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Promising Futures: Vocational training programme in rural Bangladesh
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Promising Futures: Vocational training programme in rural Bangladesh

This is the second in a two-part blog series that draws from the authors’ field visit to Let Us Learn programme sites in Bangladesh in February 2020.  The first part can be found here. In a town in the rural Sumanganj District of Bangladesh, we met recent graduates of  Alternative Learning Pathways, a Let Us Learn-supported programme implemented in partnership with Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. The project targets adolescents aged 14 to 18 who have dropped out of school and are mostly unemployed or out-of-school. Alternative Learning Pathways provides them with vocational training in trades for which there is market demand in the community. In the Sumangani District, these trades included tailoring and dress making (the most popular), wood furniture design, IT support technician, mobile phone servicing, and beauty salon (for girls exclusively), amongst others (see Figure 1). Participants are trained for 6 months in their selected trade by a master craft person who owns a local business in the trade. The students train on-the-job with the master craft person four days per week and also receive classroom training twice a week, the latter of which includes theory, foundational literacy and numeracy skills, and life skills. The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee supports graduates to find a job in their trade upon completion of the programme. More than 80% of the graduates are typically taken on as full-time employees by the person they trained with. The incomes vary by trade, with those working in a trade such as woodwork receiving a slightly higher salary than those working in tailoring. [caption id="attachment_2729" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]The authors with recent ALP graduates they met with at the marketplace alongside colleagues from UNICEF Bangladesh, government, and implementing partners.[/caption] In a market carpentry shop, we meet two adolescent boys making wooden chairs. They tell us that they recently completed their ALP training in wood-working and are now employed by the master craft person they trained with. They reflect that one of the most enjoyable aspects of the programme was being able to make new friends. They also highlight that their master craft person was constantly worried about their well-being, phoning parents if participants did not show up for training or work. A number of female Alternative Learning Pathways graduates we also met are now working at a tailoring shop. Most of the adolescent girls who participate were previously confined to a household helping with daily chores. Once girls start bringing money to the household through the earnings they make from their work, parents realize that their daughters can contribute financially to the household and they see a benefit to delaying their marriage. “It saved us from [early] marriage”, the three female practicing tailors from the programme tell us. Having been hired by their master craft person after completing their training, they earn between 2,000 and 4,000 Taka per month ($23.6 and $47.2USD) according to their production rate. Given the high rates of poverty in these communities (half the population live under the poverty line), these wages go a long way. The three young tailors say they have each been able to save money in bank accounts as a result. Their parents like what they are doing and now say, “later on we will think about marriage,” suggesting that productive work coupled with an income can trump the belief that girls need to be married to be taken care of. Once girls start bringing money to the household from their work, parents realize their daughters can contribute financially and they see a benefit to delaying their marriage.Through Alternative Learning Pathways girls who were initially confined to the household are freer to participate in social spaces predominately occupied by men. The programme allows girls to gain the confidence they need to pursue their interests and to visualize a future with opportunities. Another group of  three girls in the marketplace completed their vocational training as IT support technicians and now work on such tasks as editing photos, typing in Bangla or English, sending emails, and converting videos for customers. Within 6 months they had learned it all, their master craft person explains, saying “they can run the shop.” The girls are excited to train in this field because it is the future. “We are going for ‘digital Bangladesh!’” Echoing the tailors we met earlier, one participant shares that this opportunity prevented her early marriage, adding that she wants to run her own computer shop and get a better job working with software in the future. [caption id="attachment_2731" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Two Alternative Learning Pathways trainees and their Master Craft Person (left) show us the products and tools they use as beauty salon practitioners.[/caption] A recent impact evaluation by the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee found that the programme has a more significant benefit for girls in comparison to boys, which is why Alternative Learning Pathways aims for 60% of programme participants to be girls. One of the explanations behind this trend is that boys are still expected to be breadwinners in their households. While Alternative Learning Pathways does provide the programme participants with a small stipend (approximately 10 USD monthly), boys may be engaged in hazardous forms of labor that pays them a higher wage. The National Child Labor Survey from 2013 estimated that there were 3.4 million working children in the country between the ages of 5 to 17, with 1.2 million children performing hazardous labor. Cultural expectations of males being breadwinners brings about a strong pressure to have higher earning power, which means that boys are less likely, and less willing, to participate in training programmes that provide limited stipends. We end our visit meeting with additional programme graduates and master craft persons, who show us some of the tools they utilize in their trades; a beauty salon practitioner even offers to give us a makeover! While ALP has contributed to a high rate of job placements and productive livelihoods for graduates, the longer-term impact of the programme is yet to be investigated. COVID-19 has placed some of these gains in question, as many business owners and workers have struggled to make ends meet during the periods of lockdown. Fortunately, as of the writing of this blog, the master craft persons engaged by the programme have been able to restart their work and are ready to receive a new cohort of trainees once Let Us Learn programmes are able to proceed. Cirenia Chavez is a education research consultant with UNICEF Innocenti and Annika Rigole is a research monitoring and evaluation specialist with the education section in UNICEF’s headquarters Programme Division.
Bright Beginnings: Community-Based Early Childhood Education in Rural Bangladesh
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Bright Beginnings: Community-Based Early Childhood Education in Rural Bangladesh

The first in a two-part blog series on Let Us Learn programme site visits in Bangladesh in February 2020.According to the most recent census, around half of the population in Bangladesh’s Sunamganj District lives below the poverty line. Monsoon flooding in the district perennially cuts villages off from one another and makes access to schools difficult. We drive past bustling markets and vast stretches of rice fields, arriving in a sparsely populated village on the banks of the Shurma river. Welcomed by members of the community, we take off our shoes to pay a visit to a new community pre-primary education center established by Let Us Learn in partnership with Dhaka Ahsania Mission. Community-based pre-schools are a critical way to expand early child education in this region, where only 30% of children attend a government pre-primary programme. In the community we are visiting, the nearest government school with a pre-school is 2 kilometers away, too far for young children to walk, especially during monsoon season, when the rising river is a major risk factor considering that most children do not know how to swim. While the river rose high last year, it did not overflow, and the school we are visiting was able to stay open the whole season. With support from Let Us Learn, community members here contributed their own land, resources, and water and sanitation facilities to establish and maintain the pre-school so that young children can learn closer to home. This community joins a group of 150 Let Us Learn-supported communities which established such centers in late 2018, serving 4,500 children who completed pre-school in 2019 and another 4,500 children (52.5% girls) who enrolled in pre-primary in these centers for the current school year. [caption id="attachment_2714" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]On the walls a profusion of learning materials – numbers, colors, and pictures displayed, images of famous historical figures, including Mother Teresa and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the first prime minister of Bangladesh.[/caption] From Sunday to Thursday, 5-year old children in this community attend class for 2.5 hours each day at the center. Classes follow a daily learning structure using the government curriculum of one year pre-primary education; the government provides the centers with the same teaching and learning materials used in government schools. The room has four corners for learning that the children can freely choose to access during a part of the class day. These corners include reading and drawing, block and movement, creative imagination, and sand and water. One facilitator is responsible for instructing the children; she shares that she initially received 15 days of training on pedagogy for her role and participates in both monthly and annual refresher trainings. the nationwide percentage of children on track in early literacy and numeracy skills was close to 50% amongst those who had attended early childhood education and only 20% for children who had notBecause the center is close to their homes, parents are able to bring and pick up their children each day. Even with a nearby center, flooding during the monsoon season can still create challenges for children’s access, so UNICEF and Dhaka Ahsania Mission have helped the communities develop disaster risk reduction plans. Without this center, parents describe, the pre-primary aged children in the community “would all be out of school.” There is an abundance of evidence  showing that children who attend pre-primary education score higher on a School Readiness Index (see for example UNICEF, 2016) and tend to have better learning outcomes once they are in primary school. In Bangladesh in 2019, the nationwide percentage of children on track in early literacy and numeracy skills was close to 50% amongst those who had attended early childhood education and only 20% for children who had not (Figure 1). At this center, we learn that all children from the previous pre-primary cohort have mainstreamed into primary school - an amazing result! “So how do you track whether the children are learning?” we asked the pre-primary facilitator. Children’s learning progress, per the government curriculum, is assessed every 3 months across 15 indicators with grades A to C. Children who score a C receive special support; they are paired with a high-performing student, a technique for which there is evidence of positive results. In the context of COVID-19, with all schools and Let Us Learn centers being closed, the likelihood of enrolling in primary education for these children may be further jeopardized. During the pandemic closures, facilitators are continuing to engage the children and their parents with learning through 10-minute phone check-ins every two days. UNICEF is also currently working on a 3-month package so that these children can be prepared for primary school and to mitigate the risks that those children might not enroll in primary education. Cirenia Chavez is a education research consultant with UNICEF Innocenti and Annika Rigole is a research monitoring and evaluation specialist with the education section in UNICEF's headquarters Programme Division.  
