COVID-19: Children’s Diets Not Improved In Last Decade – UNICEF

UNICEF is among the most widespread and recognizable social welfare organizations in the world.
UNICEF is among the most widespread and recognizable social welfare organisations in the world.

 

Children under the age of two are not getting the food or nutrients they need to thrive and grow well, leading to irreversible developmental harm, a new report by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has revealed.

In a communique on the issue, the UNICEF said the situation has a tendency to get much worse under COVID-19.

The UNICEF report indicated that during crucial period when children begin to transition to solid foods, just 1 in 3 are fed a diet diverse enough to grow well.

Fed to Fail?

The crisis of children’s diets in early life – released ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit this week – warned that rising poverty, inequality, conflict, climate-related disasters, and health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic, are contributing to an ongoing nutrition crisis among the world’s youngest that has shown little sign of improvement in the last ten years.

“The findings of the report are clear: millions of young children are not being fed diets adequate for their growth and development,” said Rushnan Murtaza, UNICEF Nigeria Deputy Representative.

“Poor nutritional intake in the first two years of life can harm children’s rapidly growing bodies and brains, impacting their futures. Now more than ever, with the ongoing COVID-19 disruptions, we need to reimagine a food system that improves the diets of young children, including in Nigeria.”

In an analysis of 91 countries, including Nigeria, the UNICEF report found that half of children aged 6-23 months globally are not being fed the minimum recommended number of meals a day. Two-thirds do not consume the minimum number of food groups they need to thrive.

According to the 2018 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey, in Nigeria, among children aged 6-23 months, only 23 per cent have the minimum necessary dietary diversity, and only 42 per cent have minimum adequate meal frequency.

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt essential services and drive more families into poverty, the report disclosed that the pandemic is affecting how families feed their children.

According to a study conducted in Nigeria last year, Nigerians were already largely unable to afford healthy diets due to pre-existing food security challenges, with an estimated 40.1 percent of Nigerians unable to cater for their food expenditure. It is likely that this will only be worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Children carry the scars of poor diets and feeding practices for life. An insufficient intake of nutrients found to support growth at an early age puts children at risk of poor brain development, weak learning, low immunity, increased infections and, potentially, death.

Children under the age of two are most vulnerable to all forms of malnutrition – stunting, wasting (low weight for height), micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity – as a result of poor diets, due to their greater need for essential nutrients per kilogram of body weight than at any other time in life.

Globally, UNICEF estimates that more than half of children under the age of 5 with wasting – around 23 million children – are younger than 2 years of age, while the prevalence of stunting increases rapidly between 6 months and two years, as children’s diets fail to keep pace with their growing nutritional needs.

“In Nigeria, one out of every three children is stunted and one of every ten children is wasted. As a result, close to 17 million Nigerian children are undernourished (stunted and/or wasted), giving Nigeria the highest-burden of malnutrition in Africa and the second-highest in the world,” the UNICEF statement partly read.

It further revealed that Nigeria is off-track to achieve SDG2: Zero Hunger by 2030. Adding that to change this trajectory, “the time to act is now to reimagine not just food, but health and social protection systems”.

To deliver nutritious, safe, and affordable diets to every child year-round, the report called for governments, donors, civil society organizations, and development actors to work hand-in-hand to transform food, health, and social protection systems by:

Increasing the availability and affordability of nutritious foods – including fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish meat, and fortified foods – by incentivizing their production, distribution, and retailing.

Implementing national standards and legislation to protect young children from unhealthy processed and ultra-processed foods and beverages, and to end harmful marketing practices targeting children and families.

Increasing the desirability of nutritious and safe foods through multiple communication channels including digital media to reach parents and children with easy-to-understand, coherent information.

“We have reached a crucial tipping point,” said Rushnan Murtaza. “Only by joining hands with partners, government, and relevant stakeholders, can we transform the Nigerian food system and provide access to diverse, nutritious, safe, and affordable diets for every Nigerian child.

