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Are children equipped to navigate post-truth societies?
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Are children equipped to navigate post-truth societies?

In 2014 the World Economic Forum called the rapid spread of misinformation online one of the ten most critical issues for our societies. A 2016 Stanford study of 7,800 student responses from middle school to college highlighted discomforting results. Researchers found that students had a “dismaying inability” to recognize the difference between: fake and real news, advertising and journalistic writing, neutral and biased sources and fake and real social media accounts. Results of the Stanford survey “shocked” the researchers, they said. According to the Global Digital Report from We Are Social and Hootsuite, in 2018 there were 4 billion people worldwide using the internet, and nearly a quarter of a billion new users had come online for the first time in 2017. The global number of people using social media has grown by 13 percent in the past 12 months, with Central and Southern Asia recording the fastest gains (up 90 percent and 33 percent respectively). Children comprise approximately one in three of all internet users, as explained in the UNICEF Innocenti Discussion Paper One in Three: Internet Governance and Children’s Rights. In more developed countries, children under the age of 18 comprise approximately one-fifth of the population; in less developed countries, however, children constitute a substantially greater percentage of the total population – between one-third and one-half of the population. The complexity of the information environment that news consumers are immersed in today requires new abilities and skills to navigate safely. The rapid spread of ‘fake news’ has amplified the necessity for all internet users to learn how to separate fact from fiction, how to recognize the difference between opinion and facts. As more and more people rely mostly or entirely on internet news sources, it is increasingly difficult for them to maintain the capacity to distinguish between true and false, good and bad, and right or wrong on many practical issues. Children and young people tend to be avid users of social media. As shown in a recent UNICEF Innocenti paper, the impact of digital technology use can have positive impacts on children’s mental well-being. However, relatively little research has been conducted on children’s exposure to false or misleading content and online interactions.   An adolescent girl checks her mobile phone on a street in the Southeastern state of Minas Gerais, Brazil.  While the overall trend of youth literacy (aged 15-24) is positive, in a society where objective facts are becoming less influential than emotion and belief in shaping public opinion, education systems can miss an historical opportunity to provide children with the skills and tools necessary to critically assess information sources. How can we prepare savvy citizens to quickly separate myth from fact? How can we ensure young people do not lose their connection to the bulk of reliable inherited scientifically verified knowledge?  And then how can research matters to reduce inequality and increase educational opportunities if evidence is constantly discredited by counter-narratives propagating appeals to emotions and personal beliefs? Although research and evidence can be bent for special interests, post-truth epistemology cannot simply be reduced to “denying truth and giving all opinions equal weight.” On the contrary, schools and educational curricula can and must play a critical role in equipping children to recognize misinformationAlthough research and evidence can be bent for special interests, post-truth epistemology cannot simply be reduced to “denying truth and giving all opinions equal weight.” On the contrary, schools and educational curricula can and must play a critical role in equipping children to recognize misinformation and to tackle its spread online by cultivating truth-based reality through critical media literacy and historical analyses. Andreas Schleicher, education director of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, is planning to include questions about distinguishing what is true from what is not true in the next round of the influential international PISA tests. According to him, the scope is “to test children about their ability of engaging with diversity, to be open to that, to draw value out of it, and to see diversity not as a problem.” The same aspects are also measured by UNICEF Innocenti’s Global Kids Online survey and will be the focus of an upcoming synthesis report due towards the end of 2019. A recent study shows that the spread of misinformation is driven by several mechanisms that create false beliefs, which once adopted, are rarely corrected. Content-selective exposure is the primary driver of content diffusion, and leads to the generation of homogenous clusters –  echo chambers – which have their own cascade dynamics.  Selection of information based on harmony with personal beliefs and “vision of the world” create a “comfort zone” where people feel safe. The lack of mediation between the news source and the final user gives rise to increasingly polarized and homogenous communities having similar consumption patterns. Members of these polarized communities then tend to read and discuss only what confirms their original convictions and beliefs. Developing critical thinking skills is one of the main objectives of an educational science of any time and today it remains one of the main antidote to the spread of fake news. How to force students out of their comfort zones and to break those echo chambers is still part of a debate among teachers and educators and maybe there is not one single answer. Interesting perspectives, ideas, strategies can be found on the net that suggest how to develop the ability of students to judge the credibility of information that comes from smartphones, tablets, and computers, but it is still a work in progress. All too often young people are seen as easily manipulated political storm troops where adults “exploit” them. If children and youth were truly treated as rights holders and provided –  by educational systems as duty bearers –   with the ability and skills to enjoy their “right to information” maybe they would be less vulnerable to these bubbles and echo chambers. The internet stimulated a great acceleration of globalization. And while many communities reaped the reward from increased communication and interaction between diverse cultures and peoples, mono-culture pockets defined and strengthened by post-truth echo-chambers were also propagated. The online debate on immunization, which has recently led WHO to raise the alarm about a dramatic increase in measles infections and outbreaks in Europe, shows how the circulation of fake news can potentially have even life-threatening impacts. How to help children and young people navigate fake news and misinformation online is one of the key questions for education in the years ahead. Patrizia Faustini is a Senior Communication Associate at the UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti.
Do countries have fiscal space for universal child grants?
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Do countries have fiscal space for universal child grants?

It is a known fact that in nearly every country, children are more likely to live in (monetary) poverty than adults (19% versus 9% respectively in 2018). This has immediate effects on the well-being of children, their development prospects and consequently their adult life. Cash transfer programs targeted at the poorest households have become one of the key policy tools for ameliorating the situation with a proven track record of success.However, contemporary approaches to targeting are notoriously error-prone. Deserving groups may be excluded, some miss out due to fluid transitions in-and-out of poverty. Cash transfers are operationally costly, and sometimes give rise to intra-community tensions. Some cash transfer programmes impose conditions that diminish dignity, re-enforce gender stereotypes that exacerbate women’s time poverty, or promote political patronage.Universal child grants are monthly cash transfers that are provided to the caregiver of every single child that lives in a defined jurisdiction – perhaps only subject to legal status requirements. Universal child grants are proposed as a possible solution to fix these challenges associated with the targeted cash transfer schemes. They can essentially reduce child poverty to the bare minimum or eradicate it altogether. Two obvious objections are the fiscal implications of full coverage and the potential unintended negative consequences (such as increasing fertility or reduced labor supply).Universal child grants are monthly cash transfers to the caregiver of every single child that lives in a defined jurisdiction.Click image to access the report.Recently UNICEF, ILO and the Overseas Development Institute convened an international conference to explore arguments and evidence from implementation of alternative cash transfer schemes and their implications for universal child grants. (Find all key conference background documents – agenda, session recordings, participant list, concept note here) I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at this conference and am eager to share key takeaways and reflections.First, it would be better to use the word ‘benefits’ in place of ‘grants.’ While this may sound like mere semantics, the word ‘benefits’ frames the proposition as a need to fulfill an entitlement: a positive right, not the idea of a favour, which the word ‘grants’ is more associated with. If there are no costs associated with changing the framing, I would think ‘universal child benefit’ would be more appealing term, but I will stick to ‘universal child grant’ for the rest of the this post.The next three takeaways are communicated in three numbers: 35, 8 and 1.5.35% of children/households receive child/family cash benefits globally. Differences exist across countries and regions with 88% coverage in Europe and Central Asia, 28% in Asia and the Pacific and 16% in Africa. Given the large shares of children in Africa and Asia, these figures imply that almost two thirds of children (1.3 billion) are not covered by any form of social protection. Some 23 countries already have non-contributory universal child grants while an additional 40 countries have non-contributory means-tested schemes, and there are a lot of lessons learnt from these schemes to inform other countries in design and implementation. (Click on the report cover image to download the full ILO-UNICEF report)8 policy options have been proposed for creating fiscal space in national budgets to fund universal child grants outlined in this paper:Re-allocating of public expenditures;Increasing tax revenues;Expanding social security coverage and contributory systems;Lobbying for aid and transfers;Eliminating illicit financial flows;Using fiscal and foreign exchange reserves;Managing debt; andAdopting a more accommodative macroeconomic framework.The paper illustrates how Governments can apply them based on their unique circumstances. The authors contend that “fiscal space for social protection and the SDGs exists even in the poorest countries.”  Mario Györishowed how reallocating the funding for a current food and energy subsidy could create fiscal room to fund a universal child allowance, with greater impact on poverty.1.5% of GDP, on average, is required to fund universal child grants in various countries. An important contribution frm one session at the conference was that funding for universal child grants should be indexed as a share of government expenditure and not GDP, and I fully agree with this position. Linking funding to government expenditure would directly put the question of prioritization (not trade-offs) in focus.The World Bank and the IMF representatives in the final plenary agreed, in principle, to the idea of universal social protection for children (at least for those aged 0-2 years).  Michal Rutkowski, Senior Director for Social Protection and Jobs at the World Bank described the idea of supporting children (especially the vulnerable) and investing in their future as marriage made in heaven: good social contract and good economics.Author's presentation at the International Conference on Universal Child Grants, Geneva. Click image to access slides.Listening to presentations from different countries, it was clear that governments around the world recognize the need to progressively move towards universal child grants in some shape or form. There were discussions about administration and implementing challenges, and the question of the covering the last mile (reaching the hardest to reach). The question of benefit level and provision for the caregiver (or rest of the household) are also open questions for which there was not much time to cover.To achieve SDG goal 1.3 to implement nationally appropriate social protection systems for all children, the best route would be through universal child grants. They should be prioritized in government allocations as an important first step towards social protection for all. A global universal child grant fund – like the Global Fund for HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria should be created to accumulate enough reserve to finance grants starting with the poorest countries, and where political conditions are least favourable. These are often the very countries where child poverty rates are highest and where the investments would yield the highest returns. Operational headwinds may abound but that should not be enough justification for delaying action. I look forward to the final publications from the conference and the next steps in the space. Frank Otchere  Social Policy Specialist at UNICEF Innocenti, is a Statistician and Demographer by training, and has worked on several Transfer Project impact evaluations, including Ghana, Malawi and Zimbabwe. 
