The House of Representatives is seeking the compulsory establishment of creches in all public and private workplaces in the country.
This, according to the House, is to assist breastfeeding/nursing mothers, especially those observing exclusive breastfeeding, to perform their official duties and care for their babies at the same time.
A bill seeking to establish the creches passed second reading on the floor of the House in Abuja on Thursday.
The bill passed the second reading in a unanimous voice vote and was sponsored by a lawmaker from Edo State, Rep. Sergius Ose-Ogun.
The long title of the bill reads, “A Bill for an Act to Amend the Labour Act, Cap. L1, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to make Provision for Establishment of Creches in every Public or Private (Health, Educational, Industrial or Commercial, Etc.) Workplace for employees who are Breastfeeding/Nursing Mothers; and for Related Matters (HB. 1438).”
The World Health Organisation and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) both recommend that nursing mothers should feed their infants exclusively on breast milk for the first six months.
WHO states the advantages of exclusive breastfeeding thus: “Breast milk is the ideal food for infants. It is safe, clean, and contains antibodies that help protect against many common childhood illnesses.
“Breast milk provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one third during the second year of life.
“Breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese, and less prone to diabetes later in life.
“Women who breastfeed also have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers.”
The first analysis indicated that governments and detaining authorities in at least 84 countries have released thousands of children since April 2020 when UNICEF drew attention to their increased risk of contracting COVID-19 in confined and overcrowded spaces, and called for their immediate release.
“We have long known that justice systems are ill-equipped to handle the specific needs of children – a situation further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, was quoted as saying in a statement.
“We commend countries which heeded our call and released children from detention. By protecting children from conditions that could have exposed them to grave illness, these countries were able to overcome public resistance and spur innovative, age-appropriate justice solutions.
“This has proved something we already knew – child-friendly justice solutions are more than possible.”
According to UNICEF, the study is one of two analyses that illustrate the situation for hundreds of thousands of children deprived of their liberty every year.
Both reports were released ahead of the World Congress on Justice with Children.
Children in detention – including in pre-and post-trial custody, immigration detention, held in relation to armed conflict or national security, or living with parents in detention – are often held in confined and overcrowded spaces.
“They lack adequate access to nutrition, healthcare and hygiene services, and are vulnerable to neglect, physical and psychological abuse, and gender-based violence,” the statement said. “Many are denied access to lawyers and family care, and unable to challenge the legality of their detention.
“COVID-19 has profoundly affected justice for children, shuttering courts and restricting access to essential social and justice services. Evidence shows that many children, including children in street situations, have been detained for violating pandemic curfew orders and movement restrictions.”
An estimated 261,000 children in conflict with the law – those who have been alleged, accused or recognised as having committed an offence – are held in detention, according to the second UNICEF analysis.
The second analysis – Estimating the number of children deprived of their liberty in the administration of justice – the first of such analysis since 2007, warned that incomplete record-keeping and undeveloped administrative data systems in many countries meant the number was likely to be much higher.
“Any child detained is evidence of failed systems, but that failure is then compounded further. Justice systems meant to protect and support children often add to their suffering,” said Fore.
“As policymakers, legal practitioners, academics, civil society, and children and young people convene at the World Congress this week, we must work together to end the detention of children.”
UNICEF stressed the need for authorities to ensure justice for children and safely end the detention of all children in various countries.
It, therefore, called on governments and civil society to invest in legal rights awareness for children in justice and welfare systems, especially for the most marginalised ones, expand free legal aid, representation, and services for all children, and prioritise prevention and early intervention in child offending and diversion to appropriate alternatives.
The organisation also asked them to end the detention of children – including through legal reforms to raise the age of criminal responsibility, ensure justice for child survivors of sexual violence, abuse or exploitation – including investing in child and gender-sensitive justice processes, and establish specialised child-friendly, virtual, and mobile courts.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says G20 countries have received 15 times more COVID-19 vaccine doses per capita than countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
UNICEF disclosed this in a statement on Wednesday, where it quoted a new analysis conducted by science analytics company Airfinity.
According to the agency, the analysis exposes the severity of vaccine inequity between high-income and low-income countries, especially in Africa.
“It found that doses delivered to G20 countries per capita are:
“15 times higher than doses delivered per capita to sub-Saharan African countries; 15 times higher than doses delivered per capita to low-income countries; 3 times higher than doses delivered per capita in all other countries combined.
“Vaccine inequity is not just holding the poorest countries back – it is holding the world back,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
“As leaders meet to set priorities for the next phase of the COVID-19 response, it is vital they remember that, in the COVID vaccine race, we either win together, or we lose together.”
