We all know that being a teenager isn’t easy. But in the world’s most marginalized and impoverished communities, adolescence can be an extremely arduous and dangerous time. With enough resources and support, it can also be a time of great opportunity and transformation.
Around the globe, there are 1.2 billion adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19. Nearly nine out of ten live in the developing world. The unique needs of these children do not get as much attention as those of younger kids, according to UNICEF’s annual flagship report The State of the World’s Children, which was released today.
More children than ever before are living past their fifth birthday, thanks to the efforts of UNICEF and its partners. The new report asks: what happens when those children turn 10, 12, 15?
While not as susceptible to disease and malnutrition as younger children, adolescents may in some ways be even more vulnerable — particularly when it comes to violence and exploitation.
UNICEF has been battling polio for decades. In 1988, UNICEF teamed up with a coalition of organizations and governments to launch a hugely ambitious partnership called the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Since then, incidence of polio has dropped by more than 99 percent. Still, polio hangs on. While endemic in only four countries — Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Nigeria — polio does not respect borders or sovereignty. And all it takes for the disease to spread is for only a few people to remain unvaccinated. Even in places where it has been eliminated, just a handful of new polio cases can reverse decades of work.
Left-right: UNICEF Haiti Acting Representative Francoise Gruloos; World Vision Haiti National Director Frank Williams (speaking); Plan International Haiti Director Jo-Ann Garnier-Lafontant; Oxfam Great Britain Mainstreaming Coordinator Marie Soudnie Rivette; SOS Children’s Villages Haiti National Director, Celigny Daruis; Save the Children Haiti Child Protection Monitoring & Evaluation Senior Specialist Cynthia Koons and Moderator and BBC Reporter Matthew Price.
This was one consensus of a panel that met yesterday at UNICEF House to discuss the challenges and opportunities of the country’s rebuilding process, on the eve of today’s international donors’ conference for Haiti. Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages International, Plan International, World Vision International, and Oxfam joined UNICEF for the special event.
All aid agencies, donors, and others involved “need to project the face of the Haitian child on the discussions,” said UNICEF’s Director of Programs Nicholas Alipui. Panelists also agreed that the agenda for recovery must be driven by the Haitian people.
Panel moderator Matthew Price, who is the BBC’s World Affairs Correspondent, noted that some of those in the audience had braved the rain to attend. Reminding everyone of the current reality for many in Haiti, he then added: “Just imagine what it would be like living under a sheet strung between two branches… in the rain.”
UNICEF child protection expert Nadine Perrault was immediately deployed to Haiti after the earthquake struck last month. Perrault, who is normally based at UNICEF’s Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office in Panama, was sent to support UNICEF’s work on the ground, including efforts to identify and protect unaccompanied children. During her time there, she witnessed both horrible and heartwarming scenes in Port-au-Prince. Upon her return from Haiti, Perrault visited the U.S. Fund for UNICEF offices in New York and shared some of her thoughts and experiences in a video interview.
News coverage of the Haiti earthquake and the fight to help survivors is steadily dropping off three weeks after the disaster. As many other stories vie for a spot in the ever-accelerating news cycle, reporting on Haiti is becoming more sporadic and less prominent. News organizations like CNN and The Voice of America deserve credit for keeping the story in play and for spotlighting the acute need for further assistance.
The sobering truth is that in the wake of a calamity as devastating as last month’s earthquake, it is usually weeks or months after the initial crisis