Digital engagement for the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation during COVID-19
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Digital engagement for the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation during COVID-19

As digital engagement was scaled up to mitigate girls’ risk of FGM and continue community-based initiatives during COVID-19, UNICEF organised a webinar with key actors to discuss their experiences of using digital tools to shift social norms and build girls’ agency. The blog below summarises the webinar. COVID-19 has presented significant challenges for the elimination of female genital mutilation (FGM). In Burkina Faso, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan, reports show that school closures, social isolation, limited mobility, and reduced law enforcement and frontline service providers increase girls’ risk of undergoing FGM. Social distancing has triggered an accelerated shift to digital technologies as people increasingly rely on technology for access to services, information, education, social networks, and livelihoods. Thus, scaling up digital engagement was identified as a way to mitigate girls’ risk of FGM and continue community-based initiatives in the absence of in-person contact for preventing harmful practices. Innovative projects from India, Nigeria, Africa, and Egypt Erika Houghtaling (USAID) presented research conducted under a new project, “Game of Choice, Not Chance”. This is a mobile gaming platform targeting adolescents ages 15 to 19 in the Hindi-belt of India. By combining an interactive story-based video game, reproductive health education e-learning tools, and portal features that link players to health products and services in real time, the project looks to empower girls by building agency and changing social norms. The research was conducted by the Girl Effect’s Technology Enabled Girls Ambassadors, using a mobile, peer-to-peer research app. U-Report is a free open-source mobile messaging programme that gives youth and their communities a voice on issues that matter to them. With 3.4 million users, UNICEF Nigeria uses this data to develop social media campaigns targeting and mobilizing a youth movement. During the COVID-19 crisis, UNICEF Nigeria used #endcuttinggirls to support social media advocacy to end FGM, reaching over a quarter of a million users. They also used sponsored ads to encourage people to act on issues related to child protection, including a campaign to end violence against girls which reached 1.1 million users. UNICEF Nigeria is piloting a digital youth marketplace called “Yoma Africa”, which provides access to skills development opportunities and incentivizes youth social action by offering rewards. While these are innovative models for digital engagement, Minu Limbu highlighted that the issue of inequitable access to digital technologies remains, as communities with the highest number of marginalized and vulnerable children in Nigeria often have less connectivity. [caption id="attachment_2707" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]In Nigeria, places where children are more deprived are also the areas with little or no connectivity. (Map Source: NCDC 2020, BBC 2019, GSMA 2018)[/caption] Dr. Faith Mwangi-Powell (Girls Not Brides) spoke about digital engagement to stop FGM and child marriage. The Girl Generation aimed to strengthen the Africa-led movement to catalyze social norm change and eliminate FGM using digital technology as a means of collaboration and co-creation. As part of this, the “I Will End FGM” campaign was launched across youth networks, which invited young people to share their videos on how they would end FGM. The campaign exceeded all targets, reaching 20 million people via social media and other channels. UNICEF Egypt presented “Dawwie”, which means “a loud voice with impact” in Arabic. This initiative to empower adolescent girls uses digital engagement to raise awareness about harmful practices and the gendered impacts of COVID-19. Key takeaways from the webinar With growing opposition to FGM, digital platforms not only spark critical thinking about harmful practices, but can also support collective action to end FGM.Co-creation with young people and partners is crucial to ensure context-responsive digital youth engagement.While digital engagement is showing promising results in shifting social norms and building youth agency, it should be combined with interpersonal, community level interventions.The evidence base around digital engagement for social norms change is limited. More research and impact evaluations are needed.Ethics and “do no harm” are essential, including creating a risk mitigation strategy to protect vulnerable youth and address online risks.Digital engagement has the potential to drive youth participation and civic engagement more than traditional civic spaces, while supporting social change for future generations.  An inclusive and digital "new normal" During the webinar, the issue of the gender digital divide was discussed. A 2018 Vodaphone and Girl Effect global study of girls’ mobile phone access and use found that boys were 1.5 times more likely to own a mobile phone than girls. Poor infrastructure in many countries means half the world’s population does not have access to the internet, with African youth the least connected. According to UNICEF’s 2017 State of the World’s Children, around 60% of African youth are not online, compared to just 4% in Europe. As the global community adapts to the COVID-19 “new normal,” containment policies are hastening the digital transition. Accelerating efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5.3 on the elimination of harmful practices (including FGM), requires innovative and cost-effective solutions to access communities and foster social cohesion in the face of the pandemic. Digital engagement is one such solution, but we must ensure that no one is left behind in the new digital world.   Watch the recording, see the webinar highlights, and view the presentations. Nankali Maksud is a Senior Advisor in Child Protection at UNICEF and the Global Coordinator of the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage. Stephanie Baric is a Consultant with the Prevention of the Harmful Practices in Child Protection at UNICEF.