Wealthy countries with more supplies than they need have generously pledged to donate these doses to low- and middle-income countries via COVAX but according to UNICEF, these promised doses are moving too slowly.
“Of the 1.3 billion additional doses countries have pledged to donate, only 356 million doses have been provided to COVAX,” the UN agency said, adding that “African countries, in particular, have largely been left without access to COVID-19 vaccines.
“Less than five per cent of the African population are fully vaccinated, leaving many countries at high-risk of further outbreaks”.
However, the agency is optimistic that a push from some of its ambassadors could help the situation.
“As leaders prepare to meet for the G20 Summit in Rome this weekend, 48 UNICEF Africa ambassadors and supporters from across the continent have united in an open letter. They are calling for leaders to honour their promises to urgently deliver doses, writing that ‘the stakes could not be higher’,” the agency said.
The letter’s signatories, including Angelique Kidjo, Arlo Parks, Davido, Tendai Mtawarira, Femi Kuti, Tony Elumelu, Ramla Ali, Winnie Byanyima and others, are calling on leaders to donate the pledged vaccines by December, along with the necessary resources to turn the vaccines into vaccinations.
“Every day Africa remains unprotected, pressure builds on fragile health systems where there can be one midwife for hundreds of mothers and babies,” the letter read. “As the pandemic causes a spike in child malnutrition, resources are diverted from life-saving health services and childhood immunization. Children already orphaned risk losing grandparents. Disaster looms for sub-Saharan African families, four out of five of whom rely on the informal sector for their daily bread. Poverty threatens children’s return to school, protection from violence and child marriage.”
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), some 80,000 to 180,000 healthcare workers globally are estimated to have died from COVID-19 between January 2020 and May 2021.
Less than 1 in 10 healthcare workers in Africa have been fully vaccinated and more than 128,000 have been infected with the virus. The agency has also found only one in seven COVID-19 infections are detected in Africa due to limited testing, meaning the true number is likely much higher.
“Saving lives in Africa starts by saving the lives of the life-savers,” said Fore.
“Too many communities on the African continent were already grappling with stressed healthcare systems. They cannot go into another year of this global crisis enduring so many preventable deaths and prolonged sickness.”
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says the delisting of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) from the United Nations Secretary-General’s report on Children and Armed Conflict as one of the armed groups recruiting and using children in north-east Nigeria, is one step forward for child protection.
“This is a welcome development for the children of Nigeria,” UNICEF Chief of Maiduguri Field Office, Phuong Nguyen, said on Monday. “But we must remember that this is the first step in a long journey.
“I urge the leadership of the CJTF to establish child protection units across its offices to prevent future recruitment and use of children and consistently model its agreement to not use children for any kind of role.”
In his latest report released this year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres credited the delisting to a significant reduction in the number of children recruited into the ranks of the CJTF and the group’s commitment to the implementation of an action plan it signed with the UN Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR) in 2017 to stop the recruitment and use of children.
Children have borne the brunt of the protracted conflict in north-east Nigeria. At least 3,500 young children were recruited by parties to the conflict as combatants between 2013 and 2020.
Girls and boys have been used as suicide bombers, spies, labourers, cooks, messengers, and wives. Girls recruited by armed groups often suffer gender-based violence, including rape.
Children used as soldiers are at great risk of death or disability while undergoing armed training and initiation rites, as well as during combat.
They are forced to witness or participate in tortures and killings, triggering lifelong physical and mental health challenges. Similarly, they are denied access to education, nutrition, and conducive living conditions, among other grave violations of their rights.
“Recruiting children into armed groups steals their innocence and the protection they need,” Nguyen added. “We should not forget – deploying children as soldiers imperils peace and perpetuates the cycle of generational violence.
“I call on other armed groups and parties to the conflict to immediately stop the recruitment of children and safely reintegrate them with their families and communities, where they belong.”
Formed in 2013 with the aim of supporting efforts of the Nigerian military to protect communities from Boko Haram attacks, the CJTF expanded in size and influence in the region.
At the height of its operations in 2016, the group was listed in the annexes of the Secretary- General’s Annual Report for Children and Armed Conflict for the recruitment and use of children.
Since signing the 2017 Action Plan, however, the CJTF has released more than 2,000 children from its ranks, with many of the children enrolled in school and provided with psychosocial support by UNICEF.
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.
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.
“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 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.
“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, 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 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.
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.”
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 Allinitiative, 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.”
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.”
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.”