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Building a Critical Mass: Digital engagement for the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation during COVID-19
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Building a Critical Mass: 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 EgyptErika 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.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)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 webinarWith 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.
Daniel is looking at the basketball pitch
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Safeguarding and sport for development during and after the pandemic

This blog is part three 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. The second blog explores the challenges faced in South Africa’s unique contexts and different responses to them.Sport for Development (S4D) organisations have adapted their programming to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 crisis through continued support including remote learning, providing health information, and supporting their staff to support other programs. In this blog we explore the new risks and challenges raised by the crisis and how organisations can use this time to make sure the return to play is safer than ever.All children have the right to participate in sport in a safe and enjoyable environment as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Sport can contribute to positive youth development and to building life skills. Moreover, it is widely perceived that sport can help to steer young people away from risky behaviours such as youth in conflict with the law and aggressive and violent behaviours by strengthening social bonds with positive actors.However, the perception that sport is only a force for good for children has been challenged. Sport can also bring risks such as violence, exploitation and abuse, and there are also some risks which are unique to sport, such as abuse for elite young athletes, risks from training when injured, and issues like doping and hazing. These risks need to be minimized and children and young people protected.Risks and ChallengesWhile many S4D and sport organisations, including those that form part of the International Safeguarding Children in Sport Initiative, consider safeguarding an essential component of programming, the COVID-19 crisis brings new risks and challenges. RespondingManaging these risks and overcoming these challenges has the potential to help organisations become even stronger. Shrinking Budgets: If the crisis has meant that staff with a particular responsibility for safeguarding are not currently working, this presents an opportunity to ensure that safeguarding is embedded in everyone’s roles. As a rule of thumb, no more than a third of safeguarding responsibilities should be held by staff with a specific safeguarding role - Safeguarding is the duty of care we all have, for all children in our programmes. Organisations could use this time to:raise awareness and understanding about what safeguarding is and what everyone’s responsibilities are, which will help reduce safeguarding risk now, and in the future;check policies and programming to make sure they are following good practice guidance such as the The International Safeguards for Children in Sport or the FIFA Guardians Stigma can lead to bullying and emotional abuse, so it is really important to have strategies ready to tackle new forms of discrimination that may arise as a direct result of the pandemic. Organisations probably already have codes of conduct for staff and participants – this could be a great time to revisit those in light of COVID-19 and have discussions about treating everyone with respect and the importance of hygiene measures, as well as taking time to dispel any myths about the disease. Remote programming and engagement: Sports coaches, who would normally interact with children face to face, may be engaging with children in an online environment and may be unfamiliar with the risks this situation presents, or how to plan online activities safely. The online environment can be a positive space that connects and educates children, but it is also a space where children can be put at risk of harm and vigilance is needed. Some simple tips for making this a safer space include: Plan any online contact with safeguarding in mind – Just as you would plan any face to face activities with children, think about any risks and mitigations.Be accountable – Avoid one-to-one online contact with children and if possible, always have another adult involved in the group discussion.Keep professional boundaries – everything can feel very familiar and informal when engaging with people online, but it is important to remain professional and have clear boundaries at all times.Separate out and close off accounts - It is good practice to use a different account for engaging with children or young people so that you do not have to share personal social media contact details and there can be no confusion about the nature of the contact.Be ready to report – You may become aware of a risk of harm to the child or children you are engaging with. Be aware of how to report any concerns, both where the child is in need of immediate medical or police assistance or where you can contact support agencies after the online session has finished.You can find more guidance or safely engaging with children online here:  https://www.unicef.org/online-safety/ Resuming programming: Many organisations have continued to run sports activities, either because they are in communities without confirmed cases, or have adapted activities to ensure social distancing is maintained. Nevertheless, creating an environment where COVID-19 is transmitted because an organisation has failed to take the right measures is a safeguarding risk – it is important to risk-assess any activities, thinking about how children will travel to the activity, how the sport will happen in a safe way and other factors such as spectators.Additionally, children already living in vulnerable circumstances have been made more vulnerable by lockdowns, and traditional sources of support and protection, including the S4D programmes they attended, have been taken away. When children do return they may be suffering from trauma as a result of their experiences during lock-down, or as a result of sickness or bereavement. Now is the time to make contact with organisations in the community that can offer emotional support and adapt your programmes to follow more trauma-sensitive activities. Organisations need to be ready to refer children to specialist services if they disclose abuse that they have experienced during lock-down. Final ThoughtsNow is a time for organisations to strengthen all aspects of their approach to safeguarding: from embedding this responsibility across the organisation; to developing links with local experts who can support with referrals or provide emotional and mental health support; to better understanding and addressing risk online. Acting now will strengthen programmes in the short and long term and make sure children who are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis are supported by organisations at the top of their safeguarding game. Liz Twyford is a Sports Programmes Specialist at Unicef UK - specialising in the impact of sport on children’s rights, with a focus on safeguarding in sport 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. 
