternowska also stressed the importance of research in identifying solutions and actions from the summit. “Having spent the last four years focusing on The Multi Country Study on the Drivers Violence Affecting Children, I am absolutely convinced that human-centered, data driven and applied research is the best way to approach improved violence prevention,” she said. “Violence prevention requires the best that science has to offer from both the hard and measurable evidence of surveys, but also from the messier realm of qualitative research that seeks to explain the social lives that underpin children’s lives.  The violence prevention work at UNICEF Innocenti is testimony to so many dedicated governments and UNICEF’s potential for evidence generation that matters.  Research very much underpins the fact that we were able to have a Solutions Summit—evidence is critical,” she added.  “As the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children continues to build political will and now accelerate action towards the SDGS—notably 16.2 and related targets—research will continue to play a critical role in setting standards, piloting new innovative efforts and helping scale up what works.” 
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Global Kids Online evidence spurs policy change in Argentina

(28 January 2018) UNICEF Argentina, with the support of the Ipsos MORI agency, carried out a Global Kids Online study which was completed in mid 2016. Findings demonstrated that children become internet users at a young age and many of them experience some form of negative experience online. The survey of 1,106 adolescents aged 13 to 18 years showed that 3 in 4 experience something upsetting, with the most common negative incidents being related to receiving unpleasant and disturbing messages. Data showed the most common reaction to upsetting content was to block the source, and when looking for help, the preferred person to seek support from is a peer, rather than an adult (Ravalli and Paoloni, 2016). Even though children access the internet most often at their home, 68 per cent say that their families know little about their internet activities. Half of the children do not follow the recommendations that their parents or caregivers make and one in ten do not receive any recommendations (Ravalli and Paoloni, 2016).A group of children and theatre performers in a "Digital Co-Existence" event in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The project aims to raise public awareness on digital citizenship, based on evidence collected with support of the Global Kids Online research partnership.   Based on the findings, UNICEF Argentina developed a digital citizenship and literacy campaign addressing policy-making, educational opportunities, awareness rising, and multi-stakeholder engagement. The office integrated several creative approaches to increase the success of their activities, including using media campaigns with public figures and children’s theatre performances.According to María José Ravalli, UNICEF Argentina's communication and advocacy specialist, efforts have concentrated on early engagement with stakeholders and ongoing dialogue. At the start of the data gathering and advocacy project UNICEF Argentina initiated a dialogue with key stakeholders from government bodies, the private sector, media, academia and civil society to discuss how best to use the evidence to inform policy and practice related to digital citizenship. Once the data was gathered a series of dialogues on digital citizenship were organized to deepen analysis of the results and to expand its impact on policy and practice. With the release of the results, UNICEF Argentina hosted several roundtable discussions around ICTs and the private sector. This approach generated recommendations and identifedg key challenges for protecting and promoting the rights of children and adolescents in relation to their digital citizenship.Based on evidence generated in the study, UNICEF was invited to provide input into the government's new Convergent Communications Law which is intended to reform regulation of telecommunications, cable, television and audiovisual services. The Commission working on drafting the proposal issued a document stating the law's key principles which included the promotion of digital and media literacy. Also using evidence from the study UNICEF Argentina launched a Digital Coexistence Program with the General Director of Culture and Education, the Provincial Agency for Children and Adolescents of the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Justice of Buenos Aires. The program aims at the development of digital citizenship among children and their families, within educational services, in child protection and justice services, among youth leaders and the media. As part of the program, a guide and specials materials with information for adults were designed with the aim of raising awareness about the importance of accompanying children in their digital consumption. Workshops were held with educators and practitioners.Children using the internet to support their school studies in Argentina. As part of the Digital Coexistence Program a curriculum is being designed for teachers and protection officers, parents and children in Buenos Aires, the largest province the country. The programme involves leading government agencies and ministries. The Digital Coexistence campaign team has worked with a range of public figures, consultants, and media partners to reach a wide audience. A  range of formats presented survey evidence and lessons learned in a dynamic and attractive way, using humour, theatre performances, public campaigns and concerts. A participatory children's theatre event involved 10-year-old school children. In addition a ‘Let’s talk about everything’ web platform and chat helpline were established with the National Youth Secretariat.(The story originally appeared on 14 January 2018 www.globakidsonline.net) 
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Researchers and designers convene to create ‘designing for children’ guide

(24 January 2018) A group of designers, researchers, psychologists, and experts on children’s rights and protection convened recently in Helsinki, Finland during a 48-hour talkoot* event with the aim to create an open and free digital guide to integrate children’s rights into the design...