Overcoming the adolescent financing gap: The Burundi investment case
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Overcoming the adolescent financing gap: The Burundi investment case

Adolescence (10-19 years) is a make or break period when individuals begin to consolidate their physical, cognitive, emotional and socio-economic foundations that will shape their lives. Adolescence is a critical period as many individuals never fully recover from any developmental shortcomings they experience. Yet in today’s world, many adolescents lack access to critical services in health, education, psycho-social support, parental guidance and an enabling environment that would adequately prepare them for a safe transition to adulthood. Adolescence is a critical period as many individuals never fully recover from any developmental shortcomings they experience.The World Bank Human Capital Project and the African Union roadmap on taking full advantage of the demographic dividend recognize the importance of investing in young people as a necessary condition for the realization of several national goals and the SDGs. Nonetheless, a yawning gap exists between this understanding and the reality in several countries. Expenditure on social services are widely perceived as costs with no tangible public returns, at least in the short run. As a result, there is usually a tendency to underinvest in building human capital in favor of items such as roads or bridges for which benefits are more tangible and immediate, and which also tend to be politically more expedient. In an effort to draw attention to this investment gap and the practical implications of the lack of investment, the UNICEF Country Office in Burundi, working in coordination with government ministries (under the leadership of the Ministry of Youth, Posts and Information Technology) and other development partners (UNFPA, UN Women and UNDP) have recently undertaken an investment case for adolescents in the country. Burundi currently faces many challenging socio-economic conditions as it recovers from a period of social and political instability. GDP per capita was estimated at about $262 in 2019, down from $305 in 2015 (WB, 2020). Burundi is ranked 185 out of 189 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index of 2019; and ranked 138 out of 157 on World Bank Human Capital Index of 2018. Adolescents make up about 25 per cent of the population, of which about 30 per cent are already out of school. Only 10 per cent of the relevant age cohort complete secondary education, and there are many issues relating to the quality of education. Adolescent mortality rate is 277 per 100,000, ranking 172 out of 183 countries by WHO in 2017. Malaria and tuberculosis account for 27 per cent and 25 per cent respectively of these deaths. Among males, the death rate due to road accident is 24 per 100,000. About 9 per cent of girls 15-19 are mothers with an unmet need for family planning at 55 per cent and maternal conditions account for 21 deaths per 100,000 girls of ages 15-19. [caption id="attachment_2698" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Children play a game at a recreational space in Rumonge Province, Burundi, opened in January 2019. Members of the community have assumed responsibility for its management and funding.[/caption] Burundi’s investment case focuses on interventions aimed at improving the health and education/skills acquisition of adolescent girls and boys. The health interventions include preventive and curative strategies relating to reproductive health, maternal and child health, malaria, mental health, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, human papillomavirus (HPV), and road accidents. The education interventions include those targeted at formal education:  teaching and learning, school infrastructure and cash for the poorest students; and those targeted at non-formal education: social innovation and entrepreneurship, trade certificates and professional training. Direct benefits of the health interventions are estimated using the OneHealth Tool  which takes into account current prevalence of each condition and the morbidity and mortality that can be averted by adopting various tested interventions[i]. All together, the health interventions are expected to lead to: a reduction in the adolescent fertility rate by 23.7 per cent resulting in 25,817 fewer (usually unplanned) births;1,361 stillbirths and 1,580 newborn deaths to adolescent mothers averted;75 maternal deaths of adolescents averted;15,157 fewer children of adolescents stunted;6,300 adolescents lives saved from tuberculosis;1,500 adolescent lives saved from road traffic injuries;5,798 adolescents saved from serious disability from road traffic crashes; and16,842 lives saved form cervical cancer over the lifetime of the targeted cohort.The education interventions, compared to following the status-quo, are projected to achieve: Increase in school enrolment of adolescents (15-19) from a current level of 55 per cent to 71 per cent by 2030;Reduction from 30 per cent to 11 per cent of students leaving school with only primary education;350,000 additional beneficiaries acquire a trade certificate;40,000 adolescents acquire vocational training; andproductivity of males aged 20-24 in 2050 increased by 85.9 per cent while that of females aged 20-24 in the same year is increased by 102.2 per cent.Put together, the health and education interventions would inevitably result in a healthier and more productive labour force that can transform the economic fortunes of the country in the coming decades. The total (cumulative) cost for financing all the proposed interventions up to 2030 is about USD 1.2 billion (approximately $124 million per annum), which is modest compared to all the immediate benefits enumerated above. What is even more reassuring is the fact that the estimated economic value and social benefits from these investments are more than tenfold the cost. The results of the modeling framework show that, an annual investment of $8.8 million in the health interventions over the period 2019 – 2030 would accrue social and economic benefits of magnitude that translate to a benefit-to-cost (BCR) ratio of 16.4. Similarly, investments of $115.2 million per annum in the education interventions over the period 2019 – 2030 is expected to provide a BCR of 9.7. The full report is available here.[ii] The economic benefits are realized from the output of people who would otherwise be dead or severely disabled, and from the increased productivity from a more skilled and healthier workforce. Analysis of recent budgets of the Burundi government shows an already high commitment to education and health (about 30 per cent in 2018/2019 budget) leaving limited fiscal space for these additional expenses to be borne by the Government. There may be some room for increasing tax revenues and increasing the efficiency of public spending, but the key to bridging the financing gap lies in increased overseas development assistance and innovative financing schemes such as the Global Financing Facility, the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB, and GAVI. The fallout of the COVID pandemic will likely put more adolescents at risk of missing out on key development milestones and government budgets will likely become overstretched as the effects of the global economic slowdown continue to bite. As noted by the Executive Director of UNICEF at the launch of the Generation Unlimited initiative in 2018: The change in demographics the world is experiencing, coupled with fast-moving technological advances, presents a critical moment in history. If we act wisely and urgently, we can create a skilled cohort of young people better prepared to create sustainable economies, and peaceful and prosperous societies. Young people may represent 25 per cent of the global population, but they account for 100 per cent of the future. We cannot afford to fail them.[i] Models take account of the effectiveness of interventions and potential uptake where necessary[ii] Future costs and benefits are discounted as appropriate.  Frank Otchere is social policy specialist with the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti in Florence, Italy.
Making sure the most vulnerable children are heard during COVID-19: 5 lessons on data collection from Somalia
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Making sure the most vulnerable children are heard during COVID-19: 5 lessons on data collection from Somalia

“Playing football was stopped, the school was closed, our parents refused to meet friends during coronavirus.” (boy, 14)            “My mother used to sell breakfast in front of the school, and when the school closed it affected our daily living.” (girl, 16)While COVID-19 has presented new risks and challenges for collecting information, children’s voices must continue to be heard when developing policies and programmes that impact their lives. In recognition of this, UNICEF Somalia designed and conducted a study, with technical support from the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti and funding from the UK government, to capture the experiences of some of the most vulnerable children living in Puntland and Somaliland during the current pandemic. 1,090 children (aged 10-18 years) were interviewed between 5th and 21st July 2020. This included children living on the streets, those affected by migration, and those living alone with no family. All the data collected was disaggregated by key factors such as gender and age group to provide additional insights. Established principles of ‘do no harm’ and proper ethical standards always matter, including during times of crisis. In recognition of this, the research was conducted in line with the guidelines outlined in Ethical Considerations for Evidence Generation Involving Children on the COVID-19 Pandemic. This blog sets out five lessons around the design of primary research with children during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in particular highlights how we were able to successfully conduct in-person interviews while adhering to ethical and safety protocols. Lesson 1: Social workers or similar frontline staff can be utilised as interviewersConducting surveys by phone or internet would exclude the vast majority of children we wanted to speak to, so in-person interviews were required. However, social distancing rules, as well as safety and ethical considerations, meant that these interviews had to be conducted with the utmost care. Social work students were identified and trained as enumerators, as they were already assisting children in various settings in the region (including in IDP camps, safe houses, and on the street), supported by UNICEF Somalia. The social workers were well-trained on how to engage with vulnerable children and build rapport, which helped cultivate a safe space for interviews. They had also been trained on how to use an innovative online data collection tool (kobotoolbox) and were embedded in social service organisations which provided referrals if anyone who needed urgent help. They followed social distancing protocols and used the necessary protective equipment in their daily roles, so any increased risk of spreading the virus during data collection was minimised. Lesson 2: Collecting only essential data is especially important during COVIDGiven the difficult study context of vulnerable children during a pandemic, it was essential that the interview was as focused as possible. The survey length was kept short (between 10-15 minutes) to maximise response rates and minimise any impact on other social work activities. To gather a representative sample, children were randomly invited to take part. Around nine out of ten children who were invited to participate did so. The profile of those who refused to take part matched the profile of those who agreed, which meant that those who were interviewed were representative of the different types of children with whom social workers ordinarily engage with. The only exception to this approach was to invite all children with disabilities who were encountered during the fieldwork to take part in the survey. This was done to ensure a sufficient number were included. Disability was defined as those who had any difficulties in speaking, hearing, seeing, walking or any other physical difficulties. All children provided fully informed consent. Lesson 3: Data can be used to inform responses immediatelyThe findings from this study are already being integrated into UNICEF Somalia’s programming. We found very high levels of awareness of COVID-19 (around nine in ten interviewees had heard of Coronavirus) and a high proportion felt informed about how to reduce the risk of infection. However, only 67% of girls felt they were personally at risk of catching it, which was lower still among boys (61%). Coupled with data on reported changes in behaviour and sources of information about the virus, these findings are being used to help inform how COVID-19 information campaigns can be strengthened. Queries about COVID-19 are now being answered through radio and social media messaging. The research provided robust evidence on the immediate impact of the pandemic on these children; only six percent said they had been to school in the last month. Furthermore, the study showed that many of these vulnerable children were excluded from education even before the pandemic; one in four said that they had never been to school. Discouragingly, alternatives to classroom teaching, including remote learning, are not available; four in five children did not have access to the internet and two-thirds did not have either television or radio. There was little difference by gender on these indicators. In response, UNICEF’s Child Protection team is working with education partners to provide access to online schooling for internally displaced children and to train teachers on child protection and referral services.   [caption id="attachment_2680" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Community members in Mogadishu, Somalia during the COVID-19 outbreak.[/caption] The results raise concerns about resilience should the pandemic worsen. One in four children did not have access to clean drinking water, over a third were unable to access healthcare, and 44 percent said they are unable to get medication when they need it. Again, the results for boys and girls were similar. In response to this, UNICEF and partners are expanding the provision of critical child protection services, including case management, psychosocial support, provision of alternative care for unaccompanied and separated children, and safe houses for children associated with armed groups. UNICEF distributes personal protective equipment to organisations providing these services to children. Lesson 4: Early data collection provides a robust baseline for measuring change Just over half of the children interviewed told us that the pandemic has had a negative impact on their lives (55% of boys and 47% of girls). However, it is notoriously difficult to measure changes in attitudes or behaviour in one stand-alone survey. For this reason, the survey acta as a baseline assessment to provide a measure of attitudes and experiences at a particular point in the pandemic, which could then be tracked over time (when it is appropriate and safe to do so) to provide clearer indications of changes in experiences. For example, one in four children said they had been physically hurt by someone they knew in the past month (29% of boys compared to 14% of girls) and one in eight had been forced to do unpaid work (no gender difference in response). While it is not possible at this stage to say if abuse increased because of lockdown measures, the results demonstrate that harm is ongoing and provide a benchmark for future measurement. The results can be used to help monitor potential harms that may occur, with this baseline data providing insights into what issues might be of particular concern given the impact the pandemic is having on children’s behaviour. Lesson 5: Learn from the interviewersA complementary online survey of the social workers was conducted to capture their perspectives. This survey improved understanding of how COVID-19 is impacting their work and helps identify the support they need. It triangulates the insights gathered from the children, for example by corroborating the evidence on the educational and financial impact of the pandemic. This survey also provided insights from the social workers on the potential secondary harms that children may face in the future, for example increased incidence of female genital mutilation or child marriage. As such, they can better understand the impact of the crisis, be better placed to monitor what might or might not happen and take action to mitigate negative effects.   As the pandemic continues, UNICEF continuously adapts to ensure the most vulnerable children are not only protected, but that their voices are heard, and their experiences are considered when designing responses. Research is essential to this, but during this challenging time data collection methods must be adapted to overcome the constraints of the context and, most importantly, ensure children are being heard in an ethical and safe way. This rigorous, ethical research on COVID is generating lessons that will inform future work, both during and beyond this crisis.   Mark Gill (Consultant, UNICEF Innocenti), Olivia Bueno (Consultant, UNICEF Innocenti) and Lawrence Oduma (Project Manager, UNICEF Somalia).
How sport can help keep children engaged during COVID-19: Innovations South Africa
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How sport can help keep children engaged during COVID-19: Innovations South Africa

This blog is part two of a series highlighting innovative responses to COVID-19 from S4D organizations. UNICEF Innocenti is conducting research on S4D in collaboration with the UNICEF- FCB and Barça Foundation partnership.  The first blog  in the series discussed innovative responses S4D organizations have taken  globally to adapt to the crisis. In this blog, we focus on one country, South Africa – which sets itself apart as a lower-middle income country with the highest number of S4D organizations. This blog explores the challenges faced in South Africa’s unique contexts and different responses to them.   South African ContextSports for Development (S4D) is a key strategy for engaging children in South Africa.  A mapping exercise conducted as part of the Getting into the Game research programme initiated by Barça Foundation and UNICEF identified 265 S4D organisations operating in South Africa, many of which are implemented during or after school hours and use schools to reach young people.   On March 5th 2020, the first confirmed case of the COVID-19 was registered in the country and on March 26th a national lockdown, including school closures affecting over 14 million children, was announced by the President of the Republic. The latest phase of the lockdown in South Africa began June 1st, allowing easing of restrictions on movement of people and the reopening of schools. Even with the phased incremental reopening of schools, S4D organisations implementing programmes in schools depend on the guidance of the government in order to resume or continue S4D programmes.   This blog looks at eight organisations, five of which are implementing programmes supported by UNICEF South Africa and Barça Foundation as part of the UNICEF-FCB and Barça Foundation partnership. Each organization has responded to the crisis with some form of remote delivery. Table 1 reports basic information on the organizations and summarizes the responses. In addition to the remote delivery of S4D programming, some are also providing health information and support to other programs.   Remote engagementOrganisations have found innovative ways to keep coaches and participants engaged through activities conducted on social media platforms and WhatsApp. Grootbos’ coaches have maintained contact with beneficiaries through WhatsApp and Grootbos, Altus and PeacePlayers South Africa (PPSA) continue to provide support to coaches through videos on Social Media platforms and Zoom. The Department of Basic Education has launched a Facebook Live and Zoom Webinar Series on dialogues with young people around Covid-19 and School Based Violence (SBV), it also has regular WhatsApp based Covid-19 related dialogues, and has conducted a #StayHealthy, #StayAtHome fitness series via WhatsApp and Facebook. MAVU asked staff, volunteers, and their ambassadors to create and submit videos of themselves doing an activity whilst at home using equipment at their disposal; the videos were then disseminated across multiple social media channels.  PPSA has also been conducting twice weekly Zoom sessions where participants engage in team building, leadership, and basketball activities. It has also been disseminating these activities through social media and  keeping in touch regularly with participants and parents via WhatsApp and other social media platforms. “This experience participating in the Child Protection Week Webinar that dealt with Child Safety during Covid-19 was very informative and humbling as I got to understand that various children from various backgrounds have different struggles when it comes to the impact of the coronavirus and the lockdown.- Participant of GBEM programme  To maximize reach and ensure equity, these organisations have also been helping their beneficiaries to access this remote programming. Grootbos, not being able to reach all their normal programme beneficiaries, has set up a free WIFI hotspot in the centre of the Masakhane township community. Altus has purchased data so that their leaders could attend their Zoom training workshops, PPSA has fundraised to buy data and airtime for participants, and UTS has provided high school learners with internet and computer access through their office, two EdTech centres, and through the purchase of data and airtime.   UNICEF leveraged its partnership with SuperSport broadcast platforms, the media and partners at its disposal to broadcast Covid-19 Public Service Announcements (PSAs) across the SuperSport Channels.  These PSAs are a means to support the amplification and reaching young people with critical of Covid-19 messaging premised on (1) children’s safety; (2) hygiene and social distancing practices; and (3) continuation of learning using different platforms and reach out to peers for support. United Through Sport created resource packs that go out with their food parcels and an interactive television show that is aired every afternoon on a local free to air television station which they will continue after the lockdowns ends. Most organisations highlighted that the lack of access to data and devices restricts participation of learners and sometimes coaches, especially the most vulnerable. This makes remote programming a challenge and raises equity concerns. “I have been able to send them pictures of some topics that we did in our Mbewu Life Skills books and videos of what they can do at their homes with family members and I really helped them a lot in a way that they will call maybe after two days saying they want another chapter their done with the one I gave them (…)- Fulltime volunteer coach at Mavu Sports  Furthermore, for many organisations the lack of prior emergency experience, coupled with capacity limitations has made adaptation a difficult process. This, together with the uncertainty around the duration of school closures and lockdowns, has encouraged many organisations to invest in digital training and speed up the regular processes of innovation and adaptation. As the recovery from this health and economic crisis is likely to last long after the re-opening of activities in the country, it will be crucial for S4D organisation to adapt programming and its delivery to the “new normal” and investing now in innovating and adapting programmes can help build resilience for this and future crisis. Are you part of an S4D organization? How has COVID-19 affected you? How have you responded and what have you learned? Please email us at cpasquini@unicef.org and tell us more about it. Chiara Pasquini, is a consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti currently conducting research on the effectiveness of Sport for Development for Children globally. Ayanda Ndlovu is an Education Officer specializing in Sport-for-Development and Youth Engagement at UNICEF South Africa. Artur Borkowski is a consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti currently conducting research on the effectiveness of Sport for Development for Children globally.