Children playing at the beach full of plastic waste, in Abidjan, in the South of Côte d'Ivoire
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From COVID-19 response to recovery: What role for universal child benefits?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than one billion children either lived in, or were vulnerable to, falling into extreme poverty. As children are twice as likely globally to live in poverty than adults, the economic fall-out of COVID-19 is expected to hit them particularly severely, and estimates indicate that an additional 117 million children could fall into poverty (below national poverty lines) by the end of 2020 alone.Children are not only more likely to live in poverty than adults, poverty impacts on children are particularly severe. Rarely do children get a second chance at nutrition, health care or education. The effects of poverty can be immediate and life-long, and what affects children now will be felt fully by societies and economies as they become the next generation of adults.A growing evidence base underscores the significant impacts child benefits can have on child poverty, with positive effects on spending on children, their health, education, food security and protection. Despite this, children are significantly under-represented in social protection coverage: globally only 1 in 3 children have access to a child or family benefit.With COVID-19 increasing child poverty rates and exposing the gaps in social protection systems, a recent ODI-UNICEF report on Universal Child Benefits: policy issues and options, provides new evidence and a framework for assessing the policy options for introducing or expanding child benefits. Drawing on experience from around the world, it asks: What are the benefits and limitations of alternative child benefit schemes? How have UCBs been achieved in practice?Child benefits are commonly considered against poverty reduction objectives, and here evidence highlights the potential of UCBs. By achieving high population coverage and minimising exclusion errors, OECD countries with universalistic systems, including UCBs, achieve greater reductions in poverty than countries that rely more heavily on narrow means testing. Simulations for countries without UCBs, for which data are available, show that UCB programmes costing about 1% of GDP would reduce child poverty rates by as much as 20%.UCBs offer additional positives which reinforce poverty reduction impacts. These include:Alignment with human rights – with comparatively higher population coverage rates, UCBs are in line with principles of equality and non-discrimination. Within universalistic approaches, focusing additional resources on those facing particular discrimination and disadvantage, such as additional benefits for persons with disabilities, is also in line with human rights principles.Supporting dignity and minimising shame – the impacts of the stigma of living in poverty can be exacerbated by programmes which narrowly target and emphasise the responsibilities of recipients. For children, this can be particularly pernicious as aspirations and expectations for the future are set in childhood. Processes of narrow targeting and punitive conditionality can stigmatise children and their caregivers. UCBs are less likely to be divisive in this way – for instance by reducing the need for informational checks or the fulfilment of strict behavioural conditions.Promoting social cohesion and political support – UCBs have the potential to bind societies with a shared responsibility for supporting children and raising the next generation. Relatedly, they are associated with low inequality, high social trust and cohesion. In Finland, for example, UCBs along with other universal programmes, played an important role in forging the post-World War II social contract and cohesion efforts. This shared purpose, along with benefits for children across the income spectrum can lead to political support for benefits, leaving them more resilient to shocks and crises, including political ones. The report highlights how, where they exist, UCBs are a cornerstone of social policy. It also points to important caveats. Access to quality social services is essential. Increasing resources in the home can make a difference, but if schools and health care are not available or are of low quality and families cannot receive support from social workers where needed, their impact will be curtailed. Relatedly, UCBs must be part of comprehensive social protection systems (or Social Protection Floors) that address risks across the lifecycle and include working-age benefits such as unemployment insurance, health care and sickness benefits and pensions in old age.Despite the potential of UCBs globally, only one in ten countries has a UCB (defined as universal, unconditional coverage for at least 10 years of childhood), with a further 14 countries having a ‘quasi’ UCB either covering shorter periods of childhood (e.g. 0-2 years), with an affluence cut off, or achieving high coverage through ‘mixed systems’ combining contributory social insurance and non-contributory