“The upcoming Food Systems Summit provides us the opportunity to reimagine food systems that create a fundamental shift from feeding people to nourishing them. We must apply these learnings to Nigeria so that we can secure a healthy future for our children.”

Over 300,000 Children Killed In Northeast

Meanwhile, UNICEF has revealed that more than 300,000 children lost their lives in the last 12 years because of the insurgency ravaging within the North East region.

In its latest statistics released, UNICEF also disclosed that over one million persons have been displaced within the period under review.

The agency further divulged that no fewer than 5,129 out-of-school children were currently battling mental health challenges as a result of the conflict in the North.

According to a press statement jointly released with the European Union (EU), UNICEF stated that a recent Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) needs assessment of conflict-affected children in north-east Nigeria revealed pervasive psychosocial distress manifesting as high levels of anxiety, suspiciousness, anger, aggressiveness, and hyper-vigilance.

“The scars of conflict are real and enduring for children,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s Representative in Nigeria.

“Too many children in north-east Nigeria are falling victim to a conflict they did not start. Attacks against children must stop immediately. In the meantime, we are committed to working with our partners to provide psychosocial and other support to conflict-affected children so they can regain their childhood and restart their lives.’’

Stress and violence have been linked to poor brain development, depression and poor self-esteem, and children exposed to conflict and violence are at risk of long-term mental health and psychosocial issues.

As children continue to bear the brunt of the 12-year conflict in northeast Nigeria, the EU and UNICEF are working together to provide community-based psychosocial services aimed at improving children’s mental health.

Through the EU-funded Support to Early Recovery and Resilience Project, implemented by UNICEF, at least 5,129 conflict-affected out-of-school children in Borno State, north-east Nigeria in six local government areas are receiving services including mental health support in safe spaces to strengthen their well-being, resilience, literacy skills and self-reliance.

The project also supports vulnerable children across Borno with protection and health services, vocational and basic literacy skills, access to justice and security, under a holistic humanitarian intervention that has so far provided 15,552 out-of-school children with vocational training; 1,610 out-of-school children with literacy and numeracy skills and 5,194 children enrolled into integrated Qur’anic schools across focus LGAs.

According to EU Head of Cooperation Cecile Tassin-Pelzer, “Addressing the psychosocial well-being and development of children and teachers in conflict situations is an important part of re-establishing education provision and enabling children to re-enter schools safely.”

UNICEF uses psychosocial support to help conflict-affected children manage their emotions, solve problems, deal with crises, and maintain healthy relationships.

EU, UNICEF To Address Mental Health Of 5,129 Out-Of-School Children In Borno

UNICEF is among the most widespread and recognizable social welfare organizations in the world.
UNICEF is among the most widespread and recognizable social welfare organizations in the world.

 

As children continue to bear the brunt of the 12-year conflict in North East Nigeria, the European Union (EU) and UNICEF are working together to provide community-based psychosocial services aimed at improving children’s mental health.

This is according to a press statement jointly released by the European Union (EU), and UNICEF.

Through the EU-funded Support to Early Recovery and Resilience Project implemented by UNICEF, at least 5,129 conflict-affected; out-of-school children in six Local Government Areas of Borno State are receiving services including mental health support in safe spaces to strengthen their well-being, resilience, literacy skills and self-reliance.

The project also supports vulnerable children across Borno with protection and health services, vocational and basic literacy skills, and access to justice and security, under a holistic humanitarian intervention that has so far provided 15,552 out-of-school children with vocational training; 1,610 out-of-school children with literacy and numeracy skills and 5,194 children enrolled into integrated Qur’anic schools across focus LGAs.

UNICEF recently revealed that more than 300,000 children have been killed in Nigeria’s North East, while over one million have been displaced.

A recent Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) needs assessment of conflict-affected children in the region revealed pervasive psychosocial distress manifesting as high levels of anxiety, suspiciousness, anger, aggressiveness, and hyper-vigilance.

