Nearly 50 million children “uprooted” worldwide – UNICEF

28 million forcibly displaced by conflict and violence within and across borders

Across the globe, nearly 50 million children have been uprooted – 28 million of them driven from their homes by conflicts not of their making, and millions more migrating in the hope of finding a better, safer life. Often traumatized by the conflicts and violence they are fleeing, they face further dangers along the way, including the risk of drowning on sea crossings, malnourishment and dehydration, trafficking, kidnapping, rape and even murder. In countries they travel through and at their destinations, they often face xenophobia and discrimination.

A new report released today by UNICEF, Uprooted: The growing crisis for refugee and migrant children, presents new data that paint a sobering picture of the lives and situations of millions of children and families affected by violent conflict and other crises that make it seem safer to risk everything on a perilous journey than remain at home.  

“Indelible images of individual children – Aylan Kurdi’s small body washed up on a beach after drowning at sea or Omran Daqneesh’s stunned and bloody face as he sat in an ambulance after his home was destroyed – have shocked the world,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “But each picture, each girl or boy, represents many millions of children in danger – and this demands that our compassion for the individual children we see be matched with action for all children.”

Uprooted shows that:

  • Children represent a disproportionate and growing proportion of those who have sought refuge outside their countries of birth: they make up about a third of the global population but about half of all refugees. In 2015 around 45 per cent of all child refugees under UNHCR’s protection came from Syria and Afghanistan.
  • 28 million children have been driven from their homes by violence and conflict within and across borders, including 10 million child refugees; 1 million asylum-seekers whose refugee status has not yet been determined; and an estimated 17 million children displaced within their own countries – children in dire need of humanitarian assistance and access to critical services. 
  • More and more children are crossing borders on their own. In 2015, over 100,000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in 78 countries – triple the number in 2014. Unaccompanied children are among those at the highest risk of exploitation and abuse, including by smugglers and traffickers. 
  • About 20 million other international child migrants have left their homes for a variety of reasons including extreme poverty or gang violence. Many are at particular risk of abuse and detention because they have no documentation, have uncertain legal status, and there is no systematic tracking and monitoring of their well-being – children falling through the cracks.
Kueth Tney,13, Nyamuoch Gatdet, 9 and Nyatayin Both, 25, (from left to right) victims of the abduction during a deadly cross border raid on 15 April.
Kueth Tney,13, Nyamuoch Gatdet, 9 and Nyatayin Both, 25, (from left to right) victims of the abduction during a deadly cross border raid on 15 April ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

According to Uprooted, Turkey hosts the largest total number of recent refugees, and very likely the largest number of child refugees in the world. Relative to its population, Lebanon hosts the largest number of refugees by an overwhelming margin: Roughly 1 in 5 people in Lebanon is a refugee. By comparison, there is roughly 1 refugee for every 530 people in the United Kingdom; and 1 for every 1,200 in the United States. When considering refugee-host countries by income level, however, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and Pakistan host the highest concentration of refugees. 

The report argues that where there are safe and legal routes, migration can offer opportunities for both the children who migrate and the communities they join. An analysis of the impact of migration in high-income countries found that migrants contributed more in taxes and social payments than they received; filled both high- and low-skilled gaps in the labour market; and contributed to economic growth and innovation in hosting countries.

But, crucially, children who have left or are forcibly displaced from their homes often lose out on the potential benefits of migration, such as education – a major driving factor for many children and families who choose to migrate. A refugee child is five times more likely to be out of school than a non-refugee child. When they are able to attend school at all, it is the place migrant and refugee children are most likely to encounter discrimination – including unfair treatment and bullying.

Outside the classroom, legal barriers prevent refugee and migrant children from receiving services on an equal basis with children who are native to a country. In the worst cases, xenophobia can escalate to direct attacks. In Germany alone, authorities tracked 850 attacks against refugee shelters in 2015. 