Five things we learned from research on child survivors of violence
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Five things we learned from research on child survivors of violence

Understanding prevalence, characteristics and motives of disclosure, help-seeking and reporting of violence against children   Violence against children is a pervasive global phenomenon. Estimates indicate over 1 billion children under the age of 18 experience emotional, physical or sexual violence every year from a range of perpetrators – including parents, peers and intimate or dating partners. Despite these high figures, official figures of VAC are just the tip of the iceberg. How much do we know about children’s disclosure, help-seeking and reporting of violence? Most studies in low- and middle-income countries have narrowly focused on either reporting intimate partner violence among adolescent girls, on specific types of violence, or in specific settings. A new publication, analyzing nationally representative Violence Against Children Survey data from six countries, aims to broaden the focus. The publication, just released in BMC Public Health, led by UNICEF Innocenti, in collaboration with other UNICEF offices and government counterparts, examines data from Cambodia, Haiti, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania. The study had three objectives: Measure the prevalence of informal disclosure (to family and friends among others), formal help-seeking (from social, health and legal services), formal reporting, and receipt of formal help;Document characteristics associated with disclosure and health seeking;Understand reasons why children did not seek help.  Using nationally representative data from six countries, the study analyzed reports from children aged 13 to 17 who experienced any physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes. These samples of child survivors of violence represented a high percentage of total children across countries: physical violence among children ranged from 50 to 84%, while that for sexual violence ranged from 6 to 36%.   What did we learn in terms of disclosure and reporting?   Most children have never told anyone about the violence they experience: Across countries the percentage of children who ever told someone informally about their experience was low—23% in Cambodia and 32% in Kenya, to 42% in Tanzania and 54% in Malawi. These estimates show that children may be telling survey interviewers about violence for the very first time and confirms that violence is largely under-acknowledged and “hidden in plain sight.” It also means that children’s existing social networks—including family, friends, and neighbors are often a first source of disclosure and possible support system for children survivors.  Formal services are rarely accessed or utilized by child survivors: The percentage of children who reported to formal sources was low—ranging from under 1% in Cambodia to 25% in Tanzania (formal disclosure)—and the percentage who received help was even smaller (1% in Nigeria to 11% in Tanzania, this outcome was not measured in Cambodia or Haiti). These statistics confirm that only a fraction of children attempt to contact health, social or legal services and even fewer receive any support, highlighting the importance of expanding accessibility and reach of assistance.  Factors encouraging disclosure, help-seeking and reporting varied by country: Identifying factors that encourage these behaviors could help target services or develop secondary prevention programming. However, few factors were consistently positively correlated with help-seeking behaviors—including factors that are hypothesized to help, like household wealth and residing in urban settings. This lack of pattern underscores the importance of context and the challenges in targeting services using observable characteristics of child survivors.  Self-blame, apathy and not needing or wanting services were top factors deterring children from disclosure: Across countries, common reasons cited for not seeking help were responses like “I felt it was my fault (self blame)”, “I did not think it was a problem (apathy)” or “I don’t want or need services.” For example, in Cambodia, the most common reason for not seeking help for physical violence was self-blame, mentioned by 56% of children, while the most common reason in Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria was apathy (25%-39%). Fewer children reported fear of repercussions or helplessness, while lack of access and financial constraints were rarely mentioned. These reasons highlight the role of shame and how the normalization of VAC is pervasive.  Better data and methodological innovation is urgently needed: This study underscores the need for innovation in research methodologies to accurately estimate prevalence of sensitive topics. Improvements might include methods allowing self-administration of questions and those which allow for greater confidentiality. In addition, future surveys should include a wider range of household and community level indicators to understand underlying dynamics surrounding the child’s environment—for example, parental (mental health, parenting, time use), household (social and economic vulnerability factors), and community (gender norms, service availability) characteristics.  What should we take away from these results? One concrete implication is that statistics based on violence against children reporting to formal sources such as data from health systems, police, or NGO reporting are likely to underestimate the total prevalence ranging from 4 to 940-fold depending on the country. This has implications for the analysis of such data during COVID-19, where there have been fears that children are even less able to access services—and that many cases of violence are uncounted. Our results show this is a huge issue and must be accounted for when interpreting the dynamics stemming from administrative data. Other implications relate to how to improve use of services for survivors. One strategy is to address barriers including social norms that normalize violence, and how these manifest in different contexts. Another is to improve linkages and raise awareness of child protection services and common touchpoints  for children, such as those within the education, health and community-based structures, which are likely to interact with children on an informal, daily basis. These trusted individuals in children’s lives are important entry points for formal services. It is also important to strengthen the capacities of professionals working in health, education and social sectors to be able to identify risks and respond using a survivor centered approach. Given the wide under-reporting and pervasive nature of violence against children, services which are targeted to only one setting or population are unlikely to result in broad uptake of services and assistance. Multi-sectoral responses and well-networked referral systems are necessary. Much more research is needed to unpack the dynamics around help-seeking and secondary prevention for survivors. We hope this analysis will serve as a starting point to advance research and practice to end violence against children and the long-lasting negative effects experienced by children over their lifetimes. *** Special thanks to Alessandra Guedes, Alina Potts and Mary Shawa for helpful comments. Amber Peterman, Ph.D. joined UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti in 2015 as a Social Policy Specialist and now works as a consultant with joint affiliation as an Associate Adjunct Professor at UNC Chapel Hill. Amber focuses on gender, violence and adolescent wellbeing and safe transitions to adulthood with the Transfer Project evaluations of social protection and cash transfers in Africa. Audrey Pereira is a Doctoral Student in Public Policy at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Tia Palermo is Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Environmental Health at the University at Buffalo (State University of New York) and an Affiliated Researcher with the Transfer Project.   Full citation: Pereira A, Peterman A, Neijhoft AN, Buluma R, Kaloga IF, Harvey R, Islam A, Kheam T, Kitembe M, Lund-Henriksen B, Maksud N, Maternowska MC, Potts A, Rottanak C, Shawa M, T Palermo (2020). Disclosure, reporting and help-seeking among child survivors of violence: A cross-country analysis. BMC Public Health 20(1051).