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Adolescents may be less resilient to catastrophic events than previously thought

(31 October 2017) Experts recently gathered in Florence to discuss emerging evidence on the effects of famines and other shock events on adolescents’ growth, survival, and education. The two-day workshop, organized in light of emerging analysis on the vulnerability of adolescents during periods of famine, brought together leading researchers to analyse the existing evidence base and improve programming for adolescents in humanitarian disasters.A young woman prepares a meal of weed leaves for her family, Nyumanzi Refugee Settlement, Adjumani District, South Sudan.  “We’re really at the beginning of a process here, but already some of the things we’ve been discussing… for example… how the onset of puberty can be affected by the diet of children, can have direct implications for how we programme,” said Laurence Chandy Director of UNICEF’s division of data, research and policy. “Traditionally, this idea that we should be focussing on the very early years – because that signifies the greatest vulnerability – might not be right, so I can see significant implications for our programming.”The 26 – 27 October 2017 workshop and roundtable brought together researchers and economists as well as UNICEF nutrition specialists to share their latest research on famines and adolescents, and to brainstorm how to improve linkages between research and programming to achieve better results for children. The meeting was hosted by UNICEF Innocenti, with support from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.[Read blog post documenting stunting among adolescent girls exposed to famine]Jose Cuesta, Social Policy Chief at UNICEF Innocenti, organised the workshop after identifying a need for more research on how adolescents are affected by ‘shock’ events. “As part of our work on adolescents, we have found that there is a gap of evidence on how catastrophic shocks affect them,” he said. “We have plenty of evidence of how these shocks affect younger children, but there is really a dearth of evidence for older children specifically – for adolescents.”“The objective of this workshop is to … share the evidence that is out there… from the economists, psychologists, nutritionists point of view. The second objective is to reflect on how we can do better,” Cuesta added. “We can improve our methodology, we can also improve our data collection, and we can improve how we evaluate specifically for adolescents. The idea is to reflect on these different possibilities and come up with a collective strategy…” As for next steps, Cuesta stressed there is still need for agreement on how to move forward collectively to improve data collection. The workshop began with a presentation by Richard Akresh of the University of Illinois on the ground-breaking study on first and second-generation impacts of the Biafran War. The study set the tone of the workshop by identifying short and long-term impacts on women and children of the 1967-1970 Nigerian Civil War, providing first evidence of intergenerational impacts, with the largest impacts stemming from adolescent exposure to war.  This study inspired other studies conducted since then uncovering effects of catastrophic events on adolescents.Stephen Devereux, a Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, led a session on how to best improve the current evidence base. He examined key knowledge gaps and how to address them, including limitations on existing data and whether it’s possible to collect good data during disasters. Devereux noted that the workshop demonstrated a clear need for a mixed-methods research approach.  “Quantitative research measures impacts, but doesn’t explain. Adding qualitative research to create a cross-disciplinary approach presents an opportunity to frame the picture better,” he said. “This is an area where UNICEF is committed to understanding more, bringing together both research on adolescents and also increasing work on the humanitarian sector,” said Laurence Chandy. “[Adolescence] is a field where evidence has traditionally been very limited and I’m excited to see opportunities for UNICEF to be investing in evidence generation in the humanitarian sector.” 
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Evidence Gap Map of research on Adolescent Well-being in low and middle income countries

(18 December 2017) UNICEF Innocenti has just launched a new evidence gap map on adolescent well-being. The research project measures evidence gaps for programme and policy interventions on adolescent well-being broadly across the domains of protection, participation, and financial and material well-being in low- and middle-income countries. The gap map helps to describe where evidence for programming and policy exists, where it is scarce, and where evidence is missing. Identifying the gaps help UNICEF determine where more primary research or further synthesis is needed to improve programmes and policies for adolescents.