“What price will we all pay if we fail to provide these young people with opportunities for education and a more normal childhood? How will they be able to contribute positively to their societies? If they can’t, not only will their futures be blighted, but their societies will be diminished as well,” Lake said. 

The report points to six specific actions that will protect and help displaced, refugee and migrant children:

  • Protecting child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence.
  • Ending the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating by introducing a range of practical alternatives.
  • Keeping families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status.
  • Keeping all refugee and migrant children learning and giving them access to health and other quality services.
  • Pressing for action on the underlying causes of large-scale movements of refugees and migrants.
  • Promoting measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization.

Ethiopia has a long history as both a sender and receiver of refugees, and its location in the Horn of Africa places it at the centre of one of the largest refugee-generating areas in Africa today. As of 1 July 2016, the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported a total of 741,288 refugees living in Ethiopia, of which nearly 60 per cent (57.2 per cent) are children. This is an increase of more than 600,000 since 2009 with the majority from South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea. The volatility of this influx has put significant pressure on the government capacity to provide basic social services in affected areas. Host communities and refugees alike suffer from limited social services, including lack of schools, overstretched health facilities, shortage of water and sanitation facilities.

Major international workshop on social protection in Africa

Addis Ababa meeting aims to expand impact of government-led cash transfer programmes

A silent revolution has been taking place in Africa, with governments expanding investment in social protection and national cash transfer programmes. Direct, predictable cash payments for poor and vulnerable households now operate in nearly 40 African countries. To help governments answer questions of how to most effectively improve outcomes for poor populations in a cost-effective manner, the Transfer Project will convene a major international workshop for policymakers, researchers, and UN experts in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 6-8 April 2016. The participants will discuss rigorous research findings and future directions of government cash transfer programmes in Africa and beyond.

Thumb prints to certify issue of Pilot Social Protection Scheme
Thumb prints to certify issue of Pilot Social Protection Scheme ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Getachew

The workshop timing is particularly important as countries are in the process of developing their strategies to address the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Notably, the SDGs specifically target numerous outcomes with underlying poverty-related factors, which can be improved through mechanisms like cash transfers. The workshop will provide a unique opportunity for those crafting policy and those examining the evidence to discuss lessons learned and new ways forward.

Sessions will provide results from ongoing impact evaluations, as well as discuss prospective evaluations highlighting innovative programme designs. This includes discussions around transfers combined with other complementary interventions, known as “cash plus” programming, as they relate to education, health and nutrition, food security, productive activities, safe transitions to adulthood for youth, and overall household resilience.

UNICEF Ethiopia and FAO Ethiopia are jointly hosting the event, with Transfer Project partners from across UNICEF, FAO’s From Protection to Production (PtoP) Project, Save the Children UK and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill leading various sessions. The approximately 80 participants will include government partners implementing cash transfer programmes and social protection experts from academic institutions, non-governmental organizations and international development agencies. Representatives from 14 African countries will be in attendance, and for the first time, 4 Asian countries will also participate in the event.

UNICEF’s support to the Government of Ethiopia is built on various social protection initiatives to establish an integrated system approach to address children’s multidimensional poverty including: (i) the development and implementation of the national social protection policy and strategy; (ii) the strengthening of Federal and Regional government bodies working on social protection; (iii) the provision of technical assistance on the design and implementation of social protection programmes; (iv) the strengthening of social protection systems and (v) the generation of a strong evidence base in the area of social protection. 

In that context UNICEF works closely with the National Social Protection Platform (NSPP) to coordinate all social protection interventions and stakeholders in Ethiopia. The platform is jointly chaired by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MoLSA) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoARD). In collaboration with the National Social Protection Partners, including UNICEF, the first National Social Protection Policy of Ethiopia has been drafted and was adopted by the 77th Council of Ministers in November 2014. The policy is the main reference document to guide the social protection regulatory framework and forms the basis for a comprehensive social protection system in the country.