Protecting children from harm during COVID-19 needs evidence
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Protecting children from harm during COVID-19 needs evidence

Although much of the world is focused on the “silver lining” that COVID-19 does not appear to severely impact children’s health, UNICEF is raising the alarm about the potential damage of the hidden impacts on children’s health as well as the indirect socio-economic effects of the fallout from the pandemic. In response, UNICEF Innocenti is generating evidence to assist and inform UNICEF’s COVID-19 work. This blog is about a research conducted by UNICEF on the impacts of pandemics and epidemics on child protection, including topics such as violence against children, child labour and child marriage. How are children affected by health crises?A key first step in this process is synthesising what we already know through a rapid review, which is a fast way of summarising what is known about a topic and highlights where there are gaps in our knowledge. COVID-19 affects numerous areas of children’s lives, including development and education. Child protection, including violence against children, child labour, and child marriage, is another key area impacted by the pandemic. Innocenti’s latest rapid review looks at how previous pandemics, epidemics (like Ebola and HIV/AIDS), and their control measures (such as social distancing and school closures) impact child protection. This is a particularly important issue because of the many hidden and understudied pathways between health crises and child protection areas. With the help of EPPI-Centre at University College London, over 6,000 studies were screened, of which 53 were included in the review. The broad scope of ‘child protection’Child protection is complex and includes many areas that cut across multiple aspects of children’s lives, including education and health. For this reason, the review has a very broad scope. While this means different policy needs are met, it makes completing a timely review challenging. The result is a ‘broad and shallow’ review, whereby the scope encompasses a range of areas, but the depth of analysis and specificity of policy recommendations are affected. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OI4h3_lMXUs[/embed] Balancing robustness and timelinessRecent controversies point to the effects that poor quality studies and a rush to judgement can have on policy responses to COVID-19. It is generally understood, at least by the evidence synthesis community, that shortcuts and comprises on the standard systematic review template can be applied to produce something that is both policy-relevant and quick. The review is relatively comprehensive and transparent, with a publicly available methodology. However, the quality of evidence included was not assessed, which may affect the validity of the findings. There has been an unprecedented global sharing of data, editorials, policy guidance, and research during the COVID-19 crisis. While this is beneficial for evidence-informed responses, much of this research is being undertaken in an uncoordinated fashion, making it almost impossible to keep on top of new and potentially relevant research. As a result, the review may have duplicated some existing work and may be missing key evidence. Lessons LearnedFor evidence synthesis to be most useful, it may be counter-productive to expect too much from one product, especially if is a rapid evidence synthesis. Rather than one all-encompassing review, it may make sense to complete several smaller rapid reviews, each with their own specific purpose and scope. There is also value to be had in getting a draft version of the report into the public domain quickly via an open access portal. In the future, collaboration with emerging networks and initiatives will be prioritised to ensure that rigorous evidence for decision-making is made available in a timely and accessible manner. For example, the COVID-19 Evidence Network to support Decision-making helps decision makers find the best evidence available and coordinates evidence syntheses. Global organisations responsible for setting standards for evidence synthesis are fast-tracking editorial processes for COVID-19-relevant evidence reviews. Responding quickly to a crisisDespite the challenges encountered, UNICEF was able to respond quickly to the COVID-19 crisis for various reasons. Firstly, UNICEF was well-prepared to provide relevant evidence thanks to recent work on the use research to drive change for children. Secondly, UNICEF understood that COVID-19 had serious implications for children and adapted work plans to focus on this. Thirdly, diverse expertise from UNICEF’s Child Protection Section and the evidence community were combined in an integrated effort, using methods experts and technology to find and use research fast. This helped shape the review which will assist UNICEF and others to ensure no child is left behind, during and after the pandemic. Read the full rapid review and the shorter research brief. Explore an interactive visualization in the evidence gap map. Read the study protocol on which the review was based. Shiv Bakrania is a Knowledge Management Specialist at UNICEF Innocenti. Sandy Oliver is Professor of Public Policy at UCL Institute of Education and Deputy Director of the EPPI-Centre.
COVID-19 may pose greater risk to children than originally thought
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COVID-19 may pose greater risk to children than originally thought

It is commonly accepted, at least for now, that children and adolescents (0-19 years) have been largely spared the direct epidemiological effects of the COVID-19 crisis on their own health and survival. This narrative is based predominantly on early data from the first affected countries of the virus, notably from China (Wuhan Province) and Italy in early 2020, and also other high-income countries including the United States and some European nations. This narrative has conditioned subsequent screening and testing of COVID-19 cases in children and adolescents, which have been notably lower than for other age cohorts. But demographic dynamics differs widely among countries, and assumptions and narrative made on evidence taken from ageing societies and mainly from high income countries may not hold for more youthful and growing populations (Figure 1). For this reason, we began to investigate the burden of COVID-19 cases for children and adolescents globally. And what we have found so far, despite major data limitations, suggest that children worldwide may be more affected by COVID-19 than the dominant narrative so far suggests. The narrative [that children have been spared] is based predominantly on early data from the first affected countries of the virus, notably China and Italy and other high-income countries including the United States and some European nations. [caption id="attachment_2601" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Italy source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1103023/coronavirus-cases-distribution-by-age-group-italy/ Kenya source: https://www.health.go.ke/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Kenya-SITREP-090-15-Jun-2020.pdf[/caption] The dataset we have compiled from websites of 42 countries with available disaggregated data shows that the average of COVID-19 reported cases among children and adolescents under 20 years as a percentage of total cases is 8.1 per cent. There is an incredibly broad spread among the proportions, ranging from Paraguay, where under-20s account for about 23 per cent of the national COVID case load on 14 June 2020, to Spain, where they represented just 0.82 per cent by 4 June 2020. (Figure 2). A pattern of the child and adolescent burden of reported COVID-19 cases emerges when countries are aggregated along income levels and geographic locations. Using the World Bank income categorization, the share of COVID-19 cases among under-20s in the total reported burden is around 10 per cent for low- and middle-income countries (LMICS) including China compared to 7 per cent for high-income countries (Figure 1). When China is excluded, the share of COVID-19 cases among under-20s in the total national burden is around 11 percent. What is perhaps more disturbing, however, is that for some of the high-burden child and adolescent mortality countries – including Brazil, India and Nigeria – the proportion of cases among under 20s to the total national COVID-19 cases is in double digits. One reason that children may be neglected as sufferers from COVID-19 derives from the way the virus affects them. Children confirmed with COVID-19 generally have fewer symptoms than adults, including fever and cough, and much less dyspnoea (shortness of breath) than adults. Consistent with less severe disease, laboratory findings in children with COVID-19 are less abnormal than in adults, and they are less likely to require ICU or significant treatments. However, the emerging multi-system inflammatory syndrome (MISS or MIS-C) in children reported in Western countries is of great concern and calls for increased vigilance. Early detection is key to prevent unintended consequences for children. Much of the difficulty of drawing definitive conclusions from the available data is related to the fact that there is just too little of child specific data. From our search of diverse sources, we were only able to draw on data by age from 42 countries out of the 188 countries and territories that have confirmed cases of COVID-19, which represents about 20 per cent of these countries. It is even harder to obtain disaggregated data to evaluate proportional representation by age among children and adolescents with COVID-19. This omission requires rapid rectification if the full direct effects of the virus on children and adolescents – and indeed other stratifiers such as gender and race/ethnicity -- are to be better understood. While understanding the additional burden the accurate age reporting may place on already overstretched health systems, particularly in countries with weak health system capacity, experience from some low-and-middle-income countries proved that it is possible for much more age disaggregated data to be made available in a readily accessible format. This will not only benefit children and adolescents but the wider understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on all age cohorts. The same argument can and is being made for disaggregation by sex. [caption id="attachment_2604" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] A medical worker applies a flu vaccine to a girl in Asuncion, Paraguay amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Health authorities in Paraguay are encouraging people over 60 and children to be vaccinated against the flu.[/caption] It is imperative to have standardized age data to enable a comprehensive and timely understanding of the patterns of vulnerability across ages, geography, co-morbidities and vulnerabilities, thus enabling better programme strategies and policy adoption that are context specific. At the end of the day, the pandemic is about people in different parts of the world, so invoking the SDG principle of leaving no one behind, and universal health coverage, we need to pay attention to everyone including children and adolescents, who are often the silent victims. Children are without a voice or platform and are among the most vulnerable. It is the responsibility of all governments and parties to make sure they are not left behind in this epidemic due to lack of data, research and testing. The pandemic has currently appeared to hit men and the elderly hardest, particularly in high income countries. But data emerging from the US and elsewhere points alarmingly to COVID-19 disease becoming an equity issue, with certain ethnicities and income groups much more likely to die from it than others In addition, a further call by the authors is for the continuous monitoring of age- and sex-disaggregated data for COVID-19 by governments and major international agencies. The pandemic has currently appeared to hit men and the elderly hardest, particularly in high income countries. But data emerging from the US and elsewhere points alarmingly to COVID-19 disease becoming an equity issue, with certain ethnicities and income groups much more likely to die from it than others, even when controlling for pre-existing health conditions, age, and other socio-demographic factors. Like polio before it, unless we continue to monitor its socio-demographic spread, COVID-19 may start out being a disease that first affects more affluent communities and countries but could end up lasting longest and deepest among the world’s poorest countries and communities. In the HIV crisis, age-disaggregated data appeared long after the aggregate numbers or even the sex-disaggregated, leaving child prevention, detection and treatment lagging well behind that of adults. Until it did, children were assumed to be affected largely by its secondary effects on their parents, caregivers and family members. The disaggregated figures showed that children were also primary victims of the crisis, as well as secondary ones, but by the time this happened, it was too late to stop this momentum. We must not make the same mistakes with the COVID-19 crisis. See a complete list of country level COVID-19 data sources.   Priscilla Idele is Deputy Director of UNICEF Innocenti. David Anthony is Chief of Strategic Planning  and Convening at UNICEF Innocenti. Kaku Attah Damoah, is a Research Consultant at UNICEF Innocenti working on poverty reduction. Danzhen You is Sr. Advisor, Statistics and Monitoring at UNICEF.             