“The scars of conflict are real and enduring for children,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF’s Representative in Nigeria. “Too many children in North East Nigeria are falling victim to a conflict they did not start. Attacks against children must stop immediately. In the meantime, we are committed to working with our partners to provide psychosocial and other support to conflict-affected children so they can regain their childhood and restart their lives.’’

Stress and violence have been linked to poor brain development, depression and poor self-esteem, and children exposed to conflict and violence are at risk of long-term mental health and psychosocial issues, it added. 

READ ALSO: UNICEF ‘Horrified’ By Zamfara School Abduction

“Addressing the psychosocial well-being and development of children and teachers in conflict situations is an important part of re-establishing education provision and enabling children to re-enter schools safely,”  EU Head of Cooperation Cecile Tassin-Pelzer, noted.

UNICEF says it uses psychosocial support to help conflict-affected children manage their emotions, solve problems, deal with crises, and maintain healthy relationships.

The EU-funded programme in Borno State is a component of a three-year €10 million European Union Support to Early Recovery and Resilience package to support children, youths, and communities in Borno State.

Also included in the package is the provision of vocational skills and non-formal education to at least 25,000 young people, the construction and rehabilitation of learning centers and the strengthening of education management information systems.

UNICEF ‘Horrified’ By Zamfara School Abduction

UNICEF is among the most widespread and recognizable social welfare organizations in the world.
UNICEF is among the most widespread and recognizable social welfare organizations in the world.

 

UNICEF on Thursday said it was horrified by yet another attack on a school in Nigeria, following the abduction of scores of students from Government Day Secondary School Kaya in Maradun Local Government Area of Zamfara State.

“We strongly condemn this attack, which has happened just a few days after kidnapped students of a school in Niger State, north-central Nigeria, were freed,” UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, Peter Hawkins, said in a statement.

“We call on the authorities to take expedited action to rescue these students and reunite them with their families.

READ ALSO: Zamfara Govt Orders Closure Of All Markets, Fuel Stations

“We reiterate that attacks on schools and abduction of learners are a gross violation of children’s rights, and a horrific experience for children to go through – one which could have long-lasting effects on their mental health and overall well-being.

“Schools must be safe; no child should experience any harm because they went to school, and no parent should come to grief for sending their children to learn.”

Five of the students regained their freedom on Thursday.

Confirming the news, the Zamfara State Police Command described the return of the five students as “unconditional and safe rescue.”

The Command also assured residents that the remaining abducted students will safely return to their families.

Meanwhile, the Zamfara State Government has ordered the immediate closure of primary and secondary schools due to the worsening state of insecurity.

UNICEF Condemns ‘Unacceptable’ Deaths Of Children In Borno

UNICEF is among the most widespread and recognizable social welfare organizations in the world.
UNICEF is among the most widespread and recognizable social welfare organizations in the world.

 

UNICEF, the United Nations agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide, on Saturday condemned the deaths of three children in Borno state.

The children were reportedly killed by unexploded remnants of war on Friday.

“The avoidable deaths of the children – as young as 12 years – who were playing on Mblu Bridge in Ngala, is yet another sad reminder that children remain direct and indirect targets of the protracted conflict wracking north-east Nigeria,” UNICEF said in a statement.

“While three children have sadly lost their lives, three others are in critical conditions while two other children sustained mild injuries.”

UNICEF said it was deeply worried that the protracted conflict in the north-east continue to affect children in the worst ways.

“First of all, we extend our deepest and heartfelt sympathy to the families of the children killed,” UNICEF’s Nigeria Representative, Peter Hawkins, said.

“No family should have to go through this – and no child should fall victim to unexploded remnants of war while playing.”

“These deaths are unacceptable. All sides to the ongoing conflict must protect children and prioritise their wellbeing at all times. Playing fields, schoolyards and communities must be safe and habitable for children.

“Children’s lives should not be at stake in a conflict they didn’t start. We must address the shrinking safe spaces for children and ensure that children – especially those already affected by conflict – are protected and have a chance to survive and fulfill their potential.”