provision to achieve high population coverage.The fundamental challenge, of course, is financing. UCBs with transfer amounts significant enough to make a difference are not inexpensive. Costs vary depending on the size of the child population and the economy. This makes UCBs relatively cheaper in higher-income countries. In OECD countries the average spending on child benefits is 1.7% of GDP, while in lower-income countries, a transfer that covered the gap to the international poverty line (a relatively low threshold) for 0-14 year-olds would cost 2.3% of GDP – well above the 0.3% that lower-income countries on average are currently spending.This highlights the potential in many countries to start with smaller programmes and building towards universality, as was the case in countries ranging from Sweden to South Africa. For example, costs for a quasi-UCBs for children of 0-4 years, a crucial early childhood development window, would be 0.9% of GDP in lower-income countries. In middle-income countries, a more generous transfer for 0-14 year-olds would cost 1.1% of GDP.But the argument for UCBs is not that they are inexpensive, rather that they are effective and can be the cornerstone of a child-sensitive social protection system. Certainly, available financing will need to increase. Domestic resource mobilisation will be essential, as child benefits and social protection systems make sense as part of a broader progressive system of taxes and transfers where everyone benefits, but contributions to the tax system will vary. In countries such as Mongolia and Zambia, taxation of natural resources has played a crucial role in financing their provision, and in Thailand and Costa Rica child benefits have been supported by internal resource reallocation, including from the military. For lower-income countries, in particular, international support and solidarity will be essential, including much-needed debt relief.The ODI-UNICEF report was researched, written and finalised before COVID-19 unfolded. What seemed necessary but ambitious before COVID-19, now is more evidently urgent. The pandemic has served as a ‘wake-up call’ both for the need for expanded approaches to social protection and deeper and sustained investment. In recent months we have seen an unprecedented social protection response to the crisis. Some 111 countries have provided direct support to children and their families, including through UCBs and adjustments to other types of child benefits, demonstrating that rapid and significant change is possible. The responses have highlighted how countries with established child benefits with high or universal population coverage are able to scale-up protection when shocks hit, and their potential to continue to support children and their carers during the crisis response and recovery phases.To give a few examples, in Mongolia, the government increased their Child Money Programme monthly benefit by five times from MNT 20,000 per month to MNT 100,000 for a duration of 6 months. Austria, Guatemala and the Philippines dropped the behavioural additions assigned to their child benefits. Argentina increased its Universal Child Allowance programme by $3,100 Argentine pesos (US$47) for current beneficiaries.  South Africa increased the amount of the Child Support Grant  from June to October by providing every caregiver with an additional R500 (US$27) per month. In Germany, families received a one-off child bonus of EUR 300 for each child in addition to its UCB. Some 18 million children and adolescents have received this bonus. Furthermore, tax relief has been granted for single parents, 90% of whom are women.It is important to stress, however, that many of these COVID-19 measures are temporary - typically envisioned for approximately three months - and this raises concerns about a ‘cliff fall’ scenario if measures are abruptly and prematurely withdrawn as COVID’s economic consequences persist. Amplifying this concern, following fiscal expansion in response to the crisis, austerity may follow, as it did after the 2008 financial crisis.This would be short-sighted. No child should see their potential unfulfilled due to the lack of a small amount of financial resources in the household, yet this is the case for hundreds of millions, perhaps more than a billion, children. The costs to them, their families and societies as a whole are hard to contemplate. UCBs are not a silver bullet, and the path to ensuring all children receive support will not be easy, but if ever there was a time to take the steps to reimagine social policy for children, now is it.  