Evidence for Action Blog
Youth in Zambia: using U-Report to take charge of their futures
I met Josephine earlier this year, a bright 21-year-old young woman from a country where 68 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line and three young people become infected with HIV every hour, two of them being girls. That's an average of 72 young people infected per day, and 27,000 per year. These numbers are strong enough to declare a national health emergency by any definition. In Josephine’s country, despite the seriousness of the situation, less than 40 per cent of young people have detailed information or knowledge about HIV/AIDS, with lower levels among girls. Poverty and HIV/AIDS have become mutually reinforcing and are perpetuating a cycle of suffering for children and youth that seems endless. The country I’m referring to is Zambia. I decided to start this text with a different tone, somewhat resembling a movie trailer, for two reasons: firstly, because what we're sharing is a cinematic experience; and secondly, in this tale of bravery and innovation, we have a heroine who was born in the slums of Lusaka, in a family of 10 siblings, managed to get herself into school, and is on a mission to change the world. Let me rewind a bit, back to 2012. The UNICEF Office of Research–Innocenti in Florence commissioned the study Children, ICTs and Development: Capturing the potential, meeting the challenges, published in April 2014. The topic was so promising that we decided to script a short film to support it, showing the human story behind the evidence and featuring a child or teenager who had been positively influenced by technology in the developing world. After doing quite a bit of research and digging for inspiration, I came across the Zambia case study and U-Report initiative. The minute I read about it, I knew it was right, as if the story had been patiently waiting to be unveiled. Everything fell into place a month later, when I hopped on a plane to Lusaka to start the filming, accompanied by a director and a cinematographer. So what is U-Report? In a nutshell, it’s an innovative, free-of-charge and youth friendly platform that allows real-time, two-way communication with trained counsellors via SMS on issues of HIV and sexuality transmitted infections (STI) in Zambia. It’s a platform for change in a country where one in every three young people has at least one mobile phone subscription, according to the Zambia Information Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA). Josephine grabbed the opportunity to reach out to young people and became a U-Reporter two years ago, while still living in Kanyama, one amid the many urban slums in Lusaka. She was expected by society to give up on education, get married and make do with this life, but instead she took a divergent route and decided to make a difference for future generations. Her story is a snapshot of the youth revolution that is brewing in Zambia and is led by technology. Apart from over 40,000 U-Reporters working together, Google (amongst other partners) is supporting an innovation hub in Lusaka called the BongoHive, where young developers gather on a daily basis to think outside-the-box and create applications and services that can leapfrog development in the country – and beyond. Innovation is becoming an integral part of Zambia’s DNA. After having the opportunity to connect with many inspiring youngsters in the country, be it at the BongoHive, in Kanyama or in the rural areas, I finally realized that despite all the international support coming from various places, it is only the present and future generations that can truly bring (and sustain) change to a nation. Josephine is already one of the many emerging leaders. Now she only needs more people to believe and follow her dream. Ricardo Pires is a UNICEF Communication Specialist, based in Florence, who was recently in Zambia to film a series of documentaries on innovation and Information Communication Technology.
#BringBackOurGirls: time to get serious about drivers of violence
The abduction of more than 200 high school girls in northern Nigeria has touched a global nerve. The twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls has generated millions of posts. UNICEF and other agencies have issued special statements. Superpowers are offering to send in military aid. It’s not the first time a horrendous act of violence against children has moved the world. I am pretty sure it won’t be the last. These moments of global concern about violence affecting children are usually brief, yet sadly, they don’t often result in level-headed responses. The acts of violence that make the headlines often have to do with deeply rooted and longstanding social norms—cultural, political and economic—that make girls and boys around the world vulnerable to many forms of violence, including forced early marriage, as well as child trafficking and abuse of children in armed conflict. When violence stays in the headlines there is a risk that we can miss an opportunity to focus in on the systemic social drivers of it. Policies and programmes are sometimes abandoned or hastily changed. Social protection services are pressured to drop what they are doing and deliver immediate results. Millions of dollars may be thrown into hasty policy re-directions based on thin evidence of success. What can make a difference? Believe it or not, one of the most important tools in ending violence against children is better research that improves understanding of what drives these violent outbursts, as well as the hidden ones that go on day in and day out around the world. What? More research? This is a crisis. Grab a shovel, pitchfork and scythe. How on earth will research #BringBackOurGirls? UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti is gearing up for a major four-year action research project in Italy, Peru, Vietnam and Zimbabwe, which aims to significantly increase understanding of what drives violence against children and how best to respond to it. A global team of top child protection researchers will analyze evidence on effective responses and rigorously measure their impact on children. The aim is to generate a substantial multi-country knowledge base to help build more effective interventions. In 2013 UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Liam Neeson joined UNICEF in urging people to speak out when they witness or suspect violence against children. More information about the #ENDviolence initiative is available here. © UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0512/Toledano Violence against children is a constant which we still poorly understand. It is pervasive: in the homes, neighborhoods, and schools where children are supposed to be safe. It is more often committed by the very people children ought to be able to turn to for protection. Growing evidence suggests 1 out of 4 children experience serious sexual, physical or emotional violence or abuse in their lifetimes. My gut feeling tells me it’s much higher, with most incidences going unreported. Some progress has been made on understanding violence against women, and there is much to learn from that in relation to children. However, too often theories about the dynamics of violence fail to take into account the extraordinary implications of age and its links with gender. Children grow, their capacities and vulnerabilities evolve and change, and, for example, what drives violence against a two year old girl may be quite different than that which affects a 14 year old boy, with different societal and individual consequences. Violence is nurtured by a culture of silence and the complex interplay of age-old assumptions on gender, age and authority. It is a social disease – and it happens in every country. Once we understand the underlying patterns of this virus, our policies and programmes are more likely to help stop it. Let’s unite and raise our voices in an effort to #BringBackOurGirls. But let’s also get to work on generating solid evidence on how to prevent and reduce the complicated phenomenon of human violence against the young and vulnerable, and in the process protect millions of children.