Unleashing the Potential of Social Protection for Adolescent Girls and Women
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Unleashing the Potential of Social Protection for Adolescent Girls and Women

On March 12th 2019, UNICEF will co-host a side event to the sixty-third Commission on the Status of Women, together with the UK’s Department for International Development and GAGE Consortium managed by ODI, to share evidence and policy approaches to strengthen gender equality outcomes of social protection programmes, with a particular focus on adolescents and the safe transition to adulthood. Well-designed social protection can address risks and vulnerabilities across the life-course for girls and women, yet so often gender and age inequalities are not considered in social protection systems. Social protection is failing to deliver on this potential – missing the opportunity to benefit the most marginalized girls and women and risks widening inequalities even further. More work and investment is needed to make gender- and adolescent-responsive social protection a reality. Life-course risks and vulnerabilities are influenced by genderWomen and girls face multiple barriers throughout their lives, such as limited access to basic services in education, health and nutrition; limited resources and assets including land and finance; and limited economic, social and political opportunities. Because they lack equal access to resources and assets, women and girls are less able to fully develop their capabilities, and ability to manage and mitigate the effects of risks and vulnerabilities. Women and girls face specific risks in different stages of their lives – adolescence, pregnancy and child birth – that are related to their biological sex as well as to entrenched gender norms that discriminate against them in diverse ways. For instance, more women and girls die before birth, in childhood, and during reproductive years than men and boys. Women and girls shoulder the greatest responsibility for unpaid care and domestic work – amounting to around 2.5 times more time than men. This limits their opportunities to access an education and take on paid work, and makes them more vulnerable to the impacts of poverty. This unpaid care and domestic work differentials between females and males start early in the life course and persist throughout their lives. This unpaid care and domestic work differentials between females and males start early in the life course and persist throughout their lives. Globally girls aged five to nine engage in household chores for an average of almost four hours per week, while girls aged ten to 14 years old spend around nine hours per week Unpaid care and domestic work among adolescents: staggering statistics55050%2/3  Girls under 15 spend 550 million hours every day on household chores, 160 million more hours than boys  Girls 10-14 spend 50% more of their time on household chores than boysOf children performing household chores for 21 hours or more per week are girls  Adolescence is a transformative period to address gender inequalities and break cycles of life-course and intergenerational transmission of inequalitiesAdolescence is a period of life during which transformative change can be accelerated, and more equitable outcomes can be achieved for both girls and boys. It is a profound period of biological and psychosocial development when gender dynamics, relations, beliefs and norms consolidate for life. While children discover their gender and sexuality in their first years of life, it is during puberty and adolescence that gender starts to play a more defining role in their lives. Differentiations between females and males start to widen and become more entrenched, particularly roles within households, and in their relations with family members, peers and in their intimate communities. Yet adolescence is a formative stage of life, and interventions have shown to have an effect on modifying behaviours and outcomes, making this period a unique one for intervening through programmes and policies.vii Recent studies, including from low- and middle-income countries, suggest that this period could be a second window of opportunity in the life-course – where there is the opportunity not only to catch up and redress earlier negative experiences, but also to ensure that previous investments are not lost when children enter adolescence and face new risks and vulnerabilities. Tapping on this window of opportunity is particularly important - there are 1.2 billion adolescents worldwide, of which 90 percent live in low- and middle-income services, at risk of poverty, exclusion and vulnerabilities. Evidence demonstrates positive impacts of social protection programmes on adolescent well-beingEvidence suggests that social protection systems  play a crucial role in lifting children and adolescents out of poverty and improving their well-being. These programmes can act as buffers against shocks, minimizing use of negative coping strategies such as withdrawing children from schools, sending them to work, or selling productive assets such as livestock. Governments have recognised this potential, and in the past two decades, many countries across Asia and the Pacific, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East, have designed or expanded social protection programmes to families with children. Many of these programmes have been cash transfers to families with children, either unconditional or conditional onto certain behaviours such as school enrolment or attendance and visits to health centres for check-ups. Some countries have also established a path of progressive universalization of cash transfers, such as Argentina ix. Evaluations of these programmes have shown some positive results – ranging from school enrolment or even attendance, improved nutrition, reduced risky behaviours such as unsafe sex, multiple partners and early sexual debut for girls. For instance, the Zomba cash transfer in Malawi, which targeted girls aged 13-22 for two years, showed strong impacts on school participation by facilitating girls returning to school, as well as reducing early marriages and pregnancies, reducing risky sexual behaviours and HIV infection – although all these positive impacts lasted only for the short-to-medium term. The Malawi Social Cash Transfer Programme and the Zambia Multiple Category Targeted Grant, both government-run unconditional cash transfers targeted to ultra-poor, rural and labour-constrained households, have also demonstrated reductions in poverty and improved schooling outcomes among youth, although no effects on early unions or teen pregnancy were demonstrated. Despite this expansion, only 35 percent of children or adolescents on average across the globe have access to any form of social protection. And there are significant regional disparities: 87 per cent of children in Europe and Central Asia and 66 per cent in the Americas receive benefits; however only 28 per cent of children in Asia and the Pacific and 16 per cent in Africa. A gender and life-cycle lens is needed to strengthen social protection programmes to improve adolescent well-beingMany programmes are not designed with gender dynamics in mind and others are either targeted at younger children, or at adult women and households more generally. Research in eight countries between 2009 and 2012 found very little or no attention to gender considerations in most social protection programmes. While some studies have found that cash transfers can have a positive impact on women’s economic empowerment by increasing women’s economic participation, few studies have systematically assessed the influence of design features on gender outcomes. Moreover many programmes, by identifying women as the transfer recipients, either as beneficiaries themselves or on behalf of their children, have at times unwittingly perpetuated the stereotype of women as primary caregivers. Among the few adolescent-targeted social protection programmes that have tackled child marriage as a primary objective, there is limited efficacy and sometimes even unintended negative effects. And in the case of humanitarian and conflict-affected contexts, while the risks of child marriage and coerced transactional sex are high, we also have very limited evidence on the efficacy of social protection programming. The absence of both gender and adolescent-responsive approaches creates a gap in adequate coverage throughout the life-cycle and across a range of risks, compounding vulnerabilities, increasing exclusion and perpetuating cycles of inequity. Much promise exists in new approaches to respond to adolescent and gender vulnerabilities by looking at social protection in conjunction with other social and economic policies, including infrastructure, health systems, education systems, and labour market systems. This article was written by Prerna Banati, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, Elena Camilletti, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, Roopa Hinton, UK Department for International Development (DfID), Shreyasi Jha, UNICEF Programme Division, Nicola Jones, ODI-GAGE, Muriel Kahane, ODI-GAGE, Atif Khurshid, UNICEF Programme Division. Read more about the event.    