Ethiopian Troops Destroy UNICEF Equipment In Tigray

A member of the Ethiopian Defense Forces walks away from a damaged military truck abandoned on a road near the village of Ayasu Gebriel, East of the Ethiopian city of Alamata, on December 10, 2020. EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP
A member of the Ethiopian Defense Forces walks away from a damaged military truck abandoned on a road near the village of Ayasu Gebriel, East of the Ethiopian city of Alamata, on December 10, 2020.
EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP

 

 

Ethiopian soldiers destroyed UNICEF satellite equipment in war-torn Tigray on Monday, the UN agency said in a statement condemning the attack.

“Members of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces entered our office in Mekele, Tigray, Ethiopia today and dismantled our VSAT equipment,” the United Nations Children’s Fund said in a statement, referring to satellite machinery.

“UNICEF’s priority in Tigray, and across Ethiopia, is to help the most vulnerable children, including the 140,000 children already facing famine-like conditions. We are not, and should never be, a target,” the statement added.

A spokesman for the UN secretary-general Stephane Dujarric condemned “any and all attacks on humanitarian workers and assets” during a daily press conference.

“All parties must ensure the protection of civilians and all humanitarian assistance provided by the United Nations.”

UNICEF warned earlier this month that tens of thousands of malnourished children were at risk of dying in the Tigray region, which has been mired in conflict between federal troops and the regional ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front since last November.

Intense fighting has persisted throughout the region, with mounting reports of massacres and widespread sexual violence.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government announced a unilateral ceasefire Monday, state media reported, signaling a potential turning point.

Ethiopian authorities deny the humanitarian situation in the northern region is as dire as aid agencies say, even as the UN cautions some 350,000 have been pushed to the brink of famine.

Children’s Day: One In Three Nigerian Girls Are Sexually Abused – UNICEF

 

 

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said that this year’s Children’s Day comes at a challenging moment as the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of girls that are being sexually abused.

UNICEF stressed that violence is carried out against one in four Nigerian children and the longer the pandemic goes on, the more intense its impact.

However, UNICEF’s Country Director, Peter Hawkins, in a statement on Thursday, said children are resilient, talented, and aspire to do great things.

According to him, it is the responsibility of the government to give them the platform and encouragement to grow.

Read the full statement:

UNICEF celebrates Nigerian Children’s Day and urges protection of child rights

“It has been a challenging year for us all with the COVID-19 pandemic – not least of all, Nigeria’s children – and I want to commend efforts at all levels of Nigerian government and society to protect education, health, and protection services in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children.

As we rightfully celebrate Nigerian children today, let us also remember that the COVID-19 crisis has been a child rights crisis – in Nigeria and around the world.

Poverty is rising, inequality is growing, and the pandemic has often disrupted the essential services that secure the health, education and protection of children and young people.

The longer the pandemic goes on, the more intense the impact on women and children.

On this Nigerian Children’s Day, let us all agree that we cannot let one crisis compound another.

The pandemic is threatening decades of progress we have made for children.

Violence is perpetrated against one in four Nigerian children – and one in three Nigerian girls are sexually abused. This has only increased during the pandemic.

Today of all days, we must commit to reinforce the protection mechanisms for all children.

But we have learned from this pandemic too. One thing we have learned is that education takes place not only in schools – children can and should learn both in and out of school.

A learning continuum is critical so that all children continue to get an education irrespective of their situation, location, or the pandemic.

Nigerian children are resilient, talented and aspire to do great things. And it is our responsibility to give them the platform and encouragement to do just that.

We know that protecting children and investing in women and families is not only the right thing to do – it has proven to be a sound economic choice and a cost-effective tool for national development.

As we celebrate our children today, we must act in their best interests and deploy innovative solutions to fast-track learning and health services to build back better, for every Nigerian child.”

26.5 Million Nigerian Children Lack Access To Water, Says UNICEF

A picture of a child drinking water from the tap. UNICEF Nigeria/2020

 

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Monday said that nearly one-third of Nigerian children lack access to enough water.

In a statement marking World Water Day, UNICEF said more than 1.42 billion people including 450 million children are living in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability in the world.

