Information and stories addressing children.

UNICEF Focuses on Stunted Children
One of the many harmful consequences of malnutrition in children is permanent “stunting” of the mind or body. The United Nations Children’s Fund is addressing this issue that affects more than 25 percent of children less than five years old. The organization is particularly concerned because “stunted” kids are put in a severe disadvantage for the rest of their lives.

According to Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF, there are several ways to help prevent birth of stunted children. Some of these methods include advocating for breastfeeding, proper vitamin intake, and consuming clean water. Lake explains a child with access to these important elements is likely to have his or her brain and body develop normally. Children who do not receive the necessary nutrient are also put at risk for numerous other illnesses or even premature death.

The first two years of life are the most significant to a child’s health. Even in the womb, children are at risk if the mother is not dedicated to a balanced diet, drinking clean water, and consuming enough Vitamin A, iron, or folic acid. If a child does experience stunted growth or “stunting,” there is no way to reverse the damage after the age of two.

Anthony Lake describes “stunting” as “the least understood, least recognized and least acted upon crisis.” Unlike being underweight, stunted children can never be fully cured. Thus, the child must carry out his or her life with an underdeveloped brain and possible nerve and cell damage. Not only is this catastrophic for the child’s learning capacity and future career, but it is also detrimental to society as well.

Most stunted children live in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In India, 48 percent of children under five years old suffer from “stunting.” All of these children will never have the chance to live up to their full potential. When new generations are unable to contribute intellectually and financially to society, the country’s entire economic system suffers. UNICEF is tackling the issue of one child at a time.

Mary Penn

Source: News OK
Photo: CNN

Free Meals for Indian School Children
Imagine what it’s like to have to choose between attending elementary school or harvesting wheat as a means of preventing starvation. Sadly, for many children in India where –according to UNICEF – upwards of 40 % of the population under five is underweight, this choice is one that many of their students have to make on a daily basis. However, thanks to the efforts of The Akshaya Patra Foundation and some assembly line ingenuity, free meals for Indian school children are now a reality for many elementary and middle school students.

The free meals for Indian school children program were incorporated following a 2001 Supreme Court Ruling institutionalizing free meals for all children under the age of 13. The Indian Government – in cooperation with The Akshaya Patra Foundation – has been able to feed 1.4 million children a day, resulting in greater attendance and a heightened ability to focus in class. The Foundation’s Vice Chairman, Chanchalapathi Dasa, remarked that “If a child is hungry in the classroom then he or she will not be able to receive all this education.”

But how does the government-run a program to provide that many free meals for Indian school children in one day? The answer is through an ingenious “gravity flow” kitchen that utilizes the technologies of mass production and efficiency. Basically, the kitchen is divided into 3 floors where food is prepped on the third floor, sent down –via a chute – to the cauldrons for cooking on the second floor, and sent down a final chute to be packaged and shipped to the schools on the first floor. Vice-Chairman Dasa added that the organization knew the scope of the problem that they were trying to address and “realized that in order to see a significant impact we have to do it in scale and that we have to use modern techniques of management and innovation” to make a difference.

Programs such as these serve as a much needed shot in the arm in combating global poverty and chronic undernourishment for much of India’s youth. By providing free meals for Indian schoolchildren, investments made by the government today will result in greater technological innovation through educational achievements in the future.

Brian Turner

Source: CNN
Photo: UNICEF

Innovation Saves Lives of Underweight Babies

Approximately 20 million babies are born underweight each year with 96% of them being born in developing countries. Further, underweight babies have a higher risk of becoming one of approximately 4 million babies that die within 27 days of birth every year.

One of the difficulties associated with premature, underweight babies is a lack of the necessary fat to regulate body temperature. If a low body-weight baby is not placed into a warm environment as a way to regulate temperature early on, death is highly possible. For hospitals located in areas where electricity is spotty or where resources are low, creating the necessary warm environment may be very difficult, if not impossible. Incubators may not emit enough heat or may fail to work at all and hospital heating generators may not be present or go out occasionally.