Child’s Play: A Journey into The Jungle Shines a Light on the Lives of Migrant Children
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Child’s Play: A Journey into The Jungle Shines a Light on the Lives of Migrant Children

The lights dimmed and the theatre hushed. Spotlights swirled in the dark from one person popping up out of the darkness to the next as a late-night emergency meeting of refugees unfolded in front of us. I was at the Playhouse Theatre in London and then I was transported somewhere else.Set in a reimagined version of the ‘Afghan Café’, there we were, suddenly in the middle of The Jungle of Calais. The stage, set with a platform wrapping around tables, chairs, pillows, and posters, resembled a cozy yet provisional slum restaurant – I could almost swear I smelled spices matching the colours of the scene. Audience members sipped and nibbled as one character, and then another, jumped onto the stage in front of their tables.I sat perched above in the gallery looking down at the performance, listening as the actors – some of whom were actual migrants re-enacting versions of their experiences – shared incredible stories of hardship and hope from the border-town slum village that came to be called The Jungle.‘The Jungle’, which ended its West End run in London after I saw it in November, was picked up for a sold-out U.S. run at St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York and will begin performances at San Francisco's Curran from March 2019. Months after my viewing, I’m still ruminating, lingering on the powerful stories told, and also, what we can learn from them.The play is a fictional portrayal and amalgamation of the realities of the men, women, and – notably – children who came to live at the edge of Calais in the so-called makeshift migrant city, which self-assembled and then was abruptly demolished in 2016. After surviving harrowing journeys from Africa and the Middle East, these asylum seekers made a home in The Jungle, as a stopgap, in limbo – hoping to make the final leap to the U.K., but many found themselves stuck there at the border.Little ‘Amal’ is a young girl in the play – she is an unaccompanied minor, often wandering about, on her own, clutching a ragged stuffed animal, or holding the hand of an aid worker, ‘Paula’, who takes her under her wing when she can. She has no parents, no healthcare, no education. Her story – that of child migrants – stuck with me.I watched as they celebrated her birthday with what little they had. She didn’t know her actual birthdate – since running from a war-torn country meant there were no official records – many celebrated their birthdays on January 1.> Throughout the play, Paula is often the character taking care of Amal and also the one championing child rights – fighting to protect the children of The Jungle. She looks after Amal and cries out in anger that the International Convention of the Rights of the Child has been blatantly ignored in the context of migrant children. She is angry that the U.K. fails to live up to its commitment to reunite migrants with existing family members in the U.K, and even when it does, the children often have no support when they get there.As a new mother, I couldn’t hold back tears as, halfway through the play, images of Alan Kurdi, the young Syrian boy whose corpse washed up on the shore of a Turkish beach, lit up screens installed around the theatre. In the play, that viral news came to change the course of the conversation about the camp in Calais and on migration globally – as everyone finally asked: what about the children? Mirzal, 16, arrived in Calais alone in 2015. Here he takes a nap at an Afghan barber’s shop in The Jungle.The play starts and ends with the funeral of a young boy killed on a nearby roadway – a demonstration of the looming threat of life at the camp, and especially the dangers for migrant children. In the play, Paula notes that of 400+ children at the camp, about three quarters of them are unaccompanied. While the Calais Jungle became a cohesive, vibrant community, it wasn’t enough to protect the people and children who lived there, and there wasn’t a reliable system to help get them out.“Jumpers” – I learned – referred to migrants who would attempt to jump onto a truck going from Calais to the U.K. – It was incredibly risky and often children would lie about their age and then end up getting punished unfairly as adults for jumping – with no way to prove their age, or worse – would die in the act itself. Only a year ago a 15-year-old was crushed to death by a refrigeration truck – and this isn’t the only such story.At UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti, where I’m proud to work, new research findings have the potential to transform the lives of children around the world. Our research on children and migration helps to fill in the gaps on why children migrate, the unknown threats and realities of children on the move, and how we can better protect child migrants.Like the play, 2017’s Best of UNICEF Research-winning report – Neither Safe Nor Sound: Unaccompanied children on the Coastline of the English Channel and the North Sea, available in English and its original French – dared to ask ‘What is the experience of unaccompanied children in France’s migrant camps?’The sociological study, undertaken by Trajectoires on behalf of UNICEF France, sought to understand and document the risks migrant children are exposed to throughout their migration journey and during their stay in camps.  The report made ten key recommendations to help protect child migrants and decrease their vulnerability:Create a place of ‘protection’ within sites, secure and specific to unaccompanied children.Guarantee all children equal access to information and various services through regular contact with professionals speaking the children’s languages and through the use of age-appropriate information.Support and coordinate those working on the region’s sites with the aim of implementing uniformity of practices and information distributed, enabling access to all children, including those within the smaller camps.Introduce regular training on child protection for the organizational workers, police forces, administrators and volunteers to help them identify situations involving human trafficking and provide guidance to unaccompanied children.Refer back to the legal framework for the protection of children, which includes the importance of reporting to Public Prosecutor’s departments, and of reporting unsettling information, which will allow the departmental councils to become empowered in their mission to care for children in danger.Report all evacuations if there are no adapted arrangements for the reception and guidance of unaccompanied children, to prevent a trend of dispersal and the breaking of the bonds that children and young people may have formed with social workers or other trusted adults.Ensure that the French and United Kingdom governments dedicate sufficient resources to the family reunification process, thereby significantly reducing the duration of this process to a maximum of three months.Ensure that children have received reliable information regarding the family reunification procedure under the Dublin Regulation, including the criteria on which decisions will be based.Guarantee access to high-quality legal assistance for unaccompanied children, so that their request for family reunification in the United Kingdom can be submitted as quickly as possible.Publish practical advice on how to handle family reunification cases under Dublin III, including clarification of responsibilities and processes in the assessment of the unaccompanied children’s families in the United Kingdom, ahead of transfers. Two plus years since the demolition of The Jungle, we are still learning the same lessons. While a mandate to prevent the creation of a new ongoing camp continues, hundreds, if not thousands, of migrants and children still occupy the border-town area, and raids persist against a looming Brexit to clear out new camps and prevent illegal crossings into the U.K. In many ways, nothing has changed, and what’s worse is that the journey and the hardship doesn’t end when they reach their destination.Once they get there, then what? The existing systems in place to support migrant children are letting children down. Mental health of these child migrants is seldom considered and last year alone, at least three teenage refugees who arrived in Britain from the migrant camp in Calais killed themselves.Research conducted by UNICEF has identified not only the experience children face while on their journey, but also the difficulties they face as refugees, lost in systems that don’t adequately meet their needs.UNICEF Innocenti’s recent report Protected On Paper? An Analysis of Nordic Country Responses to Asylum-Seeking Children goes further to analyze to what extent the rights of asylum-seeking children are respected and protected in Nordic countries, with specific recommendations for these country contexts as well as broader recommendations on how to strengthen and extend legal, policy and practice frameworks to ensure the full protection of child asylum seekers’ rights and entitlements.Even after they have arrived at their final destination, the struggle for many – especially for vulnerable children – to successfully integrate and enjoy a childhood, continues.Listen to our podcast: The Role of Research on Migration: Insights on Migrants’ Experiences with Bina D'CostaRead more:Child-related Concerns and Migration Decisions: Evidence from the Gallup World PollA Child's Crisis: Why the Refugee and Migrant Crisis Should Matter to Us AllKathleen Sullivan is a communication specialist at UNICEF Innocenti who is passionate about finding narratives that drive change. Follow Kathleen @ksulli on Twitter, and for more updates from UNICEF Innocenti, follow @UNICEFInnocenti.
Five questions with Dr. Fidelia Dake on researching on impacts of cash transfers in Africa
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Five questions with Dr. Fidelia Dake on researching on impacts of cash transfers in Africa

How does a Ghanaian female scholar navigate social-protection research in Africa? Fidelia Dake is a Lecturer at the Regional Institute for Population Studies at the University of Ghana, and recently completed a research fellowship in UNICEF Innocenti with the Transfer Project. UNICEF Innocenti’s Amber Peterman sits down with Fidelia to chat about her fellowship experience and to discuss newly published research on cash transfers. Thanks for speaking with me Fidelia. To start, can you tell us a little about your background, your research interests, and what originally motivated you to work on development issues?My undergraduate studies at the University of Ghana was a combined Bachelor of Science in nutrition and food science with specialization in nutrition. However, I decided that I did not want to work in the laboratory, rather, I wanted to figure out how things worked in the real world. This is what motivated me to do my MPhil and Ph.D. in Population Studies, which I also completed at the University of Ghana. I did a lot of my research on social determinants of obesity, which led to a number of different opportunities, for example visiting scholarships at Pennsylvania State University and the University of North Carolina. After I completed my Ph.D. in 2014, my first job was as a research fellow at the U. N. Economic Commission (ECA) for Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This is where I really got into international development, working on myriad issues including gender inequalities, health financing, social protection, schooling, health and nutritional outcomes and how they affect people’s lives, particularly poor and vulnerable populations.The Transfer Project hosts early career African research fellows at Innocenti to generate evidence on effectiveness of cash transfer programmes. What initially attracted you to working with the Transfer Project and can you tell us about the fellowship experience?I first heard about the fellowship while at a conference on Population and Development in Addis Ababa. I saw a call for applications for the Transfer Project advertising the fellowship, so I decided to apply. One thing that originally attracted me was the opportunity to work on impact evaluation. I had some background in methodology and theory from coursework, and also had some experience from working on social inequalities policies from ECA. The fellowship brought these together, with the opportunity to apply data to real world problems. I think it has been a really productive and fruitful partnership. Given that these skills are not the typical types of skills that are learned in our academic training, this is a great opportunity. In fact, I think that the fellowship should be expanded. For example, in addition to visiting Innocenti and working collaboratively on analysis and publication, fellows should also be able to learn the design and data collection phases of evaluation starting from the beginning. And, for those of us finishing up our fellowships, how can we continue collaborating?Your collaborative research with the Transfer Project was recently published—can you tell me about the study you undertook?This study, which has just been published in Studies in Family Planning, is titled “Cash Transfers, Early Marriage and Fertility in Malawi and Zambia.” Basically, the study examines two unconditional Government cash transfer programmes to see if there was any impact on delayed pregnancy and marriage for both male and female youth. The youth we looked at were 14 to 21 years when the programmes started, and were followed for about three years in each case. Although they were not direct recipients of the cash transfers (which went to the household head), we were interested in knowing if there were effects on safe transitions to adulthood. At the end of the day, we do not find evidence of impacts on these outcomes. Nonetheless, I think the study is important to think about how to broaden the scope of domains that are typically looked at, and the pathways through which change can occur for young people. Most of the time, for social protection, the focus has been on adult women or young children, but data is not typically collected on adolescents and youth, so this is a missed opportunity.These results may be disappointing for advocates of cash transfers, however they contain important lessons. What are your main recommendations for future research and for programme implementers?First and foremost, these cash transfers were not meant to impact safe transitions—they were general household support for poverty related objectives. So we cannot say that the cash was unsuccessful. In fact, we find that the programmes positively affected several key pathways, like education, through which improvements for young people may materialize over time. Yet, at least during the study, we see this is not enough to affect the transitions on partnership formation and pregnancy. For researchers, as I mentioned previously, we should try to get a more holistic understanding on how cash works when it enters the household. This includes who we collect data on. There should be a deliberate effort to collect information on adolescents, including their migration and movement as they make these transitions. This can be used to design interventions which could specifically target youth. For example, cash plus programmes, which provide complementary services or benefits to youth themselves in order to target certain outcomes, including reproductive outcomes and union formation....Our research should inform development — but this is not always the case, especially on the African continent, where there tends to be a divide between doing research and engaging directly with development programmes. I encourage young scholars to explore the intersection.One last question: As a female scholar working in a field which is still underrepresented by women, what advice do you have for young girls and women who aspire work in development?I am currently a faculty member at the University of Ghana, and in addition to teaching, I also do research. I really enjoy working in international development, which as you say tends to be a really male-dominated field. I believe research should be done for more than research sake alone — it should be relevant and should impact people’s lives. So, I would encourage young girls and women to strive to do this and explore how they can improve other people’s lives through their research, which can be more fulfilling than just doing research for research sake. For example, if I can show that a small amount of (Ghanaian) cedis can improve people’s lives, I think that is very gratifying. This is important because our research should inform development — but this is not always the case, especially on the African continent, where there tends to be a divide between doing research and engaging directly with development programmes. I encourage young scholars to explore the intersection, even if they think they do not have the right experience at the outset. I have learned a lot in doing this and now have a better understanding of development issues. I would definitely recommend the fellowship to young scholars particularly females who aspire to work in international development.   UNICEF’s Office of Research—Innocenti has hosted six early-career African Researchers to collaborate on analysis of cash transfer programmes with the Social and Economic Policy Team and the Transfer Project. Read more about the fellowship and the capacity building objectives here. This fellowship is made possible with funding from the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) (2016-2020) and the Hewlett Foundation (2018-2020).  