“The world’s water crisis is not coming – it is here, and children are its biggest victims,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.

“When wells dry up, children are the ones missing school to fetch water. When droughts diminish food supplies, children suffer from malnutrition and stunting. When floods hit, children fall ill from waterborne illnesses. And when water is not available in Nigerian communities, children cannot wash their hands to fight off diseases.”

According to UNICEF, “the figures in Nigeria are particularly worrying, with 26.5 million Nigerian children experiencing high or extremely high water vulnerability – or 29 percent of Nigerian children.”

 

Read UNICEF’s full statement below:

Abuja, 22 March 2021 – As the world commemorates World Water Day, globally, more than 1.42 billion people – including 450 million children – are living in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability, according to new analysis released by UNICEF. This means that 1 in 5 children worldwide does not have enough water to meet their everyday needs.

The figures in Nigeria are particularly worrying, with 26.5 million Nigerian children experiencing high or extremely high water vulnerability – or 29 per cent of Nigerian children.

The analysis, part of the Water Security for All initiative, identifies areas where physical water scarcity risks overlap with poor water service levels. Communities living in these areas depend on surface water, unimproved sources of water, or water that can take more than 30 minutes to collect.

“The world’s water crisis is not coming – it is here, and children are its biggest victims,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.

“When wells dry up, children are the ones missing school to fetch water. When droughts diminish food supplies, children suffer from malnutrition and stunting. When floods hit, children fall ill from waterborne illnesses. And when water is not available in Nigerian communities, children cannot wash their hands to fight off diseases,” said Peter Hawkins

The UNICEF data show that children in more than 80 countries live in areas with high or extremely high water vulnerability. Eastern and Southern Africa has the highest proportion of children living in such areas, with more than half of children – 58 per cent – facing difficulty accessing sufficient water every day. It is followed by West and Central Africa (31 per cent), South Asia (25 per cent), and the Middle East (23 per cent). South Asia is home to the largest number of children living in areas of high or extremely high water vulnerability – more than 155 million children.

Children in 37 ‘hotspot’ countries face especially dire circumstances, in terms of absolute numbers, the proportions of children affected, and where global resources, support and urgent action must be mobilized. This list includes Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Sudan, Tanzania and Yemen.

Last year, the Nigerian Government and UNICEF released a WASH NORM study which showed that while there has been some progress, thanks to efforts by the Ministry of Water Resources and its partners to strengthen the sector’s planning and monitoring  – there is still much more work to be done in the country to ensure that all Nigerians have access to adequate and quality water and hygiene services.

Sustainable and equitable access to safe drinking water remains a challenge in Nigeria, with over 86 per cent of Nigerians lacking access to a safely managed drinking water source. The problem is compounded by poor drinking water quality and lack of equity in access.

Although about 70 per cent of Nigerians are reported to have access to a basic water services, more than half of these water sources are contaminated. And although 73 per cent of the country’s population have access to a water source, only nine litres of water on average is available to a Nigerian daily.

At the current rate, the country will miss the SDG targets on people’s access to water, unless there is a strong commitment and appropriate action taken by all stakeholders.

While the impact of water scarcity can be felt by all, no one suffers more than the most vulnerable children. Children and families living in vulnerable communities face the double-edged sword of coping with high water scarcity levels while having the lowest water services, making access to sufficient water especially susceptible to climate shocks and extreme events.

“We have to act now both to address the water crisis in Nigeria to prevent it from getting worse and if we want to meet the SDGs,” said Peter Hawkins. “We can only achieve water security for every Nigerian – including the Nigerian child – through innovation, investment and collaboration, and by ensuring services are sustainable and well-managed. We must act – for the sake of our children and our planet.”

 

COVID-19: 10 Million Additional Girls At Risk Of Child Marriage – UNICEF

Photo Credit: UNICEF/2021

 

Ten million additional child marriages may occur before the end of the decade, threatening years of progress in reducing the practice, according to a new analysis released by UNICEF today.