Francesca Bastagli is Director of the Equity and Social Policy Programme and Principal Research Fellow, at ODI. She specialises in public policy research and advisory work on the design, implementation and evaluation of social policy, with a focus on social protection policies and their poverty, inequality and employment outcomes. Her recent research is on fiscal policy and inequality, adapting social protection to the “future of work”, and social protection in contexts of displacement.Ian Orton is a Social Protection Policy Officer at the International Labour Organisation's Social Protection Department. Prior to this, he worked for the Social Inclusion and Policy Section of UNICEF in New York, for BRAC USA and the International Social Security Association. His interests have focused on social policy issues related to social protection and the financial crisis, universal child benefits and UBI.David Stewart is Chief, Child Poverty and Social Protection in UNICEF, HQ and co-Chair of the Global Coalition to End Child Poverty. Previously he was UNICEF’s Chief of Social Policy in Uganda, and has researched, written and presented on the Human Development Reports and indices. David is currently focused on issues of child poverty measurement and policy response, including universal child benefits and strengthening social protection systems.The responsibility for the opinions express in this article rests solely with its authors, and publication does not constitute an endorsement by the ODI, UNICEF or the International Labour Office.
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.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.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.
Using an auto-disable syringe, a woman health worker vaccinates Shahriyor
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How will COVID-19 disrupt child well-being in Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia?

  The story of the COVID-19 pandemic is one of vulnerability, in which those with pre-existing deprivations are likely to suffer most. While the full range of economic and social consequences of the crisis are yet to emerge, it will undoubtedly affect many children, by exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and their underling conditions. Table 3 from the report below shows the country performance with regard to child well-being outcomes and the vulnerability they pose during the current COVID-19 pandemic.   UNICEF Innocenti is engaged in an intensive rapid research effort to generate evidence to increase understanding of what the COVID-19 health crisis means for children and their families. We have recently published a research report highlighting some of these findings for countries in Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (ECA). An analytical exercise on Supporting Families and Children beyond COVID-19 offers a look on the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on early responses, by exploring the economic, social, and demographic preconditions and how they interlink with child well-being outcomes.   How is child well-being likely to be affected by a sudden change in the country’s GDP? Looking at the association between COVID-19 and GDP, the study undertakes an empirical analysis on a set of macroeconomic dimensions mirroring child-relevant targets across SDG areas of poverty, nutrition, infant mortality, education, youth employment and training, and youth violence. Drawing from previous economic crises, it is expected that GDP will likely fall in the region, and be protracted in some contexts. According to World Bank predictions, it is expected that worst-hit countries in the region with respect to GDP fall will be Croatia (-9.3), Bulgaria (-6.2), Russia (-6.0), Romania (-5.7), Albania (-5.0), and Hungary (-5.0). Smaller economies, such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and North Macedonia should be affected less. Taking the last world-wide economic crisis as the baseline, the current downturn is expected to last for at least two years and the recovery may take as long as 10 years for many countries. These trends project medium- to long-term risks to children and their families, which may impede the SDG progress towards the 2030 deadline. Our research found that GDP effects many child outcomes in the region. For ECA countries, a higher GDP is actually linked to higher levels of child poverty, in that higher economic wealth comes along with relatively higher levels of income poverty among children. This is a common trend across the region, but there are exceptions, as in the case of Belarus, Serbia, Ukraine, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the relative economic wealth is matched by comparatively lower levels of child poverty. Faring better in child poverty reduction in relation to economic wealth is largely due to social protection investments of these countries, as shown in Figure 7.     