COVID-19 may pose greater risk to children than originally thought
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COVID-19 may pose greater risk to children than originally thought

It is commonly accepted, at least for now, that children and adolescents (0-19 years) have been largely spared the direct epidemiological effects of the COVID-19 crisis on their own health and survival. This narrative is based predominantly on early data from the first affected countries of the virus, notably from China (Wuhan Province) and Italy in early 2020, and also other high-income countries including the United States and some European nations. This narrative has conditioned subsequent screening and testing of COVID-19 cases in children and adolescents, which have been notably lower than for other age cohorts. But demographic dynamics differs widely among countries, and assumptions and narrative made on evidence taken from ageing societies and mainly from high income countries may not hold for more youthful and growing populations (Figure 1). For this reason, we began to investigate the burden of COVID-19 cases for children and adolescents globally. And what we have found so far, despite major data limitations, suggest that children worldwide may be more affected by COVID-19 than the dominant narrative so far suggests. The narrative [that children have been spared] is based predominantly on early data from the first affected countries of the virus, notably China and Italy and other high-income countries including the United States and some European nations. [caption id="attachment_2601" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Italy source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1103023/coronavirus-cases-distribution-by-age-group-italy/ Kenya source: https://www.health.go.ke/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Kenya-SITREP-090-15-Jun-2020.pdf[/caption] The dataset we have compiled from websites of 42 countries with available disaggregated data shows that the average of COVID-19 reported cases among children and adolescents under 20 years as a percentage of total cases is 8.1 per cent. There is an incredibly broad spread among the proportions, ranging from Paraguay, where under-20s account for about 23 per cent of the national COVID case load on 14 June 2020, to Spain, where they represented just 0.82 per cent by 4 June 2020. (Figure 2). A pattern of the child and adolescent burden of reported COVID-19 cases emerges when countries are aggregated along income levels and geographic locations. Using the World Bank income categorization, the share of COVID-19 cases among under-20s in the total reported burden is around 10 per cent for low- and middle-income countries (LMICS) including China compared to 7 per cent for high-income countries (Figure 1). When China is excluded, the share of COVID-19 cases among under-20s in the total national burden is around 11 percent. What is perhaps more disturbing, however, is that for some of the high-burden child and adolescent mortality countries – including Brazil, India and Nigeria – the proportion of cases among under 20s to the total national COVID-19 cases is in double digits. One reason that children may be neglected as sufferers from COVID-19 derives from the way the virus affects them. Children confirmed with COVID-19 generally have fewer symptoms than adults, including fever and cough, and much less dyspnoea (shortness of breath) than adults. Consistent with less severe disease, laboratory findings in children with COVID-19 are less abnormal than in adults, and they are less likely to require ICU or significant treatments. However, the emerging multi-system inflammatory syndrome (MISS or MIS-C) in children reported in Western countries is of great concern and calls for increased vigilance. Early detection is key to prevent unintended consequences for children. Much of the difficulty of drawing definitive conclusions from the available data is related to the fact that there is just too little of child specific data. From our search of diverse sources, we were only able to draw on data by age from 42 countries out of the 188 countries and territories that have confirmed cases of COVID-19, which represents about 20 per cent of these countries. It is even harder to obtain disaggregated data to evaluate proportional representation by age among children and adolescents with COVID-19. This omission requires rapid rectification if the full direct effects of the virus on children and adolescents – and indeed other stratifiers such as gender and race/ethnicity -- are to be better understood. While understanding the additional burden the accurate age reporting may place on already overstretched health systems, particularly in countries with weak health system capacity, experience from some low-and-middle-income countries proved that it is possible for much more age disaggregated data to be made available in a readily accessible format. This will not only benefit children and adolescents but the wider understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on all age cohorts. The same argument can and is being made for disaggregation by sex. [caption id="attachment_2604" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] A medical worker applies a flu vaccine to a girl in Asuncion, Paraguay amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Health authorities in Paraguay are encouraging people over 60 and children to be vaccinated against the flu.[/caption] It is imperative to have standardized age data to enable a comprehensive and timely understanding of the patterns of vulnerability across ages, geography, co-morbidities and vulnerabilities, thus enabling better programme strategies and policy adoption that are context specific. At the end of the day, the pandemic is about people in different parts of the world, so invoking the SDG principle of leaving no one behind, and universal health coverage, we need to pay attention to everyone including children and adolescents, who are often the silent victims. Children are without a voice or platform and are among the most vulnerable. It is the responsibility of all governments and parties to make sure they are not left behind in this epidemic due to lack of data, research and testing. The pandemic has currently appeared to hit men and the elderly hardest, particularly in high income countries. But data emerging from the US and elsewhere points alarmingly to COVID-19 disease becoming an equity issue, with certain ethnicities and income groups much more likely to die from it than others In addition, a further call by the authors is for the continuous monitoring of age- and sex-disaggregated data for COVID-19 by governments and major international agencies. The pandemic has currently appeared to hit men and the elderly hardest, particularly in high income countries. But data emerging from the US and elsewhere points alarmingly to COVID-19 disease becoming an equity issue, with certain ethnicities and income groups much more likely to die from it than others, even when controlling for pre-existing health conditions, age, and other socio-demographic factors. Like polio before it, unless we continue to monitor its socio-demographic spread, COVID-19 may start out being a disease that first affects more affluent communities and countries but could end up lasting longest and deepest among the world’s poorest countries and communities. In the HIV crisis, age-disaggregated data appeared long after the aggregate numbers or even the sex-disaggregated, leaving child prevention, detection and treatment lagging well behind that of adults. Until it did, children were assumed to be affected largely by its secondary effects on their parents, caregivers and family members. The disaggregated figures showed that children were also primary victims of the crisis, as well as secondary ones, but by the time this happened, it was too late to stop this momentum. We must not make the same mistakes with the COVID-19 crisis. See a complete list of country level COVID-19 data sources.   Priscilla Idele is Deputy Director of UNICEF Innocenti. David Anthony is Chief of Strategic Planning  and Convening at UNICEF Innocenti. Kaku Attah Damoah, is a Research Consultant at UNICEF Innocenti working on poverty reduction. Danzhen You is Sr. Advisor, Statistics and Monitoring at UNICEF.             