COVID-19: A threat to progress against child marriage – released on International Women’s Day – warns that school closures, economic stress, service disruptions, pregnancy, and parental deaths due to the pandemic are putting the most vulnerable girls at increased risk of child marriage.

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, 100 million girls were at risk of child marriage in the next decade, despite significant reductions in several countries in recent years. In the last ten years, the proportion of young women globally who were married as children had decreased by 15 per cent, from nearly 1 in 4 to 1 in 5, the equivalent of some 25 million marriages averted, a gain that is now under threat.

“COVID-19 has made an already difficult situation for millions of girls even worse. Shuttered schools, isolation from friends and support networks, and rising poverty have added fuel to a fire the world was already struggling to put out. But we can and we must extinguish child marriage,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “International Women’s Day is a key moment to remind ourselves of what these girls have to lose if we do not act urgently – their education, their health, and their futures.”

READ ALSO: Paris Hospitals Near Full Capacity As Severe COVID-19 Cases Surge

Girls who marry in childhood face immediate and lifelong consequences. They are more likely to experience domestic violence and less likely to remain in school. Child marriage increases the risk of early and unplanned pregnancy, in turn increasing the risk of maternal complications and mortality. The practice can also isolate girls from family and friends and exclude them from participating in their communities, taking a heavy toll on their mental health and well-being.

COVID-19 is profoundly affecting the lives of girls. Pandemic-related travel restrictions and physical distancing make it difficult for girls to access the health care, social services and community support that protect them from child marriage, unwanted pregnancy and gender-based violence. As schools remain closed, girls are more likely to drop out of education and not return. Job losses and increased economic insecurity may also force families to marry their daughters to ease financial burdens.

Worldwide, an estimated 650 million girls and women alive today were married in childhood, with about half of those occurring in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, and Nigeria. To off-set the impacts of COVID-19 and end the practice by 2030 – the target set out in the Sustainable Development Goals – progress must be significantly accelerated.

“One year into the pandemic, immediate action is needed to mitigate the toll on girls and their families,” added Fore. “By reopening schools, implementing effective laws and policies, ensuring access to health and social services – including sexual and reproductive health services – and providing comprehensive social protection measures for families, we can significantly reduce a girl’s risk of having her childhood stolen through child marriage.”

‘Arson’ Destroys Four UNICEF Schools In Rohingya Camps

UNICEF Schools
A UNICEF learning centre burning down at a Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, on Jan 18, 2021. (PHOTO: AFP)

 

Four UNICEF schools for Rohingya children in refugee camps in Bangladesh have been destroyed in a fire, officials said Tuesday, with the UN children’s agency calling it arson.

It was unclear who might attack the schools, which were empty at the time, but the security situation in the camps housing around a million people has worsened in recent months.

Last week a blaze thought to have been started by a gas stove burned down hundreds of bamboo shacks in one of the camps, leaving thousands of the refugees originally from Myanmar homeless.

Razwan Hayat, Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner, told AFP that he believed the latest fire wasn’t started deliberately and said that the schools were made of flimsy flammable materials.

“We are investigating. But we think it is an accident. These centres are not permanent structures,” he said.

However, UNICEF said on Twitter the incident was arson and that it was “working with partners to assess the damages of the attack and speed up the process of rebuilding these learning Centres”.

UNICEF runs about 2,500 learning centres in the 34 refugee camps in Bangladesh’s southeastern border district of Cox’s Bazar. Some 240,000 Rohingya children studied in them before the pandemic.

They have been closed for months because of measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus but are expected to open again from next month, aid workers say.

The Rohingya are largely conservative with many opposing the education of girls.

Those living in the camps include around 750,000 Rohingya who fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017 that the UN has likened to ethnic cleansing.

There is little prospect of them returning to Myanmar, leading to tensions with the local population and prompting many to attempt treacherous sea journeys to Malaysia and Indonesia.

Recent months have seen clashes between groups including the militant Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), killing seven dead and many houses torched.