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Best of UNICEF Research 2017 publication now available

(14 December 2017)  The latest edition of the Best of UNICEF Research publication is now available on the UNICEF Innocenti website. Each year this publication presents the top 12 research papers produced across the global organization,* following a review process managed by the Office of Research - Innocenti. Now in its fifth year of existence, the Best of UNICEF Research competition has become an important part of UNICEF’s annual knowledge and evidence calendar. “What stands out is the sheer variety of research going on across UNICEF with a wide range of diverse topics highly relevant to advancing UNICEF’s work in the field,” said Kerry Albright, chief of research facilitation at UNICEF Innocenti. “This year we see innovative approaches emerging strongly, as well as a clear focus on tackling key strategic evidence gaps.”A student with a sight impairment reading a textbook in her school in Hebron, State of Palestine. A recent study conducted by ODI, UNICEF and the State of Palestine Government on the needs and perspectives of children with disability demonstrated high potential for international policy impact. The study was sited as one of the best research papers produced by UNICEF in 2016. The competition was initiated in 2013 to showcase excellence in research throughout UNICEF and to strengthen an organisational culture and commitment to quality research.[Download Best of UNICEF Research 2017 in easy-to-read E-book format]“Good research should inform the strategic direction and priorities of the organization, providing evidence for policies or programming,” said Albright. “In our new Strategic Plan, evidence is explicitly stated as a key driver of change for children and how we operate as an agency is changing as more countries attain middle income status.  As such,  the need for research and evidence and knowledge brokering become stronger and stronger.”Following the rigorous internal and external review process, 12 research studies were identified as finalists from a field of 91 submissions. The new publication provides colourful, informative summaries of the finalist research listed here in alphabetical order:Cambodia - Is fortifying rice the best way to counter nutritional deficiencies in Cambodia?East Asia and the Pacific - To what extent are countries offering alternatives to detention for children in conflict with the law?France - What is the experience of unaccompanied children in France’s migrant camps? Guinea-Bissau - How can people be motivated to prevent the spread of Ebola? India - Why are children with birth defects and developmental delays not getting the help they need? Indonesia - How much should a government spend on protecting children? (forthcoming)Mexico - How can we best assess the impact of the hotel industry on child rights? Namibia - Why do some Namibian schools perform better than others? Nepal - How effective are ‘Helping Babies Breathe’ practices in reducing stillbirths and newborn deaths? State of Palestine - What barriers do Palestinian children with disabilities face and how can these be overcome? Serbia - How can school dropout in Serbia be reduced? South Africa - Why are some children missing out on South Africa’s Child Support Grant? A four month old baby in Gorkha district, Nepal. A recent study conducted by UNICEF and Uppsala University looks at the impact of the 'Helping Babies Breath' therapy on preventing neo-natal mortality. The study was sited as one of the best research papers produced by UNICEF in 2016.Some notable findingsAround 10 million babies are born not breathing each year and the first minute after birth (the ‘Golden Minute’) affords a vital window for resuscitating them. The Nepal office in collaboration with Uppsala University funded research testing a basic neonatal resuscitation protocol called ‘Helping Babies Breathe.’ The results were dramatic with not only a high potential for saving lives but also for improving operational performance in neonatal units in district hospitals. Reviewers felt that it had high potential for replication elsewhere as it was designed as a low-cost intervention for countries where resources are constrained.” The urgent need for alternatives to detention of children in conflict with the law is widely understood, yet little analysis exists on successful practices that are also compliant with international standards of human and child rights. This study, commissioned by the East Asia & Pacific regional office, looks at the law, policies and practices of ‘diversion’ – a neglected area of research. The value lies in detailed and ambitious cross-country comparison of legal and policy gaps, leading to highly context-specific policy recommendations.Children with disabilities experience widespread violations of their rights The Palestine office commissioned original research, led by ODI-UK, that addressed a clear global evidence gap through a robust mix of original quantitative and qualitative approaches. Reviewers assessed it as having high potential for impact on UNICEF policy and programming.  Teenagers are seen inside a youth rehabilitation center for youth Cebu, Philippines. A recent study conducted by the UNICEF East Asia Regional Office assesses alternative measures to detention of children in conflict with the law in countries of the region. The study was sited as one of the best research papers produced by UNICEF in 2016. Strengthening the research function in UNICEFIn the Foreword of this year’s report, Sarah Cook, Director of UNICEF Innocenti, writes: “There is increasing acknowledgement that UNICEF requires a stronger evidence base, more systematically used, to support its programmes, policy and advocacy… This evidence needs to be rigorous, reliable and obtained with attention to the highest standards of ethics – given the focus on children, and often children in particularly vulnerable circumstances.”One of the significant changes implemented in the shortlisting criteria in 2017 was the assessment of ethical considerations in primary data gathering and/or sensitive secondary data collection according to UNICEF’s procedure on ethical standards in evidence generation involving children. In prior years submissions were given special consideration if ethical principles were documented in their research; however, this year compliance with UNICEF ethical research standards, where appropriate, was elevated to a condition for evaluation of quality.