From Crisis Comes Opportunity: Spain’s Basic Income Response to COVID-19
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From Crisis Comes Opportunity: Spain’s Basic Income Response to COVID-19

Spain has been hard hit by Covid-19, both in terms of high death toll and worsening economic conditions. Government lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus left millions of households without earnings or temporary unemployed. A recent report anticipates a 13% decline in GDP in the worst-case scenario. This is a worrying prediction for a country characterised by high unemployment and high levels of extreme poverty, even before the crisis. But from this adversity comes an opportunity. The Government of Spain recently launched a national ‘Basic Income scheme’ (‘Ingreso Minimo Vital’), for extremely poor households and vulnerable groups. The means-tested programme is expected to reach approximately 2.5 million people, who will receive between €462 and €1,015 per month per household depending on the number of household members. Total household income and wealth determines whether a household receives the benefit, and applicants should be between 23 and 65 years of age and have legal residence in Spain of at least one year. There is also a condition of being registered as a job seeker. The programme is expected to cost €3,000 million. Protecting whom? Many countries have turned to social protection in response to the COVID-19 crisis, and direct cash transfers are one of the most effective measures for vulnerable families with children. While basic income had been on the policy agenda since 2016, the crisis incentivised the government to speed-up its introduction as living standards rapidly deteriorated following the outbreak.  As opposed to many countries who have introduced emergency cash transfers, Spain opted for a permanent basic income, which will remain after the current emergency and can be considered a commitment to long-term sustainability and better responsiveness for future crises. However, a temporary cash transfer reaching the most affected by the crisis would have enabled families to access the benefits faster while giving more time to the Ministry of Social Security to design this complex policy. Pro-poor social protection in Spain had previously been underfunded with low coverage. With an estimated 5.4% of the Spanish population living in extreme poverty, the high transfer value and national coverage of the new basic income has the potential to substantially reduce poverty and transform children’s lives, who make up about half of the estimated beneficiaries. However, this policy is not universal in nature, and some of the most vulnerable groups (such as migrants, youth under 23 years living alone, and those with difficulties registering as job seekers) will be excluded. [caption id="attachment_2592" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Ruben (4) memorizes the names of sea animals with his mother while painting with water colors during the COVID-19 lockdown in Madrid.[/caption] Design matters Innovative design features characterise the new policy.  For example, ex-ante identification of beneficiaries has been adopted to improve targeting and efficacy. Moreover, while income from 2019 is used to determine who receives the benefit, it is also possible to apply if income up to June 2020 was below the equivalent annual threshold to be able to reach those who lost their income due to the corona crisis. The basic income is also designed partly with gender in mind. It explicitly considers the income needs of very vulnerable women and girls, including victims of sexual trafficking or domestic violence, by waiving the conditions needed to apply for benefits (such as applying as a household and being registered as a job seeker). This is particularly important as this crisis exacerbates gender vulnerabilities, with women losing their jobs, gaining additional care responsibilities, and potentially experiencing violence in the home. That said, the family-friendly and gender-responsive aspects of the policy could be strengthened by linking beneficiaries to complementary services, including child care support. The difficulties of incentivising work in a country with low paid jobs In high income countries, where social assistance transfers are close to the minimum wage, a common worry among policymakers is that social protection can disincentivise people to work, even though this is not supported by consistent evidence. To encourage people to work when possible, the scheme does not count income earned under very short contracts when determining income eligibility, and benefits are reduced by less than the increase in earnings if a beneficiary starts working (the specific thresholds have not been announced yet, and this is a key component of the policy). This is an important feature, especially for single parent households where childcare incurs a significant cost and in countries (like Spain) where minimum wage is low so there is little incentive to take up employment if receiving social benefits. On the other hand, the scheme could encourage some to work in the informal sector so as not to declare income. An opportunity to mend a fragmented system In contrast to most European countries, Spain does not have a national social assistance benefit aimed at poverty reduction. Instead, this is the responsibility of regional governments, leading to decentralised, unequal, and highly heterogeneous programmes. The new basic income will have the same requirements throughout Spain. However, it is not clear whether this will complement or replace the existing programmes. Parallel systems may result in spending inefficiencies given that the poverty targeted regional benefits are not considered for the basic income application.   As the COVID-19 emergency has caused much hardship, the recently adopted basic income is seen as an opportunity to reform a social protection system that was traditionally not pro-poor. Spain’s new basic income was quickly approved by Parliament, in a moment where political polarisation is at its highest. Its thoughtful design, some gender considerations in mind, and constant monitoring planned to improve its effectiveness make this policy promising. The exclusion of highly vulnerable groups such as migrants and youth can impede the progress in ending poverty though. Having well-designed work incentives features (including childcare costs) and achieving cooperation between the central and regional governments will be key for its success. Jennifer Waidler and Maja Gavrilovic are Social and Economic Policy consultants with UNICEF Innocenti.   Explore our research on the impact of COVID-19 on children.
Ending child labour in South Asia through access to quality education
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Ending child labour in South Asia through access to quality education

Since 2000, the global number of children involved in child labour has dropped by 94 million. While this progress is encouraging, it is not good enough, especially when we consider the immense and long-lasting negative impacts child labour has on child wellbeing. Even more disheartening is the slowing rate of decline during 2012-16 compared to the previous four years. The fact that 152 million children globally are still being deprived of their rights to leisure, schooling, and protection from harm is unacceptable. Protracted school closures and the economic impact of COVID-19 may further compound these figures. Effective action is urgently needed to end child labour in all its forms by 2025 (SDG 8.7). In response, UNICEF Innocenti is undertaking a DFID-funded research project on Evidence on Educational Strategies to Address Child Labour in South Asia. An inception workshop with national experts from India and Bangladesh started to unpack the nature of children’s work and interlinkages with schooling and other aspects of children’s lives. Priorities for new research to identify the most effective strategies to rapidly end child labour were outlined. Four features of child labour in Bangladesh and India Despite reductions in child labour, hazardous forms of child labour remain an issue. Data from Bangladesh show that while  the number of children working below the minimum age has declined,  the number of children in hazardous forms of child labour has remained stable. In India, many older children engage in hazardous work. The nature of child labour varies significantly depending on age and gender. Although statistics show that child labour is more common among boys and older children, girls are likely to be equally at risk. Girls dominate certain economic sectors, such as  garment making, cigarette rolling, and hybrid seed production. They also engage more intensively in unseen and typically unpaid domestic work, and are particularly vulnerable to some of the worst forms of child labour, such as commercial sexual exploitation, which are difficult to capture with standard surveys. Child labour is typically concentrated in ‘hotspots’. Both Bangladesh and India have concentrations of child labour, where children often work in highly exploitative conditions. Often driven by internal migration—with children leaving their homes to take up work in towns and cities—these locations include industrialized areas, such as Dhaka (Bangladesh) and Secunderabad (India), as well as the rural tea gardens of Sylhet and Gujarat’s cottonseed fields. Here, children are highly likely to be out of school or to encounter difficulties when attending school, mostly due to language barriers in classrooms. Many children combine school and work. This impacts both their progress in school and, consequently, their chances of escaping poverty through education. [caption id="attachment_2577" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Urkundamma (12), who has never been to school, cradling baby brother in a peanut farm in India.[/caption] Improvements in education can provide the much-needed push to further reduce child labour Over the past two decades, access to school has significantly improved both in India and in Bangladesh. While this has contributed to reductions in child labour, challenges remain that hinder further progress. Significant numbers of children remain out of school. Furthermore, learning achievements are low even among children in school. In India, about 50 per cent of children who completed primary school are able to read a three-sentence passage. This figure decreases to 34 per cent in Bangladesh. School dropout and poor quality of education have implications for employment outcomes, including skills mismatch and higher vulnerability to exploitative and hazardous work. Together, these findings suggest that further improvements in education access and quality can reduce child labour. For example, programmes that address perceived costs and benefits of education have significant effects at low costs. To end child labour, we need to know more Stronger and regularly updated data on the intersections between child labour and education in India and Bangladesh are needed to assess changes over time. Definitions should follow international standards to allow comparability across countries. Surveys to assess the amount of time children spend on household chores and leisure activities are needed. Qualitative data can help explain the links between schooling and work and draw attention to ‘invisible’ child labourers, including street-connected or trafficked children. Data must be disaggregated (by gender, age, social group, and migratory status) to better assess the specific education challenges and child labour risks of vulnerable groups. More research is needed to rigorously assess the impact of educational strategies on child labour in India and Bangladesh. With COVID-19 comes new risks for children and more urgency for action Lockdowns to contain COVID-19 are likely to have long lasting negative economic effects on households and their children. Both Bangladesh and India have large informal sectors that have been hard hit by restrictions on movements. The loss of livelihoods, particularly for migrants, combined with school closures, will likely increase school dropout and child labour. Remote online learning is not an option when less than 25 per cent of children in India and Bangladesh have internet access. Now more than ever, we must assess which schooling solutions improve learning, while also reducing child labour. Significant and strategic investments in effective education policies and programmes can not only ensure that children return to school after lockdowns, but also play a vital role in ending child labour in South Asia.   Ramya Subrahmanian is Chief of Child Rights and Protection at UNICEF Innocenti. Valeria Groppo is Social Policy Specialist at UNICEF Innocenti.  Discover our work on Child Labour and education in India and Bangladesh.
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