This is why Embrace Global has created a simple, low-cost product that will help save the lives of many babies at the fraction of the price of current solutions, such as incubators. The product, notedly named Embrace BabyWrap, resembles a mini sleeping bag and helps to regulate a baby’s internal temperature effectively and for long periods of time. This is done with the use of a WarmPak. A WarmPak is placed into a AccuTemp heater for 25 minutes then transferred to the back of the BabyWrap where it slowly releases heat for up to 6 hours. Further, the BabyWrap traps heat inside, providing a warm and insulated place for the baby at the perfect temperature – 37 degrees Celsius.

The Embrace BabyWrap is a great innovation that is “embracing embrace” and saving the lives of underweight babies worldwide.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: AllAfrica, Embrace Global

Guatemala_USAID_Nutrition
The U.S. Department of State recently hosted a number of government officials in a conference on nutrition and hunger in Guatemala. Attendees included representatives from USAID, the Guatemalan Health Minister, officials of the Government of Guatemala, a panel of nutrition experts, and private sector leaders.

As part of the larger Zero Hunger Pact, started by the President of Guatemala in 2012, Guatemala’s goal is to lower chronic malnutrition in children throughout the country by 10 percent by 2015.

In addition to representatives from the United States and Guatemala, members from the World Bank, the World Food Program, and other high-profile organizations appeared at the event. Participants of the event gathered to discuss and strategize on Guatemala’s implementation of the Zero Hunger Pact, which included planning the necessary next steps for the country to take to reduce malnourishment.

Guatemala has one of the highest rates of child malnutrition in the world as nearly half of all children in the country under five years of age suffer from chronic malnourishment; the issue is particularly bad in the Western highlands of Guatemala. U.S. government officials praised the Guatemalan government’s efforts to tackle child nutrition at the conference and also praised their efforts for sustainable results in fighting hunger.

In addition to the Zero Hunger Pact, Guatemala is also a focus area for the United State’s global hunger and food security initiative called Feed the Future.

Christina Kindlon

Source: State Department

Child Marriage: A Promise of Poverty

The average teenager worries about hanging out with friends, getting good grades, and fitting in with a group of people—not marrying a stranger and creating a home.

However, child marriage is a reality in the world’s 51 least-developed countries.  Half of all girls living in these countries are married before the age of 18, according to the United Nations. Parents arrange the marriage, and the groom can be more than twice the bride’s age.  Girls are ripped from their communities and forced into social isolation. These abrupt marriages sever a girl from her support network—a group of people necessary for helping the girl face the physical and emotional challenges of marriage.

Many cultures view girls as economic burdens, subservient individuals, or family mistakes. Marrying girls off as soon as possible alleviates the household expenses and restores the family’s reputation.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) established that the minimum age of marriage is 18 years old. This is considered the upper limit of childhood, and the individual is fit to decide whether to be married.  Many countries continue to practice child marriage despite proven physical and psychological effects.

World Vision reported that child marriages are increasing due to the increase in global poverty crises. 14 million girls under the age of 18 are married each year.  Child marriages are most prevalent in rural, poor areas and are associated with areas of low education and healthcare.  Polygamy is common, and these marriages are bargaining chips between two parties.

South Asia (46%) and Central Africa (41%) are the top areas for child marriages.  These regions do not monitor the age of spouses carefully.  Girls who live in countries with humanitarian crises are most likely to be subjected to child marriages. Fear of rape, unwanted pre-marital pregnancies, family shame, and hunger are the main motivators for child marriage. Poverty, weak legislation, gender discrimination, and lack of alternative opportunities reinforce these motivations.

Anti-poverty organizations, such as CARE, are working in various countries to combat child marriage.  According to CARE, “As levels of education and economic opportunities increase, so does the average age of marriage.”  CARE mobilizes community organizers, parents, and tribal and religious leaders to lobby against the child marriage law in Ethiopia. Leaders are constructing savings and loans groups to empower families financially. Though child marriage still exists, this will eliminate one major cause of child marriage. Community forums now focus on the elimination of bride price, bride abduction, and child marriage.

Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: NBC News

China_Foreign_Aid_Africa
It is predicted that by 2015 China will decrease the number of its citizens living in poverty by 50 million. Other developing countries are taking note of China’s success and, with the help of foreign investment, hope to employ the same methods. With its growing economy and monetary assistance, China is, by example, taking a leading role in foreign aid and assisting the developing world.