“Alongside other evidence products coming out of Innocenti and elsewhere which aim to explicitly identify evidence gaps for children, the Best of UNICEF Research exercise can help highlight where what we are doing is working and where it could be considered for replication in other regions, sectors or other agencies beyond UNICEF,” said Albright.In providing overall comments on the competition, the external review panel noted the diverse range of topics highly relevant for advancing UNICEF’s work in the field with a few papers exploring new and under-researched areas of inquiry. They also noted that several research questions were formulated to better understand constraints at the local decentralized level of programming as well as giving attention to ensuring a wide range of stakeholder engagement and some examples of ‘people centred design.’ Interesting Facts and FiguresA statistical review of the global assessment process reveals some noteworthy data points. Submissions from the MENA region have dramatically increased, rising from one in 2016 to 7 in 2017 with one of the three ultimate winners also coming from Palestine in the MENA region. The ESARO region submitted the highest number of research papers with 21 followed by EAPRO and ROSA which submitted 12 and 11 papers respectively. The number of research papers submitted by headquarters dropped by more than half from 9 papers submitted in 2016 to 4 in 2017. The number of research teams made up of internal and external experts has continued to rise with the number of external teams maintaining a diminishing trend.Access previous Best of UNICEF Research publications here. *Research conducted by UNICEF Innocenti is excluded from the assessment.
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Make the digital world safer for children - State of the World's Children Report, 2017

(11 December 2017) Despite children’s massive online presence – 1 in 3 internet users worldwide is a child – too little is done to protect them from the perils of the digital world and to increase their access to safe online content, UNICEF said in its annual flagship report released today. The State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a digital world presents UNICEF’s first comprehensive look at the different ways digital technology is affecting children’s lives and life chances, identifying dangers as well as opportunities.  It argues that governments and the private sector have not kept up with the pace of change, exposing children to new risks and harms and leaving millions of the most disadvantaged children behind. The annual flagship publication of UNICEF makes use of evidence generated by Global Kids Online (GKO), a research project and network that supports worldwide efforts to conduct rigorous, comparable research on children’s use of digital technology.A boy in South Sudan holds up his mobile phone, which shows his photograph, as tweeted the previous day.  “For better and for worse, digital technology is now an irreversible fact of our lives,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “In a digital world, our dual challenge is how to mitigate the harms while maximizing the benefits of the internet for every child.”The report explores the benefits digital technology can offer the most disadvantaged children, including those growing up in poverty or affected by humanitarian emergencies. These include increasing their access to information, building skills for the digital workplace, and giving them a platform to connect and communicate their views.But the report shows that millions of children are missing out. Around one third of the world’s youth – 346 million – are not online, exacerbating inequities and reducing children’s ability to participate in an increasingly digital economy.The report also examines how the internet increases children’s vulnerability to risks and harms, including misuse of their private information, access to harmful content, and cyberbullying. The ubiquitous presence of mobile devices, the report notes, has made online access for many children less supervised – and potentially more dangerous.Children in New Delhi using a mobile phone  And digital networks like the Dark Web and cryptocurrencies are enabling the worst forms of exploitation and abuse, including trafficking and ‘made to order’ online child sexual abuse.The report presents current data and analysis about children’s online usage and the impact of digital technology on children’s wellbeing, exploring growing debates about digital “addiction” and the possible effect of screen time on brain development.The Global Kids Online Cross-Country Research PartnershipAs co-coordinator of GKO, a cross country research partnership, UNICEF Innocenti has played a key role in providing evidence to support this year’s State of the World’s Children report. GKO is an international research project that aims to generate and sustain a rigorous cross-national evidence base around children’s use of the internet by creating a global network of researchers and experts.Global Kids Online started out with 4 countries at the end of 2015, with the purpose of conducting pilot studies to inform the development of a research toolkit intended to support high-quality research on children’s online experiences worldwide (Argentina, Serbia, South Africa, Philippines). By the end of 2017, the Global Kids Online network has grown by another 11 countries (Montenegro, Bulgaria, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Ghana, New Zealand, Canada, Albania, India, China), bringing the total number of country partners up to 15, with research implementation taking place in many of these countries in 2017/2018. Additional facts from the report include:Young people are the most connected age group. Worldwide, 71 per cent are online compared with 48 per cent of the total population. African youth are the least connected, with around 3 out of 5 youth offline, compared to just 1 in 25 in Europe.Approximately 56 per cent of all websites are in English and many children cannot find content they understand or that is culturally relevant.  