Philippines Set To Raise Age Of Consent From 12 To 16

In this photo taken on December 2, 2020, Rose Alvarez, 16, — whose name AFP has changed to protect her identity — speaks during an interview inside a health centre in Manila. PHOTO: TED ALJIBE / AFP

 

Manila teenager Rose Alvarez was 13 when she started having sex with a man who was more than twice her age. That would be statutory rape in most countries, but not in the Philippines.

The Catholic-majority country has one of the lowest ages of consent in the world, allowing adults to legally have sex with children as young as 12 if they agree.

Child rights activists have lobbied for decades to increase the age — enshrined in the penal code since 1930 — but faced resistance from what they describe as a “culture of patriarchy” in a country where abortion and divorce are illegal.

Congress now looks set to approve a bill to raise the age to 16.

Campaigners say the legislation would help protect youngsters in a nation that has become a global hotspot for online child sex abuse and where more than 500 teenagers get pregnant and give birth every day.

“This is a victory for Filipino children,” Patrizia Benvenuti, UNICEF’s chief of child protection in the Philippines, said recently as the proposed legislation moved closer to a final vote.

“Pegging 12 as the age of consent is really not consistent with scientific studies on brain development.”

Alvarez, who got pregnant when she was 14, says she now realises she had been too young for a sexual relationship and the demands of motherhood.

“I was still a child then, I didn’t know anything about sex,” Alvarez, now 16, told AFP at a clinic run by the Likhaan Center for Women’s Health in Navotas, one of the poorest areas of Manila.

“I was telling him to use a condom… but he removed it. He didn’t want to use it,” said Alvarez, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

Alvarez — who until the age of 12 thought it was possible to get pregnant from kissing — said she was drunk the first time she slept with the man, who was about 29 when they met on Facebook.

“When I woke up I was shocked to see blood in my underwear and it hurt a lot,” she recalled. “I was too intoxicated to know what was happening.”

– ‘Victim blaming’ –

Child rape and sexual abuse are rampant in the Philippines, according to official data.

A woman or child is raped nearly every hour, Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a document to the Senate, citing figures from the Center for Women’s Resources.

Seven out of 10 victims are children and the vast majority are girls, she said.

A government-backed nationwide study in 2015 showed one in five children aged 13-17 experienced sexual violence, while one in 25 were raped during childhood, UNICEF said.

But prosecuting adult perpetrators in rape cases involving children as young as 12 has been difficult because they can argue the sex was consensual, said Rowena Legaspi, executive director of the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center.

“Imagine a 12-year-old… that girl is still a minor,” Legaspi told AFP. “How could she have consented?”

The proposed bill would make it automatically illegal and carry a penalty of life imprisonment, though it would not punish young couples close in age.

It is expected to be approved by the Senate in the coming months before going to President Rodrigo Duterte to be signed into law.

Activists say increasing the age of consent will deter sexual predators.

But they caution more needs to be done to combat sexual violence against children and one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Southeast Asia.

All children should have access to age-appropriate sex education “from an early age” as well as information and services to make sex safer and avoid unplanned pregnancies, said Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch.

Sexist and “victim-blaming” attitudes among prosecutors and judges also needed to be changed, and cases needed to move faster, said Legaspi.

It currently take years for a rape case to reach court, by which time the victim may be an adult — and in some cases, the accused has died.

“We have so many laws that protect children but the problem is the implementation,” said Legaspi.

“You only change the law but the system is still there.”

– ‘I want to have fun’ –

Not everyone favours increasing the age of consent.

A social worker dealing with adolescents in impoverished areas of Manila told AFP it could push relationships between children and adults underground, making it more difficult to assist youngsters in need.

Donna Valdez, 15, says it should be left to the couple to decide if they are ready to have sex.

She was 13 when she met her current boyfriend, who is 10 years older than her, on Facebook.

After chatting online for two months, they slept together. Soon she was pregnant.

The couple live together and under the proposed bill he could be charged with rape.

Valdez had no regrets becoming a mother so young, she told AFP as her 10-month-old son wriggled in her lap at the health centre.

“We’re happy that we’re blessed with a child,” said Valdez, not her real name.