China’s representative for the World Food Programme, Brett Rierson, explains how China used a bottom-up method of alleviating poverty. The Chinese government focused on aiding poor farmers by implementing policies that permitted farmers to keep a higher percentage of their profits and allocating foreign investment and technology to small villages. Investment in infrastructure, as well as improving nutrition education, women’s health, and agriculture production, are also factors responsible for China’s success story.

A majority of China’s aid goes to countries in Asia and Africa. These developing countries can mimic China’s strategy by investing in infrastructure and farming communities. Deborah Brautigam, director of the international development program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, reminds us that it was China’s decision to invest in agriculture that helped reduce poverty, not just foreign assistance. African countries have the potential to lift themselves out of poverty, but it depends on how they invest the money they received from foreign aid.

China formerly received foreign aid from Western countries and is now ready to begin investing in other developing countries. With China’s help, the United Nations is on track to reaching the Millennium Development Goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030.

-Mary Penn
Source: SCMP
Photo: The Guardian

Disputed Rate of HIV in South African SchoolgirlsSouth African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi recently released troubling statistics which show that 28 percent of his country’s schoolgirls have HIV, seven times the rate of their male counterparts. In an assembly of the National Council of Provinces, Motsoaledi revealed that these figures “‘destroyed his soul’ and blamed the ‘sugar daddies’ infecting young girls with the virus,” as he advocated government policies to stop such predation.

Motsoaledi points to the drastic difference in HIV rates between boys and girls to illustrate his argument; he argues that if schoolchildren were passing the virus to each other, then rates among boys would not be so much lower. However, it is not clear whether this discrepancy is due to “sugar daddies” as Motsoaledi claims, or to the fact that males are less likely to contract HIV from a positive female than the reverse. Some sources dispute these figures, asserting that they are solely representative of “a small number of schools in the Natal Midlands” and that real figures are closer to 12 percent, down from the previous year’s 14 percent.

South Africa has struggled historically with HIV, and in 2009 began one of the biggest anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment programs in the world. But in the following two years, rates of infection among women aged 30-40 increased. Allegedly, these numbers are due to more people who were infected at a young age moving into older age groups. In order to prevent children from being exposed to one of the worst possible viruses known to humanity, proper education and prevention programs must be implemented in all countries. US foreign aid helps pay for these kinds of initiatives, but there is always more to help with. This might decrease the rate of HIV in South African schoolgirls.

Jake Simon

Sources: Nigerian Tribune, Mail & Guardian
Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

“As a girl, I am always being told that things happen because of fate, but it’s the things I do, not luck that determine my fate,” says Sikha, a young girl from the slums of Kolkata and one of the children featured in “The Revolutionary Optimists,” a documentary following several children living in the slums of Kolkata and making a difference.

Salim is an eleven year old boy who lives in a community that has no water. Every morning at 4:30, he has to go to a neighboring slum to collect water for his family. By mapping their community and collecting data, he is leading a team of child activists to persuade the government to provide their community with a water tap. Priyanka is a sixteen year old girl who teaches and leads a dance troupe as a means of fighting tradition and the pressure to enter into arranged marriage and to keep girls in school. These children and others featured in the film are the child activists of Prayasam.

Founded by Ashoka Fellow Amlan Ganguly, Prayasam is an organization that doesn’t work to rescue children; rather the organization empowers them to become “agents of change.” The philosophy is to reach out to these children who live in dire circumstances but believe that they decide their own fates. Prayasam works with six child advisors and more than thirty children as core members who take the lead in spearheading projects that address social issues within their communities.

Through methods from street theater to data collection, the children have managed to organize education campaigns, first aid training, and vaccination drives for polio, and turn garbage dumps into playing grounds. Fueled by child-led activism, the work of Prayasam and its child activists has had a considerable effect on health, hygiene, and sanitation in their neighborhoods having decreased cases of malaria and diarrhea.

Inspired by the film, the BAVC Producer’s Institute for New Technologies developed a project called Map Your World based on Salim’s mapping of his own communities. The technology would allow other child activists to map their community, track and collect data on health issues, and improve health in their communities using cell phones.