More than 9 in 10 child sexual abuse URLs identified globally are hosted in five countries – Canada, France, the Netherlands, the Russian Federation and the United States. Only collective action – by governments, the private sector, children’s organizations, academia, families and children themselves – can help level the digital playing field and make the internet safer and more accessible for children, the report says.The report includes a set of recommendations to help guide more effective policymaking and more responsible business practices to benefit children. UNICEF Innocenti’s child protection specialist Jasmina Byrne played a key role in drafting the recommendations which include:Provide all children with affordable access to high-quality online resources. Protect children from harm online – including abuse, exploitation, trafficking, cyberbullying and exposure to unsuitable materials.Safeguard children’s privacy and identities online. Teach digital literacy to keep children informed, engaged and safe online.Leverage the power of the private sector to advance ethical standards and practices that protect and benefit children online.Put children at the centre of digital policy."Digital policies need to be mindful of children's needs and rights, particularly the most disadvantaged. They need to be evidence informed and they need to continuously evolve to adapt to technological change and emergeing challenges," said Jasmina Byrne.For more information on GKO visit: www.globalkidsonline.net
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Forced Displacement of Children in the Italian Context

(6 December 2017) The plight of many unaccompanied and separated children (UASC) arriving in Italy through Central Mediterranean routes – currently the most dangerous access corridor to Europe – was recently discussed at an Innocenti Seminar “Forced Displacement of Children in the Italian Context.” The seminar showcased data, policy and media research to ignite discussion, explore linkages and consider potential future work in this area. UNICEF Innocenti conducts research on children affected by forced displacement to help explain intricate dynamics not captured by more general research.An 18 year old youth texting his family in Cote D'Ivoire at a cafe in Palermo, Sicily. Recent Data and trendsDr Alexandra Ricard-Guay, principal investigator for the EU project DemandAT researching interconnections between trafficking and smuggling of migrants, gave an overview of the legal framework and policy response on child migration and child trafficking in Italy underling knowledge  gaps and implications on the migration discourse .In her presentation, Ricard-Guay reported on the latest data available on child migration to Italy, a phenomenon which has more recently attracted the attention of politicians due to the increased numbers of children arriving by sea since 2011. “The exponential increase of unaccompanied children arriving in Italy has led to a tripling of capacity in the Italian reception system in the last 5 years. However, despite visibility there are still misbeliefs around the data and facts surrounding migrant children,” said Richard-Guay.Harrowing Journeys: Children and youth on the move across the Mediterranean Sea, at risk of trafficking and exploitation (https://data.unicef.org/resources/harrowing-journeys/) According to the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policies, the total number of unaccompanied children in Italy has doubled since 2015 reaching 18,486 in August 2017. Sicily currently hosts over 43 per cent of these children. The number of unaccompanied children dropping out of reception facilities who become untraceable is remarkable. It is estimated that in 2017 there were 5,433 untraceable children.According to a recent assessment of children on the move in Italy conducted by the REACH Initiative in collaboration with UNICEF, lack of knowledge about the asylum system, misinformation, bad conditions in the reception facilities, mistrust, are among the reasons given by children leaving the reception facilities. Nonetheless the discourse around missing children remains mostly inside a ‘trafficking frame,’ “a politically convenient narrative that divert attention from other critical causes of disappearance,” as Ricard-Guay underlined.“The Zampa law, the first comprehensive legal framework for unaccompanied children,” she continued, “represents a significant policy response toward greater protection of unaccompanied  minors, but there are persisting challenges that still require attention from the legislator”.Ricard-Guay identified gender disaggregated data as one of the topical areas that need further qualitative investigation. According to the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policies 93 per cent of children are boys between 15-17 years old, mainly from Gambia, Nigeria, Guinea and Egypt. Girls represent around 7 per cent with Nigeria as the main country of origin (48 per cent) followed by Eritrea (14 per cent) and Somalia (6 per cent). About age, girls are slightly younger, between 7 and 14 years old.https://www.osservatorio.it/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Barretta_Forum_Migr_Peace_simn2017.pdf Media Coverage AnalysisThe narrative about migrant children as portrayed in the media was analysed by Paola Barretta and Giuseppe Milazzo, associate researchers at the Osservatorio of Pavia, the main data source on media monitoring for UNHCR Italy. Milazzo’s research shows that news on migrants is mainly associated with crimes and safety (24 per cent) and terrorism (6 per cent), and that despite a drop in news coverage of migration issues since 2015 community fear towards migrants grew reaching 46 per cent of interviewees in a September 2017 poll.According to Milazzo, children are quite invisible in media coverage.of migration issues but are sometimes used as symbols to generate empathy. Only 3 per cent of all news on migration covers child migrants.