Reflecting on research at UNICEF Innocenti: Three numbers that show the value of research on social protection
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Reflecting on research at UNICEF Innocenti: Three numbers that show the value of research on social protection

UNICEF Innocenti's Chief of Social and Economic Policy reflects on two years of research.When I am asked why I do research, what difference it makes, and especially in an institution, like Unicef, that does rather than thinks, my answer is 1.68.[1]This number has contributed to change the lives of many children and youngsters in Venezuela. It is the benefit-to-cost ratio of investing USD 211 million in 500,000 children annually over seven years in a social development program through music. The number resulted from an ex-ante evaluation projecting the socioeconomic (reduced school dropouts, reduced victimization, and increased tax revenue) and personal (discipline, school achievement and employability) benefits of the program against its costs.It is not important whether you are familiar with ex-ante evaluations, simulations or cost-benefit principles. This research did two things everyone can understand. First, it proved that a youth orchestra is not just a music project. It can be a pretty effective massive social development program. Second, it demonstrated that children armed with violins rather than guns have better chances in life.Let me give you another number: 16. These are the years I had been working on poverty and equity before joining UNICEF. Those years gave me ample opportunity to cover many issues: the (surprising) interconnections between poverty and inequality; the mutual links with conflict; how machismo can affect poverty; or how social transfers affect behavior among the poor; which are the most effective interventions to reduce poverty; or how best to measure this complex phenomenon.But it has been working for UNICEF that I have focused on the specific vulnerabilities of children and adolescents; that monetary poverty can be a dreadful proxy for children deprivations in some settings; that standard measures do not fare well in emergencies; and that while we invest so much time thinking whether we should equally weigh indicators in our indexes, governments are instead calculating political costs and benefiting of introducing a new poverty number that will hold them more accountable.The bottom-line is that working for UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti has allowed me to incubate fresh ideas that I might not hatch in other places. Intellectually, this is critical for a researcher. Innocenti has incredibly inspirational vibes. Florence hosts our office in premises that 600 years ago—this is not a typo—emerged as the first dedicated caring center for abandoned and abuse children in history. A dedication that inspires many of us day after day. I was enthused to work on understanding the equity effects of fiscal policies specifically on children or how different genocides––no two are alike––can affect the long-term wellbeing of surviving adolescents. These are just two examples of the many incredibly interesting and relevant themes and challenges we work on at Innocenti.A final number: 34. This is the number of researchers I have co-authored a piece of research with in these last two years. Some 26 are researchers I did not know before when I joined UNICEF. Thanks to them and Innocenti, I have developed my own evidence-based voice against injustices to children. Please keep listening!Jose Cuesta speaks at the 2018 Public Finance for Children workshop in Florence, Italy.More UNICEF Innocenti research by Jose Cuesta: UNICEF Evidence to Action BLOG by Jose Cuesta: From a human face to human emotion: Valuing feelings in developmentUNICEF Innocenti article: Economics of inequality and conflictUNICEF Innocenti article: Adolescents may be less resilient to catastrophic events than previously thoughtUNICEF Innocenti article: Global workshop raises capacity on Public Finance for Children All research produced by Jose Cuesta at UNICEF Innocenti.Jose Cuesta’s research for the World Bank.Other blogs by Jose Cuesta. [1] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13504851.2010.517187?scroll=top&needAccess=true Presentation: UNICEF Innocenti - Fiscal Policy & Equity in Uganda + Equity in education finance for children
School bullying harms everyone, not just the victims
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School bullying harms everyone, not just the victims

 It is no surprise that children who are bullied do worse in academic tests. However, after  re-analyzing children’s reading test data for 30 school systems in some of the world’s richest countries, we found that an environment of bullying drags everyone’s achievement down, not just that of the victims. We published our findings on bullying and more indicators contributing to educational inequalities in a recent UNICEF report “An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries”.The share of fourth-grade students who reported they were bullied at least monthly ranged from 25% in Finland to 60% in New Zealand (see figure below).Nearly half of children in the US (45 %) reported they were bullied at least once a month.One in three (33%) of these children said they were bullied on a weekly basis, one of the highest levels in the comparison (ahead of only nine of 30 school systems in the study). Our research shows that  school-level prevalence of weekly bullying is associated with significantly lower individual reading test scores in 24 of the 30 school systems. In the United States, a one percentage point difference in school-level bullying is associated with 1.1 score points lower reading achievement, one of the strongest correlations in the study. The association is greater in only three other countries in the comparison- Chile, Ireland and Sweden, all of which had lower rates of bullying victimization than the US.Only 6% of children in the US sample were in schools where no one reported being bullied weekly and a quarter were in schools with a bullying prevalence of 20% or greater. This amounts to a difference in reading scores of 22 points. This is a large effect, especially as it remains after we have accounted for a host of other factors linked to children’s reading achievement: the child’s gender and age, the language of testing and the language the child speaks at home, the location of the school, whether the child comes to school hungry or tired, or has breakfast on school days, as well as the share of students from disadvantaged families in the school (reported by the principal).It is now understood that childhood bullying casts a “long shadow” on both the victims and perpetrators, but a more nuanced understanding of how it affects bystanders is over-due. Children who get victimized as well as those who bully others tend to suffer from ill health and poor employment outcomes as they grow into adulthood. Yet our findings suggest that even children who are not necessarily involved in bullying end up being dragged down in their academic achievement.Our research demonstrates that anti-bullying interventions need to consider the whole school context, while the evaluations of such interventions should measure the impacts on children not directly involved in peer violence.  Read more:UNICEF Innocenti’s working paper: Developing a Global Indicator on Bullying of School-Aged ChildrenFor global bullying statistics and examples of anti-bullying policies and interventions, see the 2016 United Nations report “Ending the Torment: Tackling Bullying from the Schoolyard to Cyberspace”.Yekaterina Chzhen is the lead author of the newly released UNICEF report An Unfair Start: Inequality in Children’s Education in Rich Countries. The Office of Research–Innocenti, is UNICEF’s dedicated research centre. It undertakes research on emerging or current issues to inform the strategic directions, policies and programmes of UNICEF and its partners, shape global debates on child rights and development, and inform the global research and policy agenda for all children, and particularly for the most vulnerable. Please visit us on Twitter and Facebook.  