“The Revolutionary Optimists” was the recipient of the Hilton Lightstay Sustainability Award this year from Sundance and is set to officially open in New York on March 29 with other cities to follow.

– Rafael Panlilio

Source: Ashoka, PrayasamRevolutionary Optimists, Telegraph India

UNICEF and Syria's Lost GenerationA lost generation of children is quite a dramatic phrase. One would expect it to define a group of children whose duress has gone unnoticed. For the children in Syria, it’s a slightly different case. As the reports of casualties are noted every day, the biggest issue should be the loss of not only physical life but the psychological well being of children and their futures. Their plight, however, is overshadowed by external, as well as internal, desires to cease political unrest and see a new regime replace al-Assad’s.

UNICEF has been working consistently both inside and outside of Syria to try to maintain some level of balance and peace in the lives of these children. By first addressing their basic needs, 4 million people who have remained in Syria now have access to clean drinking water. 1.5 million children have received vaccinations against polio and measles. And aside from the 6% of children who are currently still able to attend school, 75,000 have been lucky enough to attend ‘school clubs’ to keep up with their education. Even for the quarter-million refugee children, UNICEF has managed to extend its basic services as well as offering protection against abuse and exploitation, two things all too common in the chaotic and insecure camps.

Resources are limited, however. Despite its plea for $195 million to continue support until June of this year, the UN reports that only 20% of that requested funding has been given. About 2 months after this request, former Senator-now-Secretary of State John Kerry announced the $60 million apparent ‘non-lethal’ aid package to Syrian rebels. While terms of ‘non-lethal’ and ‘food and medical supplies’ are tossed around, there is no direct language addressing the key issues that are important to every single person and party involved directly and indirectly in this conflict.

The Secretary of State has made it clear that his goals are to support the rebels in preventing and stopping President Bashar al-Assad from staging attacks against his own people. While the US government is set on securing the future of Syria, it seems only logical that they would realize that without providing psychological services, safe havens of learning, and adequate medical facilities to Syrian children, there will be a bleak future for Syria.

The trauma and permanent damage UNICEF reports are inevitable for Syria’s lost generation. It is going to affect the politics, economy, and every aspect of their country once they become of age and replace the current generation.

Eliot Engel, the Senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio sat down to discuss how “providing military aid to Syria’s opposition would bring the humanitarian disaster to an end” in hopes of continuing a peaceful relationship with Syria after Assad’s rule. Engel is currently pushing for the US’s active involvement in training and arming ‘some’ rebels (although he graciously adds that humanitarian assistance will be provided as well).

Such an obvious focus on expanding the degree of fighting is not going to bring the civil war to an end. While that question requires a great deal more of serious thought, it would hopefully require a lot less hesitation to understand that the safety and education of Syria’s children, both in and outside of the country, require immediate attention and aid.

– Deena Dulgerian

Sources: UN News Centre, Yahoo News, NPR

Combating Undernutrition
Each year, 3 million children die from undernutrition.

There are more than 165 million children under the age of five suffering from stunted growth, a marker for malnutrition.

In the media, malnourished children are often portrayed as being skinny with protruding stomachs. Yet, a protruding stomach is not the only marker for undernutrition. In fact, undernutrition comes in many different shapes and sizes. Stunted height, especially before the age of five, is a marker  “of multiple deprivations regarding food intake, care and play, clean water, good sanitation and health care,” according to The Guardian.

Children that face undernutrition in the first 1,000 days after conception are unable to fully, properly develop. Brain-synapse development and the development of the immune system are especially vulnerable and incorrect development of these major parts of the body can have long-lasting and serious effects on a person. Further, undernutrition leads to the deaths of 1 in 3 children and 1 in 5 mothers in developing countries.

The European Commission has recently launched a new effort that will hope to decrease the number of stunted children by 7 million by addressing malnutrition by the year 2025. This will be done through the provision of funds from donors – and from the EU humanitarian and development budgets – as well as by making this a global movement. Everyone must get involved to combat malnutrition, which is usually the result of impoverished situations that make it hard to access food, healthcare, clean water and sanitation, and education.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: New Europe, The Guardian
Photo: UN