But Alvarez says she misses her old life.

“I want to go out with friends again, I want to have fun,” she told AFP.

“I’m jobless, my parents are also out of work. Where will we get money for my baby’s needs?”

Alvarez hopes to finish high school so she can work overseas — like millions of other Filipinos whose monthly remittances help support their families at home.

“I’m too young to be worn out,” she said.

“I still have plans, I want to marry an American to have a better life.”

AFP

UN Calls For Immediate, Unconditional Release Of Abducted Katsina Pupils

A screenshot taken on December 14, 2020, shows a section of the Government Science Secondary School, Ƙankara, Katsina State.

 

The United Nations has condemned the abduction of students at the Government Science School at Kankara, Kastina State following an insurgent attack on the school.

The international organisation made this call in a statement by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, Stéphane Dujarric, on Monday.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the 11 December attack on a secondary school in Katsina State, Nigeria, and the reported abduction of hundreds of boys by suspected armed bandits.

“The Secretary-General calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the abducted children and for their safe return to their families. He reiterates that attacks on schools and other educational facilities constitute a grave violation of human rights. He urges the Nigerian authorities to bring those responsible for this act to justice,” the statement read in part.

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The Secretary-General also reaffirmed support of the United Nations to the Government and people of Nigeria in the fight against terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime.

 

 

– UNICEF Condemns Brutal Attack –

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also joined voices condemning the abduction of the school pupils.

The United Nations Agency in a press statement on its website demanded immediate and unconditional release of all the abducted children.

“On Friday evening, armed men attacked the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara, Katsina State, northwest Nigeria. According to unconfirmed reports, hundreds of students are still unaccounted for.

“UNICEF condemns in the strongest possible terms this brutal attack and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all children and their return to their families.”

UNICEF said it is deeply concerned about the acts of violence which are a violation of children’s rights.

They stressed that children should feel safe at home, in schools, and in their playgrounds.

“Attacks on schools are a violation of children’s rights. This is a grim reminder that abductions of children and widespread grave violations of children’s rights continue to take place in northern Nigeria.

“Children should feel safe at home, in schools, and in their playgrounds at all times. We stand with the families of the missing children and the community affected by this horrifying event,” the statement added.

UNICEF, however, acknowledged the efforts by the Nigerian Government in securing the safe return of the missing children.

UNICEF Seeks $2.5bn For Mideast Children As COVID-19 Deepens Poverty

Libya Identified As Epicenter For Migrant Child Abuse

 

The UN children’s agency Monday appealed for $2.5 billion in new funds for 39 million children in the Middle East and North Africa impacted by war, poverty and the coronavirus pandemic.

“The region is home to the highest number of children in need in the world,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“This is largely due to man-made crises including armed conflicts, poverty and economic stagnation.”

He said the latest appeal “aims to reach children with critical humanitarian assistance and continue responding to the massive needs emerging as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Children are most in need in war-torn Yemen, in and outside conflict-wracked Syria, and in Sudan, UNICEF said in a statement.

In Yemen, 12 million children, or almost every child, need assistance after five years of conflict, it said.

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In Syria, 4.8 million children need aid after a civil war has killed more than 380,000 people, displaced millions and ravaged the economy.

A further 2.5 million live as refugees in neighbouring countries after their parents fled the almost ten-year conflict.

In Sudan, 5.3 million children need aid because of unprecedented floods, an economic crisis and a sweeping political transition from autocratic rule toward democracy.

In Lebanon, 1.9 million children now rely on assistance as the economy has plummeted and following a massive explosion in Beirut that killed more than 200 people and ravaged large parts of the capital in August.

Most funds requested in UNICEF’s appeal would go towards supporting children’s education, while the rest would ensure access to water, sanitation, healthcare and nutrition, and mental health support, it said.

“We hear of fatigue to fund long-term crises like in Yemen and Syria,” Chaiban said.

But he stressed that “the world cannot turn a blind eye to the needs of children impacted by two of the most horrific conflicts in recent history”.

AFP