Three windows of opportunity - Using science to inform programming for adolescents and young people
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Three windows of opportunity - Using science to inform programming for adolescents and young people

With the launch of Generation Unlimited,  UNICEF has assumed global leadership to advance the quality of life for children in the second decade. Yet many programs designed for young people, including by UNICEF, are not framed by well-developed theories of the developmental process.Recent scientific discoveries and studies demonstrate that adolescence is a critical or sensitive period, a time in life during which adverse events and exposures can have great impact. Scientific advances can provide actionable insights into windows of opportunity during which policies and programs can have a positive impact on lifetime trajectories.The three windows of opportunity in adolescence, inspired by our 2018 Oxford Handbook of Adolescent Development Research and its Impact on Global Policy,  is a framework, firmly rooted in the evidence, and drawing from the developmental and social science literature, that can help to steer how we design programs, conduct research and advocate on behalf of adolescents and young people. Download the Handbook of Adolescent Development Research and Its Impact on Global PolicyAdolescence is a UNIQUE window, with experiences and exposures that happen only during this period of life. Think about the start of menstruation, the final growth spurt, breast development, these are all examples of unique events occurring during this time of life. Undeniably the biological expressions of puberty are a turning point at the transition into adolescence.Neuroscientific advances now clearly show the plasticity of the adolescent brain, with unique developments of the prefrontal cortex during this period of life. During adolescence, the brain undergoes a process of synaptic elimination or pruning, during which frequently used connections are strengthened while others are eliminated. This process ensures that the remaining synaptic circuits are more efficient. Adolescence is therefore a unique moment to acquire new skills. For instance, research by Janacsek and colleagues (2012) on implicit sequence learning across the lifespan (between four and 85 years of age) suggests that sensitivity to acquiring new skills is significantly more effective until early adolescence (12 years old), than later in life. Yet too many skills-building programs begin after this age.This period is also unique in that we see gender differences emerge. While this might vary across cultures, many societies codify social norms for girls and boys during this period. These lead to an emergence of behaviours and practices which can instill gender inequalities, which may interact with other forms of disadvantage and accumulate. Evidence shows that many children assume care and domestic responsibilities from an early age, with an increasingly gendered pattern as children mature into adolescents. UNICEF estimates from MICS and DHS suggest that girls aged ten to 14 years old spend around nine hours per week on these activities, more than their male peers and more than double the 5-9 years old age group. Analysis of time use data from Malawi[1] shows that while in early adolescence, differences between girls and boys are small, 19-year-old girls undertake two hours of care work a day, while boys only half an hour. This gendered difference persists until females reach 60 years old, when physical limitations for sometimes demanding care work curtail it. Based on data collected for the impact evaluation of the Malawi Social Cash Transfer program. Generated by Jacobus de Hoop. Gender-transformative interventions, and those addressing gender norms, can be particularly impactful in this window, when gender norms are being internalized and consolidated.Adolescence as a unique window of opportunity The experiences of adolescence – biological, neurological and social –  occur uniquely during this period of life.Adolescence occurs at the interface of biology and society. Puberty, secondary sexual characteristics, and brain development – interact with social and structural phenomena around adolescents’ lives, including their relations with peers, parents and siblings, and non-family adultsGender-based discrimination, norms and stereotypes can intensify with puberty and adolescence There is also what some are calling a SECOND or catch up window. This is a window that provides an opportunity to redress gaps in exposures and vulnerabilities experienced in early childhood. We know not all children born during the MDGs benefitted equally from MDG gains. Many of these children are now entering adolescence. A re-prioritized set of actions that advance progress for the most vulnerable can help redress the gaps, creating a ‘second window’ of opportunity to leave no child behind.Increasingly this evidence of a catch-up window is emerging – but more studies are needed to understand when to intervene, and which factors can be leveraged to ensure that full advantage can be taken of this potential second window of opportunity to improve child wellbeing.Evidence from a longitudinal study of childhood and poverty has recently shown that some stunting might be reversible, and catch up growth possible. In the study, around 50% of children stunted at year 1 were no longer stunted at year 8 in the absence of intervention, suggesting accelerated growth after the first 1000 days can occur. Unsurprisingly, catch-up growth depends on the degree of stunting experienced during infancy. This has significant implications for nutritional programming for adolescents. Height for age and height for weight indicators have long been recognized as being associated with outcomes across the board, and indicative of outcomes in a number of other wellbeing domains. For instance, stunting[2] is associated with long-lasting harmful consequences, including diminished mental ability and learning capacity, poor school performance in childhood.Adolescence as a second window of opportunityThe possibility of catch-up growth is an amazing finding that has the potential to revolutionize how we develop programs and policies for young people.While the optimal growth needs for a child are best received in the first 1000 days, extending attention to the first 1000 weeks would allow policymakers and practitioners to intervene to leave no child behind.More research is needed on what, beyond growth, might benefit from a second chance – such as impacts on cognition. Finally, adolescence is also a window into OUR FUTURES. Here the impacts of intervening during this period can be seen to endure, as adolescents age into their adult lives and for future cohorts of their children. Health professionals are well aware of the life time benefits of positive health behaviours (for instance, physical activity and healthy diet) instilled during adolescence. This ability to create lifetime habits is also well known to cigarette manufacturers and the Food and Beverage industry (‘Big Food’).It is also a period during which vulnerabilities and stressors can strongly hit with severe consequences for adolescent futures. Portrait and colleagues (2011) analyzed data from the Amsterdam Longitudinal Aging Study to understand the effects of early life exposure to the Dutch famine (during the winter of 1944-45) on the prevalence of heart diseases, peripheral arterial diseases and diabetes mellitus at ages 60–76. The authors found that across four age classes (0-1 years old; 2-5 years old; 6-10 years old; and 11-14 years old), the exposure to severe undernutrition at ages 11–14 was the most significantly associated with a higher probability of developing diabetes mellitus and/or peripheral arterial diseases among women aged 60–76. Evidence from Falconi and colleagues, using cohort mortality data in France (1816-1919), England and Wales (1841-1919), and Sweden (1861-1919), also demonstrates that early adolescence is a sensitive developmental period for males; with findings suggesting that stressors experienced during the ages of 10-14 are related to shorter life spans.Importantly, the impact of stressors on an individual are cumulative, making it difficult to catch up once young people fall behind. Research in Vietnam has shown a considerably high share of children in the bottom quintile in mathematics scores at age 12 had left school by age 15, further limiting their life chances. Investments in education and learning for primary- and secondary-age children is crucial to ensure long-term well-being. to have positive effects at individual and household levels on their future annual earnings, decreased lifetime fertility rate and increased labour market participation, as well as on their children’s well-being and human capital.The window into our futures includes recognizing intergenerational impacts, which are evident for the next generation of children born to this cohort. For instance, interventions to improve the nutritional status of pregnant adolescents – for example through the provision of micronutrient supplementation and of nutritional education sessions – result in a statistically significant improvement in mean birth weight, reduced low birth weight rates, and preterm birth.Adolescence as a third window of opportunity Adolescence is a critical period responsive to effective interventions (or on the contrary, to stressors and adversities) that can have impacts on lifetime trajectories, and for the next generation.“Investments in adolescent health and wellbeing are some of the best that can be made, resulting in a 10-fold economic benefit”, and vital to achieve the SDGs Our approach to programming now needs new focus. With the new Generation Unlimited partnership, this conceptual approach can help researchers and practitioners, including UNICEF and policymakers, conceptualize adolescence in its interlinkages with other generations and life-course periods, to ensure synergies and effectiveness in the design and delivery of programs and policies.The criticality of the first 1000 days remains, but to ensure the best for the future of society, science now obligates us to extend our reach to the first 1000 weeks of life. The conceptualization of adolescence through a three-window opportunity approach highlights life-course and gender perspectives on adolescence – and reminds us to consider this period of life for its unique, catch up, lifetime and intergenerational significance.  Prerna Banati, PhD, is chief of programs at UNICEF’s Office of Research — Innocenti. Her research focuses on the social and structural forces that are among the most fundamental determinants of poor well- being among children. She was a Takemi Fellow in the Department of Global Health and Population at Harvard University and has previously worked at the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria and at the World Health Organization (WHO). Before WHO, she was based in South Africa, leading research on community HIV prevention, and has published in the fields of HIV prevention, reproductive health, health systems, and financing.Elena Camilletti supports the Office of Research – Innocenti’s work on adolescence and gender. She conducts research on adolescent girls and unpaid care and domestic work, gender norms, legal and policy frameworks for adolescent well-being, mental health and sexual reproductive health, and cost analyses in low- and middle-income countries. Before joining the Office of Research – Innocenti, she worked for the ILO, the Red Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre, Oxford Policy Management Ltd and UNRISD. Elena holds a Master of Science in Emerging Economies and Inclusive Development from King’s College London and a Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Diplomatic Affairs from the University of Bologna. You can follow here on twitter @elenacml.[1] Based on data collected for the impact evaluation of the Malawi Social Cash Transfer program. See more at https://transfer.cpc.unc.edu/?page_id=196[2] Number of under-fives falling below minus 2 standard deviations (moderate and severe) and minus 3 standard deviations (severe) from the median height-for-age of the reference* population, out of the total number of children under 5 years old in the surveyed population. See more at https://data.unicef.org/topic/nutrition/malnutrition/