In addition to the higher level policy work, UNICEF has also been working with the Government of Ethiopia, the Productive Safety Nets Programme (PSNP) and MoLSA in particular for the implementation of Social Cash Transfers programmes in the regional states of Tigray, Oromia and SNNP. All of these interventions have been, and continue to be, rigorously evaluated to support evidence based policy decision in Ethiopia.

Malnutrition mounts as El Niño takes hold  

Drought in Ethiopia
Bora Robu Etu, a father in Haro Huba kabele, says that people are not only angry at not being able to feed their children – but their cattle too. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

Almost one million children are in need of treatment for severe acute malnutrition in Eastern and Southern Africa, UNICEF said today. Two years of erratic rain and drought have combined with one of the most powerful El Niño events in 50 years to wreak havoc on the lives of the most vulnerable children.

Across the region, millions of children are at risk from hunger, water shortages and disease. It is a situation aggravated by rising food prices, forcing families to implement drastic coping mechanisms such as skipping meals and selling off assets.

“The El Niño weather phenomenon will wane, but the cost to children – many who were already living hand-to-mouth – will be felt for years to come,” said Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala, UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “Governments are responding with available resources, but this is an unprecedented situation. Children’s survival is dependent on action taken today.”

Lesotho, Zimbabwe and most provinces in South Africa have declared a state of disaster in the face of growing resource shortages. In Ethiopia, the number of people in need of food assistance is expected to increase from over 10 million to 18 million by the end of 2016.

Releasing its latest briefing on the impact of El Niño on children in the region, UNICEF notes that:

  • In Ethiopia, two seasons of failed rains mean that near on six million children currently require food assistance, with school absenteeism increasing as children are forced to walk greater distances in search of water;
  • In Somalia, more than two thirds of those in urgent need of assistance are displaced populations;
  • In Kenya, El Niño related heavy rains and floods are aggravating cholera outbreaks;
  • In Lesotho, one quarter of the population are affected. This aggravates grave circumstances for a country in which 34% of children are orphans, 57% of people live below the poverty line, and almost one in four adults live with HIV/Aids;
  • In Zimbabwe, an estimated 2.8 million people are facing food and nutrition insecurity. The drought situation has resulted in reduced water yields from the few functioning boreholes exacerbating the risk to water-borne diseases, especially diarrhea and cholera;
  • Malawi is facing the worst food crisis in nine years, with 2.8 million people (more than 15 per cent of the population) at risk of hunger; cases of severe acute malnutrition have just jumped by 100% in just two months, from December 2015 to January 2016;
  • In Angola, an estimated 1.4 million people are affected by extreme weather conditions and 800,000 people are facing food insecurity, mainly in the semi-arid southern provinces.

The UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimated that it will take affected communities approximately two years to recover from El-Nino exacerbated drought, if agricultural conditions improve in the latter half of this year.

UNICEF humanitarian appeals are less than 15 per cent funded across El Niño-impacted countries in southern Africa.

UNICEF humanitarian appeals in El Nino-affected countries:

  • $US 26 million in Angola
  • $US 87 million in Ethiopia
  • $US 3 million in Lesotho
  • $US 11 million in Malawi
  • $US 15 million in Somalia
  • $US 1 million in Swaziland
  • $US 12 million in Zimbabwe

The importance of girls education in underdeveloped states

If you are able to read this sentence, you are one of the few fortunate individuals who have had a basic level of education.

Unfortunately for a majority of young girls in developing nations, having the ability to read is a privilege they are not able to enjoy.

Education for women is perceived more as a privilege than a necessity. Currently throughout the world, Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are known to have the highest rates of illiteracy, including 62 per cent of women in Africa, and 71 per cent in Southern Asia (UNESCO).

These statistics can be traced to a variety of cultural and socio-economic factors in states where women are not deemed fit to explore career opportunities or basic education. This is often due to preset standards of a woman’s role within the home.

In certain instances, girls are subject to run the household at an early age, caring for younger siblings in the absence of a provider. In other instances, young girls are sold for a bride price before reaching the age of ten, thus dropping out of primary school to become a caretaker and wife (UNICEF). Read more