Troubled year in store for the world’s children: UNICEF report

Troubled year in store for the world’s children: UNICEF report

Globally in 2024, children are likely to see increased exposure to violence and war, and economic hardship, says the UN children’s agency (UNICEF), in a flagship study released on Monday.

At the beginning of each year, UNICEF looks ahead to the risks that children are likely to face, and suggests ways to reduce the potential harm. The latest report, Prospects for Children 2024: Cooperation in a Fragmented World, paints a picture of a short-term future characterized by continued conflict and economic uncertainty. Here is a breakdown of the main trends to look out for.

Ongoing violence and war

The prospects of conflict, says the report, will be driven by escalating competition among world powers, threatening the rights and lives of children. As well as the immediate harm to children’s lives, violence and war affect children by diverting resources from education, health care and nutrition. 

Over 5,000 people, including 3,500 children, lost their homes in a fire which broke out in a refugee in Bangladesh.
© UNICEF/Salim Khan
Over 5,000 people, including 3,500 children, lost their homes in a fire which broke out in a refugee in Bangladesh.

Slow economic growth

Turgid economic growth is undermining years of progress on child poverty reduction, making it difficult for young people to access global job markets. If international trade is stymied by distrust and tit-for-tat tariffs, food prices could increase, and child nutrition could suffer. The way to safeguard children, says the report, is economic solidarity, market collaboration, and investment in future skills.

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A lack of international collaboration 

The report expresses concern that a fragmented multilateral system is not delivering on key issues for children. This can limit efforts to address grave violations of child rights; hinder global efforts to address risks, including the climate crisis; and inhibit the collective action needed to prevent and end conflicts. The multilateral system has a chance to reset its course in 2024 through stronger collective action, global governance, and financing reforms. 

Inequities in developing countries

Developing economies still face fiscal structural inequities. This means that resources, opportunities, and power are not distributed equally, limiting a country’s ability to invest in children. As a result, many citizens are reliant on remittances to cover their health and education costs. New technologies and reforms to lending could offer hope for a more egalitarian future.

Democracy under threat

Dozens of elections will take place in 2024, and global democracy will face unprecedented risks, presented by disinformation and political violence, threatening the rights and services of children. Children and young people can be particularly vulnerable to this violence, which may result in death, physical or emotional harm, disruption of public services, and school closures. Young people are expressing dissatisfaction in democracy, but they are channeling their energy into constructive civic action, and online activism.

Children make a shape with their hands in the south Omo district of southern Ethiopia.
© UNICEF/Raphael Pouget
Children make a shape with their hands in the south Omo district of southern Ethiopia.

The climate crisis

A fast-tracked transition to green energy is reshaping critical minerals and labour markets, which brings significant benefits to children and young people, but also poses risks as they are potentially exposed to, for example, harmful labour practices in mining communities.  The green transition also alters their prospects for jobs in the green economy, and it is challenging governments to address needs in education and skills training. But, if managed responsibly, cooperatively and justly, this transition can be a positive for children. 

El Niño, mosquito-borne diseases and water scarcity will also threaten children’s health and well-being, and drive food insecurity, increased risk of child food poverty and forced migration. Greater cross-border collaboration on the management of environmental risks and technological innovation can mitigate the negative impacts. 

Children play on parched land in southern Pakistan.
© UNICEF/Vlad Sokhin
Children play on parched land in southern Pakistan.

Regulation of Artificial Intelligence

Finally, the potential impacts of unchecked technologies, including AI, are reigniting fear and concern for children’s well-being. Emerging policies and regulation, if child-centred and designed responsibly, can provide opportunities and minimize negative impacts.

Time to make a choice

The conclusion drawn by the report’s authors is that the world faces a choice between a future of further fragmentation and division, or one of collaboration and cooperation, in which opportunities are harnessed, to forge a more secure, equitable world for children. 

They argue that a renewal of the cooperative spirit envisioned by the post-World War II international order, financing reforms, political accountability, solidarity, and proactive social policies, children can inherit an inclusive, resilient society.

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