Angel, 12 and his sister Kaily, 7,
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Lo que sabemos y lo que no sabemos sobre las pandillas juveniles en América Latina

*Nota: Esta es una traducción de la publicación original del blog en inglés: What We Know and What We Don’t Know about Youth Gangs in Latin America La violencia asociada con las pandillas en América Latina se ha convertido en una de las preocupaciones principales en algunos países de la región, sobre todo en los países del Triángulo Norte de Centroamérica, y más recientemente, en México. Los miembros de estas pandillas tienden a formar parte de estos grupos de identidad durante la adolescencia temprana, lo que contribuye a la estigmatización de este grupo de la población. La adolescencia sin duda es un periodo de desarrollo y crecimiento, de cambio, de riesgo (no necesariamente negativo en sí) – una encrucijada en el camino de la vida donde decisiones determinan futuros. Lo que se asume sobre las pandillas juveniles en la región latinoamericana suele ser erróneo. Por medio de una breve discusión sobre lo que realmente sabemos, cubriendo el grado de involucramiento de las pandillas en crímenes violentos, el trabajo desarrollado en este ámbito, las lagunas en los datos y un énfasis en la educación, podemos avanzar para responder algunas preguntas importantes. ¿Hasta qué punto son responsables las pandillas de los crímenes violentos?Todavía no queda claro. El énfasis de los medios sobre el tema de las pandillas y sobre todo la atención mediática sobre los mareros en Centroamérica y en Estados Unidos, da la impresión de que éstos son responsables de una gran parte de los crímenes violentos que ocurren en algunos países de la región. En Honduras -dónde se cree que hay el mayor numero de miembros de la mara en Centroamérica – los números no son precisos. Uno de los anteriores ministros de seguridad en el país ha culpado a la mara por una gran parte del crimen en el país; sin embargo, la policía hondureña no ha publicado datos estadísticos que den validez a estas declaraciones. Según los datos disponibles, menos del 5% de todos los crímenes en Honduras son cometidos por personas menores de 18 años de edad, y normalmente son los adolescentes en esta franja de edad los que constituyen una gran parte de la mara. En el caso de El Salvador, donde las pandillas se consideran uno de los mayores problemas del país según los ciudadanos encuestados por Americas Barometer, no hay números exactos que documenten la cifra actual de miembros de las pandillas o su contribución al crimen violento. No todas las pandillas son creadas por igual En Ciudad Juárez, México, una ubicación fronteriza que queda a escasos pasos de Estados Unidos y que fue considerada el epicentro de la ‘guerra contra las drogas’ declarada en el 2006, llevé a cabo trabajo de campo para mi tesis doctoral con adolescentes y jóvenes en riesgo y aquellos que habían participado en el narcotráfico. Encontré que el hecho de haber pasado tiempo en una pandilla durante la infancia y la adolescencia aumentaba la probabilidad de participar en el crimen organizado relacionado con el narcotráfico.[1] Sin embargo, también encontré que la participación en esta forma de criminalidad estaba condicionada por otros factores, incluyendo el tipo de pandilla en la que se ingresó, el tipo de actividades en la que ésta se involucraba y la edad en la que los participantes de mi investigación entraron a la pandilla – los que ingresaban con mayor edad tenían más probabilidades de participar en estos crímenes. En pocas palabras, asociarse con una pandilla contribuye pero no siempre conduce a participar en crímenes serios. No hay nadie que no pase por las esquinasSegún uno de los pocos estudios recientes sobre pandillas en México, históricamente éstas han evitado el uso de la violencia extrema, y es únicamente en tiempos recientes que las dinámicas sociales de las pandillas en el país han abandonado su lógica tradicional y se han asociado con crímenes de alto impacto y con actores del crimen organizado, aunque el grado de cooperación entre estos actores no está bien documentado. Como un joven juarense que entrevisté me aclaró: ser parte de una pandilla es parte de la cultura en los barrios empobrecidos de Ciudad Juárez, lo que él resumió diciéndome ‘no hay nadie que no pase por las esquinas’. Según su testimonio, nadie puede evitar juntarse en la esquina – el lugar tradicionalmente asociado al surgimiento de la pandilla. Adolescentes durante una práctica de fútbol en un Border Border Care Center en Reynosa.Lo que entendemos sobre las pandillas se basa en conceptos y trabajo académico de países desarrollados. Mientras que múltiples estudios han concluido que ser parte de una pandilla está asociado con una mayor tasa de crímenes cometidos en comparación con aquellos que no son miembros de pandillas (otro ejemplo en este enlace), las conclusiones de estos estudios están basadas en trabajos académicos con criterios anglosajones. De hecho, la mayor parte de la literatura sobre pandillas viene de Estados Unidos y recientemente, del Reino Unido. Como Densley, un experto en pandillas juveniles en Londres explica, la vida del pandillero, como la entendemos ahora “was born in America, but so too is our knowledge about it [nació en América, como asimismo nuestro conocimiento sobre ella]" (p.3). Este último punto ha capturado la atención entre académicos del sur que han enfatizado que la investigación sobre crimen e inseguridad “ha principalmente involucrado las perspectivas y preocupaciones anglosajonas que a la vez demandan sociedades cada vez más ‘securitizadas’ ”.[2] La implicación es que las dinámicas de las pandillas no han sido exploradas lo suficientemente en otras partes del mundo donde existen y son relevantes y tampoco se han visto esfuerzos por alejarse de conceptos anglosajones para mejorar nuestro entendimiento. En gran parte todavía carecemos de datos básicos sobre las pandillas en América Latina. Según los datos disponibles, sabemos que los adolescentes de la región son las principales víctimas de crímenes violentos; sin embargo, en qué medida los miembros de las pandillas son víctimas se desconoce (Figura 1). Los datos que permitirían una mejor comprensión de la contribución de las pandillas a los crímenes violentos y su grado de victimización, así como comparaciones entre los países de la región no están disponibles. Esto incluye datos sobre la prevalencia de las pandillas (cuantas pandillas hay y cuantos miembros tienen) así como la naturaleza de los crímenes de los miembros de las pandillas (el tipo de crímenes que se cometen, incluyendo su grado de involucramiento en actividades del crimen organizado como el narcotráfico). Por ejemplo, en la región centroamericana, las estimaciones sobre el número de pandilleros varían en gran medida. Según una fuente se estima que hay entre 69,000 y 200,000 pandilleros en la región, en otra se estima que son entre 200,000 y 500,000. Al mismo tiempo, la composición de la pandilla, incluyendo datos demográficos de los miembros (si son principalmente adolescentes o jóvenes), la edad en la que típicamente se ingresa en la pandilla o las motivaciones principales para formar parte de ellas son datos que se desconocen en gran medida, y cuando existe información, es fragmentaria, lo que quiere decir que es insuficiente para llegar a resultados generalizables o para hacer comparaciones significativas entre países de la región. En años recientes, se han producido trabajos etnográficos importantes en esta materia (véase por ejemplo este  enlace), lo que ha contribuido a un mejor entendimiento de estos grupos; sin embargo, los resultados de esta literatura son específicos de un contexto concreto, están basados en gran parte en el trabajo de autores anglosajones y no han abordado estas lagunas en los datos. Figura 1. Tasa promedio de homicidio y tasa de homicidio juvenil en países de América LatinaFuente: OEA, Report on Citizen Security y UNODC, Homicide Counts and Rates Nota: La tasa de homicidio juvenil es del año más reciente. El mismo año se ha utilizado para comprar con la tasa de homicidio promedio. Por ejemplo, la tasa de homicidio juvenil más reciente para Brasil fue en el año 2008; a pesar de la existencia de datos más recientes en la tasa de homicidio general, se ha utilizado la tasa de 2008 en la comparación. Retener a jóvenes en riesgo en el sistema educativo es clave para prevenir su involucramiento en las pandillas y la criminalidad. Sabemos que una gran parte de los jóvenes en riesgo y los miembros de pandillas en la región tienden a estar en peligro de abandonar la escuela o están fuera de ella totalmente, con pocas oportunidades de regresar y desarrollar las habilidades necesarias para asegurarse un trabajo digno. Sin embargo, lo que sabemos o asumimos sobre lo que aleja a estos jóvenes de la escuela es limitado, con la literatura sobre el abandono escolar enfocada casi exclusivamente en la población en edad escolar en general y no en este grupo de riesgo específico (por ejemplo, ver este enlace). Lo que sí sabemos es que las políticas actuales en la región no han sido del todo exitosas en retener a estos jóvenes en el sistema escolar, resultando en tasas de abandono escolar que son especialmente altas a nivel de secundaria. En mi trabajo de campo con 180 jóvenes y adolescentes que habían participado en crímenes graves en Ciudad Juárez, casi el 60% había abandonado la escuela en primaria o secundaria. Al contrario de lo que se asume, en mi estudio encontré que, a pesar de las altas tasas de abandono escolar, los adolescentes y jóvenes que participaron en crímenes serios tenían aspiraciones en el área de educación y querían tener carreras. En una encuesta con 180 jóvenes que estaban cumpliendo una sentencia de cárcel por haber participado en el narcotráfico, les pedí que enlistaran cinco aspiraciones que tenían antes de involucrarse en la delincuencia. La mayor parte de ellos mencionaron aspiraciones relacionadas con la educación como su primera prioridad (dieron respuestas como “quiero tener una carrera” o “quiero terminar mis estudios”). Es más, la mayor parte de los encuestados mencionaron que sus calificaciones en la escuela eran buenas mientras estudiaban y en entrevistas a profundidad, varios de ellos explicaron que fueron expulsados de sus escuelas no por malas calificaciones, sino por motivos disciplinarios. Los hallazgos que se han mencionado aquí indican que el involucramiento de los miembros de las pandillas en los crímenes violentos no es claro. Permanecen lagunas importantes en los datos que no han sido abordadas en el trabajo existente sobre pandillas en la región. Además, el trabajo producido se ha basado en gran parte en conceptos y metodologías de la literatura anglosajona, lo que ha obscurecido un entendimiento más preciso y minucioso sobre el fenómeno de las pandillas en la región. Mientras que la prevención del abandono escolar de estos jóvenes constituye un paso importante para disminuir la inseguridad – el tema principal de la región latinoamericana – las intervenciones programáticas requieren de más datos y más evidencia. Hasta que tanto los investigadores como el público en general no tengan conciencia de la urgente necesidad de canalizar mayores esfuerzos para entender a las pandillas de la región, y particularmente para entender qué respuestas programáticas basadas en evidencia se pueden implementar para disminuir la inseguridad, seguiremos aceptando discursos maniqueos que estigmatizan y utilizan la mano dura del estado para oprimir a jóvenes que lo han arriesgado todo en una legitima búsqueda de identidad. Translation of the original version in English. [1] Chávez, C. (2018). Youth and Organised Crime in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico: An exploration of contributing factors. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom.[2] UNODC, & EUI Migration Policy Center. (2018). EUI Organised Crime and Gender. Florence, Italy.