“Although the frames of the news regarding child migrants are in general positive” concluded Milazzo” there are 4 alarming instances that are becoming recurrent and need further investigation. Those include age, [i.e.] child migrants are not children; school, [i.e]. child migrants are invading our schools; costs, [i.e.] child migrants represent a huge cost; and crime, [i.e.] child migrants are a threat to our personal safety”.Critical role of foster families and guardiansIolanda Genovese, Innocenti research officer – migration programme, drew on her experience  working for Accoglierete, a non-government association of volunteer guardians in Siracusa, and revealed the importance of civil society response to institutional gaps in putting protection and integration policy into practice. She highlighted challenges of a child turning 18 and transitioning from a supported to unsupported status in a day, and how crucial it is to empower and accompany him through adulthood.She underlined how local engagement can lead to attitudinal change in people perceptions about the migration phenomenon, from a mass-media driven negative perception towards a narratives that looks at the human before the “migrant”. The seminar was jointly organised by Dr Bina D’Costa, Migration programme, Dr Emanuela Bianchera, Knowledge Management and Dr. Patrizia Faustini, Communications. For further information go to the Children and Migration research page. 
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UNICEF experts call for improved internet policy for children at 4th World Internet Conference

(4 December 2017) The internet has brought great benefits to young people, particularly those who are marginalized or live in remote communities. Yet it also presents risks to child safety, according to international experts. UNICEF officials participated in the Safeguarding the Future: Online Protection of Underage Users session of the Fourth World Internet Conference – Wuzhen Summit. The session was co-hosted by the UNICEF China country office.According to Jasmina Byrne, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF Innocenti, “The majority of children from 7 countries surveyed (Argentina, Chile, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Serbia, South Africa and the Philippines) have learned something new by going online – they found useful information for their study or work opportunity, participated in sites where other children share similar interests, and up to 50% of children looked for health information on line.”Participants in the Safeguarding the Future: Online Protection of Underage Users session of the Fourth World Internet Conference – Wuzhen Summit “When we asked children about negative experiences online between 12-36% of children said they had experienced being treated in a hurtful or a nasty way,” said Byrne. UNICEF Innocenti is co-sponsor, along with London School of Economics, of the Global Kids Online (GKO) research partnership which was launched in October 2016. GKO started with four participating countries and has grown to cover 10 countries with another 10, including China set to join the cross-country effort in 2018. "Protecting children online is a vital issue in internet governance. That’s why UNICEF has been engaged on this issue for years,’ said Ms Fatoumata Ndiaye, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, "And protecting children online is closely linked to the Sustainable Development Goals, which represent governments’ promises to their citizens to take action on key issues, including protecting children from violence, both offline and online."Children worldwide face threats from cyberbullying, internet fraud and invasions of privacy - and only the joint efforts of governments, tech companies and NGOs can protect them, said Rana Flowers, China representative for UNICEF.Fatoumata Ndaiye, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, deleivers remarks at the Safeguarding the Future: Online Protection of Underage Users session of the Fourth World Internet Conference – Wuzhen Summit. UNICEF has treated the protection of children online as a priority for many years, she said, adding that this year's edition of The State of the World's Children, the organization's annual report, will focus on the benefits and risks young people face in the digital age. The report will be released this month.Jasmina Byrne summed up key policy imperatives for improved internet governance for children. “Key features of digital policy for children’s rights should be the development of children’s skills and literacies. This will enable children to make the most of digital connectivity as well as to understand risks and negative consequences of their internet use. It will help them understand their own responsibility towards other internet users and to be good digital citizens. Digital literacy encompasses all these areas, implying a set of competencies that goes beyond technical skills. It includes the ability to search, evaluate and manage information found online.”Jasmina Byrne, UNICEF Innocenti child protection expert delvering remarks at the Safeguarding the Future: Online Protection of Underage Users session of the Fourth World Internet Conference – Wuzhen Summit
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