ICT4D: a coming of age
C4D, S4D and now ICT4D. The latest “4D” could represent one of the most important social and economic development trends in years. Communication technologies have long been seen as development “silver bullets.” First radio was going to boost productivity for rural farmers, then TV sets were supposed to replace teachers in remote classrooms, then computers were to become the great equalizers. Outsized expectations have almost always exceeded Information and Communications Technology (ICT) realities for development. But ICTs could finally be coming of age – due to the rapid spread of cell phones and internet – and their impact is reaching far beyond text message weather and commodity price reports for rural farmers. In a many ways digital technology and wireless communication networks are now over-shooting expectations and starting to deliver development dividends that generate their own forward momentum. Best of all, in many instances, end users in impoverished regions are having their say and formulating the framework of the latest generation of ICT for development: ICT4D. Things are moving so quickly that research and documentation can hardly keep up with the diffusion of ICT4D innovations. To help map and analyze these developments the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti is releasing a new report called “Children, ICTs and Development: Capturing the potential, meeting the challenges”which polls 35 leading experts in the field and analyses major research on the use of ICTs to improve the situation of vulnerable children. The report could be the first effort to specifically study the relationship between ICT4D and efforts to improve the situation of children. UNICEF has recently launched a global innovation unit pioneering the use of these and other new technologies, and has dedicated its November 2014 State of the World’s Children report to the theme of “Innovation for Equity.” The evidence of positive impact is mounting. The case of Zambia’s U-reporters is inspiring. With UNICEF help young people are using a simple SMS application to engage with policy makers on burning issues. More than 25,000 youth across Zambia – almost half female – are using SMS to access confidential, quality HIV-STI services. Zambia’s U-Reporter network is focused on HIV prevention, but will soon expand to address other needs. In Uganda, similar technology is going even further. Through U Report, more than 200,000 young people are connecting, discussing Local staff printing a birth certificate at Mityana hospital in Uganda using technology called Mobile Vital Records System. ©UNICEF/Uganda/2013/Sibiloniand mapping issues from sanitation in schools to gender discrimination. The network’s most recent SMS polls have covered, child poverty, birth registration, child health days, women’s access to credit. Connected by SMS, this vast network is gathering hard evidence and generating data maps to pressure leaders for change. According to one report “Information collected from these channels will be used to build a real time ‘accountability chain.’” In China the “10m2 of Love” smartphone app is mapping a growing list of breastfeeding rooms in workplaces and public buildings which meet ILO standards. Across 60 cities the app is helping families navigate to the nearest breastfeeding space and encouraging Chinese employers to embrace Child Rights Business Principles in the work place. Woven into China’s popular social media networks, the app mobilizes crowd-sourced quality control, provides contact details for hundreds of trained breastfeeding peer counselors and galvanizes an increasingly passionate breastfeeding advocacy movement. Before the launch of this ICT campaign UNICEF had never partnered with volunteers in China! ©UNICEF/China/2013Despite the clear up-side, the development community still needs to exercise caution, as the new research shows the ICT4D experience for children also contains its share of challenges. The study shows that girls are still less likely to benefit than boys, and while rural access is expanding it is still well behind urban areas. Cost is also a major obstacle which could mean that “quick fix” ICT4D interventions have the potential to widen inequities. The necessity of rooting ICT4D strategies deeply in the local cultural context is highlighted. Watch this space because I will continue to devote much of this blog to the impact of new interactive communication technologies on child rights. (Blogger note: This is my first blog post since joining the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti team. Our new study “Children, ICTs and Development: Capturing the potential, meeting the challenges,” has been jointly produced with the ICT4D Centre at Royal Holloway, University of London and Jigsaw Consult. It will be launched at the “Digitally Connected symposium on children, youth and digital media” hosted by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and UNICEF on April 28-30, 2014 at Harvard University.) C4D - Communication for Development; S4D - Sport for Development; ICT4D - Information & Communication Technology for Development