What we know and what we don't know about youth gangs in Latin America
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What we know and what we don't know about youth gangs in Latin America

*This blog post has been translated into Spanish: Lo que sabemos y lo que no sabemos sobre las pandillas juveniles en América Latina Gang violence in Latin America has become one of the central security concerns in some countries of the region, including the countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America and more recently, Mexico. Gang members tend to join these identity-shaping groups during early adolescence, which has contributed to the continued stigmatization of this population group. Indeed, adolescence is a period of growth, of change, and of risk-taking (not necessarily always negative) — a fork in the road where choices can determine futures. Assumptions about youth gangs in Latin America are flawed. By discussing what we actually know, touching on involvement of gangs in violent crime, existing work and data gaps, and education, we can move towards addressing existing issues. To what extent can gangs be blamed for violent crime?This is still unclear. Media hype over gangs, referred to as pandillas in Mexico and maras in Central America, has given the impression that gang members are responsible for a large share of violent crime in some countries of the region. In Honduras — largely believed to be the country with the highest rate of gang membership in Central America, although estimates are not accurate  — former security minister Oscar Alvarez blamed the maras for a large share of crime in the country, yet the Honduran police have failed to release statistics to back up this claim. According to available data, less than 5% of all crime in Honduras is committed by people under 18 years of age, and it is this adolescent group that generally comprises a large share of mara membership. In the case of El Salvador, where gangs are considered to be one of the main problems facing the country according to its citizens, no precise figures exist to document the actual number of gang members in the country or their contribution to violent crime. Not all gangs created equalIn fieldwork with adolescents and young men in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, once considered the epicentre of organised crime throughout the 'war on drugs' declared in Mexico in 2006, I found that having spent time with a gang throughout their childhood and adolescence increased the probability of participating in organised criminal activity related to the drug trade; but I also found that participation in serious criminality was conditional on other factors, including the type of gang that was joined, the type of activities the gang was involved in, with participants joining at an older age more at risk of engaging in serious criminality. In other words, associating in a gang was not necessarily nor forcibly conducive to participating in serious criminal activity. No hay nadie que no pase por las esquinasExtreme violence has historically been avoided in Mexican gangs, and it is only until recently that the social dynamics of gangs in Mexico have left behind their traditional logic and some have been associated to high impact and organised criminality, although the extent of their cooperation is not well understood or documented. As a local young man I interviewed made clear, being part of a pandilla, or a gang, is part of the culture amongst impoverished and disenfranchised youth in Ciudad Juarez. As he succinctly told me: 'No hay nadie que no pase por las esquinas'. In other words, no one manages to avoid the street corners - the traditional birth place of the gang.
Mind the gender gap: How can a gender-norm lens improve social protection outcomes for adolescents?
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Mind the gender gap: How can a gender-norm lens improve social protection outcomes for adolescents?

Since adolescence is a highly vulnerable period of rapid physiological, biological, and psychological change, researchers and development partners are increasingly asking how social protection can facilitate safer transitions to adulthood, and what additional factors shape these transitions for youth.Vulnerabilities related to adverse outcomes in adolescence are often shaped by gender norms, which can constrain the opportunities available to adolescent girls and jeopardize their health. Our research looks at how social protection programs have the potential to transform the lives of participants if they address these vulnerabilities and structural barriers.Looking at genderOne type of structural barrier is systematic exclusion from services or opportunities due to social class, gender or caste. Discriminatory gender and social norms, can also act as structural drivers of vulnerability among girls, as they perpetuate harmful socio-cultural practices, such as early marriage and gender-based violence. In order to have transformative effects, as they relate to gender norms, social protection would need to have impacts, which promote more equitable gender roles and relations.Social protection definedSocial protection broadly encompasses the sets of programs and policies that aim to reduce poverty, exclusion and vulnerability. Social protection includes, but isn't limited to cash transfers (child or disability grants, pensions, etc.), in-kind transfers of food and other items, waivers for schooling or health-related fees, and insurance schemes, which typically play a protective or preventive role, by either responding to adversity or shocks experienced by poor households (protective), or aiming to prevent future harm by bolstering households’ ability to cope with future shocks such as loss of income or unexpected flooding (preventive).Transitions to adulthood“Safe” transitions can be defined as freedom from violence and hazardous labor, having access to schooling and health services, experiencing positive mental health, and delaying pregnancy and marriage, among other positive outcomes.What is the existing evidence on how social protection, and cash transfers in particular, are helping to change gender norms, as they relate to adolescents? This was among the questions asked when experts convened in London on September 10, 2018, at an event organized by the Overseas Development Institute, UCL Institute of the Americas, and Gender & Adolescence Global Evidence (GAGE) consortium, and the ALIGN project. Other questions that participants grappled with included:How can a ‘gender-norms lens’ be integrated in the existing social protection policy and programming?Can a gender norms lens help advance a gender responsive social protection agenda?Is social protection really the best mechanism to address social and gender norms?Is it cost effective to influence gender norms through social protection?What are the trade-offs of addressing (or not) gender norms through social protection programming?As researchers based at the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti working on the Transfer Project  — a joint collaboration between UNICEF, FAO and the University of North Carolina, focused on generating evidence on social protection and facilitating its uptake — the authors of this blog participated in this event. Here are some of our own reflections on discussions generated during this event and our thoughts for moving the agenda forward.Social protection has the potential to transform gender norms and relations through the following pathways:decreasing gender inequalities in schooling attainment;promoting positive attitudes around how girls are valued by their families and communities;promoting women’s financial inclusion (that is, registering a bank account in women’s name to enable her to accumulate savings and grow a business);expanding women’s social support, economic networks, and participation in the community;reducing violence in the home, which generates a cycle of violence as children are exposed and replicate that behavior in adulthood;promoting more equitable distribution of domestic work between women and men.How are social protection programmes targeting or inclusive of adolescence? from UNICEF Office of Research - InnocentiNevertheless, cash transfer programs are not necessarily gender transformative, and they may reproduce discriminatory gender norms and practices, aggravating inequalities between the sexes. For instance, the conditions or “co-responsibilites” that female care providers are expected to fulfill to receive benefits can reinforce gender stereotypes around women’s sole responsibility for caretaking, ignoring their economic responsibilities, and cutting into their available time, and increasing girls’ work burdens, who tend to substitute the work of their mothers.Adolescents are rarely the primary focus of government-run social protection programs, but such programs can provide opportunities to leverage impacts for adolescents. Many social protection programs are aimed at investing in early childhood development, and “breaking the inter-generational cycle of poverty.” Numerous programs target large numbers of poor households with adolescents living in them, and adolescents are key to breaking this inter-generational cycle as they transition to adulthood. This creates an opening to boost impacts of social protection programs for adolescents, by mainstreaming adolescent lens into policy and programming, and providing complementary services, targeted to adolescents, to improve their health, skills, and knowledge.Programs that focus on attitudes and empowerment of individual girls without addressing discriminatory attitudes and practices in the larger community or broader structural barriers, are unlikely to have transformative effects. Many or most of those girls will continue to live in the same communities that limit their opportunities in the first place. They may continue to face limited access to schooling, employment, or financial inclusion, and pressure to marry early.Proposed strategies need to be practical, feasible, and matched to government priorities and institutional capacities and resources. Social norm change interventions are resource intensive and time consuming. Researchers and practitioners cannot be over-ambitious in terms of what social protection (on its own) can achieve. Further, strategies need to be supported by broader socio-economic and legislative policy frameworks.Finally, strategic decisions need to be informed by policy analysis and evidence. On both the research and program sides, a combination of concrete actions can be adopted to push this agenda forward:Adopt a long-term vision and a sequenced approach to programming: This may require starting from easier issues and progressively moving towards more complex normative goals.Undertake formative research to understand how social and gender norms affect adolescent behaviors and outcomes and then re-adjust program objectives accordingly. Existing design features can be tweaked to achieve transformative objectives (for example, larger transfer size for adolescents to combat increasing opportunity cost of schooling over work, adolescent-specific messaging, among others).Consider “cash plus” programming: Link adolescents in cash transfer participating households to existing services, such as sexual and reproductive health information and services, treatment and testing for HIV, or provide complementary programming, such as vocational training, financial inclusion and e-banking, mentorship schemes and safe spaces.Build staff capacity: Paying attention to the key cadre tasked with making inter-sectoral linkages on the ground, such as social welfare and monitoring officers.Measure change: Use a combination of impact evaluations, process evaluation, and qualitative research to help understand 1) how norms affect program impacts of social protection programs and 2) the role of social protection (and complementary schemes) in changing gender norms, and how changes *actually* happen.Facilitate evidence uptake: Use the evidence to engage with policymakers and communities to build their support for transformative adolescent-focused interventions, and advocate for reaching the ‘hardest to reach’ adolescents.  