Rapid economic growth frequently leads to the unequal distribution of wealth, and where there is inequality, poverty follows. Indeed, findings show that higher levels of child poverty are always seen when there are higher levels of income inequality (measured by Gini) in ECA countries. The notable exception to this trend is Belarus, where despite a lower income inequality rate, there is a fairly large proportion of children living in poverty. Lower GDP is linked to higher levels of youth not in education, employment or training (NEET), and high neo-natal, and under-five mortality in ECA countries. The COVID-19 health crisis is exacerbating child vulnerabilities by reducing economic growth. The economic shocks will be felt by families and children unequally, with those at risk of infant mortality, extreme poverty, and young people in the labour market most likely to be affected than the average population. How is child well-being affected by other preconditions? Several economic and social preconditions are likely to moderate the effects of the crisis on child poverty and well-being in the region. Lower income inequality, higher employment rates, and a sizeable service sector will likely fare better during the pandemic. Younger children are at a higher risk of poverty, as this age group often receives less social protection support both in normal times and during the pandemic. Furthermore, poorer children’s health outcomes are associated with higher rates of out-of -pocket costs, and lower healthcare service capacity. However, these preconditions are also affected by the crisis and would need monitoring and stabilising mechanisms. What will ECA children miss as a result of COVID-19? Children will struggle to improve their living standards. Considering the contractions in economic growth following the COVID-19 crisis, it is expected that the poorer children in ECA countries would have a higher sensitivity to reduced economic growth than the average population. This means that a contraction in the GDP is likely to exacerbate the incidence of poverty and income inequality across the region. Youth will have difficulties finding a job. Since 2006 the average NEET rate has stood at 21.5 per cent, or put differently: around one in five youth have not been in education, employment, or training in the region. A contraction in the country’s overall GDP can pose a serious challenge for the future ability of youth to access the labour market in ECA countries. An unexpected contraction in GDP can have detrimental effects on child health outcomes. Across the ECA region since 2006, an increase of 1 per cent of GDP per capita is associated with a fall in under-five child mortality rates and homicide rates.  The COVID-19 crisis continues to put pressure on national health systems of ECA countries, which disrupts the coverage of medical interventions and the delivery of routine health care during the early stages of children’s lives. Unless mitigating policies are put in place, the pressure on health systems will have serious repercussions for child and infant mortality. What needs monitoring and improvement? Lessons from previous crises show that expansionary and universalistic social protection responses have contributed to protecting children from the worst effects. To respond to challenges that children and families face within the COVID-19 context, policy responses need to focus on expansionary social and fiscal measures to increase consumption and investments in children and families. The universal coverage of social protection benefits for children in times of COVID-19 is not currently being achieved in any of the ECA countries. Austerity measures should be entirely avoided when it comes to children and their families.     Issues of quality of services and staffing in the health sector matter and should be scrutinized and accounted for at a country level. The evidence and reflections are based on existing data. Additional empirical evidence in the region is required to account for a diverse range of child outcomes in the context of COVID-19 pandemic.   Alessandro Carraro is a Social and Economic Policy consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti currently conducting research on child poverty with a particular focus on Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis (MODA). Victor Cebotari is a Strategic Advisor for Academic Affairs at University of Luxembourg and a former consultant at the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti whose research interests include social policy, education, migration, gender, child wellbeing, and multidimensional deprivation.
Making sure the most vulnerable children are heard during COVID-19: Five lessons on data collection from Somalia
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Making sure the most vulnerable children are heard during COVID-19: Five 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.   Community members in Mogadishu, Somalia during the COVID-19 outbreak.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. 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.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.pdfThe 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. 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.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 othersIn 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. Ruben (4) memorizes the names of sea animals with his mother while painting with water colors during the COVID-19 lockdown in Madrid.Design mattersInnovative 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 jobsIn 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 systemIn 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 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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