Maja Gavrilovic is a Research Analyst in the Social & Economic Policy Section at UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti, where she conducts research with the Transfer Project.Tia Palermo is a Social Policy Specialist in the Social & Economic Policy Section at UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti, where she conducts research with the Transfer Project.The Transfer Project is working to provide rigorous evidence on programme impacts in an effort to inform future programme design and scale-up. For more information on the Transfer Project’s research on cash transfers, we invite you to read our research briefs here or follow us on Twitter @TransferProjct  
Niger: the nowhere land where children on the move are someone else’s problem as Europe and North Africa tighten their borders
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Niger: the nowhere land where children on the move are someone else’s problem as Europe and North Africa tighten their borders

“The intergovernmental negotiations on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration recently concluded by upholding the best interests of the child and emphasizing the importance of family unity for children on the move. UNICEF’s Executive Director hailed it saying it should help equip Member States with tools to prevent deaths of children, protect them from abuse and exploitation, avoid the trauma of family separation, detention or forced removal.One of the critical issues it will tackle is how best to support children like those stranded in Niger which has effectively become the southern frontier of Europe. With the latest agreement on the EU disembarkation platforms and processing centres, Africa’s role is set to become all the more important.”  Agadez, Niger - Nothing could be further than from the gates of paradise than this scorching, unearthly wasteland stretching out as far as the eye can see and beyond. And yet this is it. Hidden in the ghettos, scattered on the outskirts of this ancient turmeric-coloured city, milling about in centres are hundreds of migrants, stranded, with dashed hopes and unfulfilled dreams. They’re on the move to or from neighbouring nations or beyond. Some, but surprisingly perhaps not most, have an eye on the ultimate prize of making it across the burning sands of the Sahara and on to what is fast becoming the elusive Eldorado - Europe. Many children travelling alone or separated, nursing mothers, newborns, and throngs of young men angry that their quest had been cut short. Agadez was once the migration capital of Africa, a crossroads for people on the move, a bustling business hub for smugglers, roadside shops selling masks, and sunglasses for the daunting journey, traffickers awaiting their human trade. Authorities would turn a blind eye then. Now, as Europe and North Africa tighten their borders and close their ports creating drama on the high seas in a general clampdown on migration – this unlikely has become effectively Europe’s new frontier. Arrivals into Italy from January to early June this year were down by two thirds compared to the same period last year when 60,000 crossed over from North Africa. Since November last year, more than 8,000 West Africans, including 2,000 children, have been returned to Niger from Algeria, with another 900 refugees and asylum seekers from East Africa transferred from Libya awaiting cumbersome and slow resettlement or family reunification processes to determine their future. Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world yet is bearing the brunt of the ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ policies by richer countries.Hastily stitched together agreements between one country to the next – EU-Turkey; EU-Libya; France-Niger; Algeria- Niger - are making migration someone else’s problem, pushing migrants from pillar to post, farther south. Children pay the highest price with little or no proper structures to keep them safe. The pushbacks have meant the stakes are higher and the routes riskier. In the flurry of a dust storm, of flesh-baking heat, we met a young Guinean furious for being dumped over the border from Algeria where he was scrapping out a living on the streets doing odd jobs. He went on a wildly gesticulating tirade but his words were as wise as they were distressing: “The desert has become a cemetery for our African brothers and nobody cares.” He was among those returned from Algeria, left in a nowhere land of the desert in temperatures of 48 degrees celsius miles from the Niger border, forced to walk until they could find transport and shelter. Many came from within Niger, the impoverished county of Kantche state in Zinder with its long-held reliance on income from begging. Ironically when the migrants are brought to Agadez onto a bone-dry open plain with a few threadbare tents, local children circle around with plastic begging bowls - begging from the returned beggars.It’s a motley bag – some could even classify as refugees. I met Liberians who fled their country during the Ebola crisis, Guineans fleeing hard times, Nigerians fleeing Boko Haram and others fleeing the torment and hardships in Libya.  Three UN agencies – UNHCR, IOM and UNICEF – have stepped up the response in Niger  yet too many fall through the cracks as they’re bundled up and off in this vast migrant heartland. One young mother nursing her 2-week-old baby was embarrassed that she had not yet managed to shave the new-born’s thick head of hair according to tradition. “The enforcing of the anti-migration law has changed the dynamics in the country. We’re seeing a huge spike in unaccompanied and separated children, and those involved are using routes where they cannot be tracked, and it’s far, far more dangerous.” Said Dan Rono, a child protection officer with UNICEF “It’s a tough journey for an adult, so you can imagine for an 11-year-old, it’s almost impossible for that child.” In April alone there was an increase of 14 per cent over the previous month in people transiting through Niger with around a third children, exhausted and traumatized. The true figure is likely to be higher as many children go undetected or hide. Omar, a 14-year-old from Sierra Leone, was one of those hidden statistics. He’s a gangly, awkward early teen in a Yankees cap, sleeveless vest, baggy shorts and flip flops, pretty much all he owns.  He is under the radar in a place they call the ‘Ghetto’ outside Agadez, waiting for the chance to cross. He left home because his father was not paying for his school fees. “I have made my decision to go to Libya, or to go to Europe to have a good life. May God save and guide me I will not go back home until I make it, to become a good boy so I can support the family behind,” said Omar. “For now, if I stay home I won’t be serious ok? I’ll become a bad boy. I will smoke, drink... So, I don’t want that life ok? I don’t want to become a bad boy. But if I go Europe I will continue my school. I will continue playing football again”. UNICEF has found in studies that although most children on the move stay within Africa and have no desire to go to Europe, of those who say they do want to, like Omar, around a third say it is for an education.A former smuggler, Dan Ader, who’s seen his lucrative business crumbled into the desert dust since the clampdown, told us: “There are so many deaths because there are thousands of routes. Now if your GPS has a little glitch you’re finished! You will not find your way again.” According to UNICEF estimates between January and May some 120 children drowned at sea between January and May. At sea there are at least coastguards. No one patrols the vast and deadly sea of sand. It doesn’t stop them trying. Desperation and dreams turn them into philosophers and poets like the scratchings on a prison cell, the graffiti on the grim ghetto walls, tells their stories scrawled in large charcoal: “Europe ou rien. Dieu est là! Europe or bust. God is there.” “Il vaut mieux mourir en mer que de mourir devant sa mère – sans rien.” (i.e. “Europe or bust, God is there! It is better to die at sea than to die in front of your mother—with nothing.”) Migration is as old as humanity itself here – a rite of passage for many boys into manhood, and simply a way of life in search of a better life – and closed ports and closed borders are not likely to stop this. Africa is the youngest and fastest growing population in the world, the north is ageing. Some say ‘Africa is sitting with its bags packed.’ The scrawling on the wall of the filthy ghetto in Agadez is a stark reminder of one of the reasons: “L’Afrique est riche mais ses enfants quittent à cause de mauvais gouvernements,”  (Africa is rich, but it’s children are leaving because of bad governments.)Yet only some 15 percent of those on the move in Africa, express any interest in going to Europe. So managing migration is truly global and now as the Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees are being finalized, the EU and other bodies really need to seize this moment to put the needs of children uprooted before national interests; commit to predictable cross-region action to keep children safe and families together and invest in countries like Niger and others in the Global South that take in far more refugees and migrants in a month than the Global North now does in an entire year. For most the true paradise lost, is being uprooted from a homes and loved ones – especially for children alone. Refugee and migrant children look now to powerful member states, to the European Union and to the African Union to put in place a proper migration system – promised in the Global Migration Compact - that doesn’t dismiss them like the wind that carried them to foreign shores.     You can find more about UNICEF Innocenti research on Children and migration: rights, advocacy and resilience   Sarah Crowe, is senior UNICEF communications specialist on migration and recently visited Niger   * Total arrivals (1 Jan - 03 Jun 2018): 13,706 Total arrivals (1 Jan - 03 Jun 2017): 60,394     
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