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May 10, 2016

One Year On, Children Express New Fears

One year after a magnitude 7.8 earthquake devastated Nepal, children continue to face major difficulties. Alongside concerns over living conditions and access to a safe and supportive education, children report enduring feelings of fear and trauma that could compromise their wellbeing in the long term.

Five child rights organisations– Plan International, Save the Children, Terre des hommes, UNICEF, and World Vision – highlight the need to mainstream child protection and child safeguarding, including psycho-social support, within all recovery and reconstruction efforts.

The findings are based on a consultation with more than 680 children from five of the most severely earthquake-affected districts in Nepal. The research released today, “Children’s voices, children’s rights: one year after the Nepal earthquake” revealed that children’s challenges continue to be inadequate shelter, overcrowded classes, and lack of books and materials.

Children who took part in the consultation highlighted different sources of fear as a result of living in temporary shelters, including thieves and wild animals entering houses; of sleeping outside; and of being trafficked or forced into child labour.

"The doors and windows of our temporary house are not strong. The locks can be easily broken and I am scared of being [physically or sexually] abused. I have heard news of this kind through the radio," said one adolescent girl from Rasuwa, during the consultations.

Most worryingly, these compounding fears and feelings of instability are starting to have psychosocial effects on children. A staggering 50 percent of children stated that a year after the earthquake, they continue to overreact to loud noises and 23 percent do not sleep as well as before the earthquake.

“We feel scared even while dreaming. Also, we get scared hearing the sound of vehicles,” said an adolescent boy from Salmechakal, Kavre.

Save the Children’s Country Director, Delilah Borja, said: “Children are undoubtedly the most vulnerable during an emergency. It was no different when multiple quakes struck Nepal last year. Children’s lives were shaken beyond their comprehension, education came to a standstill and their overall wellbeing was under threat."

Girls and boys described the ongoing fear of another earthquake, potentially triggering further landslides, and the possibility of it occurring while they were on their way to, or at school.

“Time alone will not remove the children's fear. We need to make children feel safe again and find a positive way for them to live with their memories of destruction, insecurity and loss. Parents and teachers need to learn how to support traumatised children to help them regaining confidence for their future”, states Sebastian Zug, Country Representative of Terre des hommes in Nepal.

Despite emergency response efforts building 3,567 temporary learning centres - which enable children to return to school - more than one year after the earthquakes 30 per cent of children continue to report studying in unsafe schools, many complaining of cramped and noisy classrooms. More than 60 per cent prioritised the construction of earthquake-resistant schools as their top concern.

UNICEF Representative Tomoo Hozumi said: "The situation could have been far worse if the earthquake occurred on any other day than Saturday when schools in the country are closed. The geophysical conditions of Nepal mean there are no 'safe zones' when it comes to major earthquakes. We believe making schools earthquake-resistant through retrofitting or new construction is one of the up-most priorities not only in the earthquake-affected districts but in the entire country."

Children who took part in the consultation expressed desire to be consulted in further recovery discussions. Seventy per cent of children stated their voices had not been listened to during the response, and about 95 percent stated that they wanted to be consulted through discussions at the community and local level, child-clubs, at school, through their parents or directly through organisations.

Plan International Nepal’s Country Director Mattias Bryneson said: “All children have the right to grow up in a safe and protective environment. We hope the concerns of the children affected by this tragedy will be better taken care of in the recovery and reconstruction phase of the earthquake response."

Despite the huge challenges faced by aid agencies to reach all of the earthquake survivors, the large majority of children - 98 percent - reported to have received support in the months following the earthquake, by way of food items, cash, shelter, temporary shelter materials, mobile health camps and support for school items.

World Vision’s Nepal Earthquake Response Director, Jennifer MacCann said, “Moving forward, in the coming months we are hopeful to focus on recovery work that will benefit children and restore their sense of safety and normalcy in their schools, homes and communities.”

May 10, 2016

As Zika Spreads, UNICEF Helps Keep Families Safe

With the Zika virus now a public health emergency affecting more than 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, UNICEF is working with governments to mobilize communities to protect themselves from infection.

“Although there is still no conclusive evidence of the causal link between microcephaly and the Zika virus, there is enough concern to warrant immediate action,” said Dr. Heather Papowitz, UNICEF’s Senior Advisor for Health Emergencies. “We need to act fast to provide women and pregnant mothers with the information they need to protect themselves and their babies, and we need to engage with communities on how to stop the mosquito that is carrying and transmitting this virus.” 

Registered cases of microcephaly in newborn babies in Brazil have soared to 4,180 between 22 October 2015 and 26 January 2016. In 2014, there were 147 cases across the whole country. Working with the government and other partners, UNICEF is engaging communities in Brazil with messages on how to avoid mosquito bites and eliminate breeding sites.

With the virus spreading far and fast, simple measures that can help keep people safe include using insect repellent, covering as much of the body as possible with long, light-coloured clothing, removing places where mosquitoes can breed, and putting screens on windows and doors. Pregnant women who think they have been exposed to the virus should seek care by a trained health provider.

While the surge in microcephaly has so far only been reported in Brazil, UNICEF is also scaling up its support to other countries in the region and stands ready to support national governments as needed – using its network of 24 offices serving 35 countries and territories.

UNICEF has launched a nearly $9 million appeal for its programmes to limit the spread of the virus and mitigate its impact on newborns and their families across the region.


Apr 4, 2016

UNICEF launches protection hubs for child refugees

As part of a joint endeavour to step up protection for the growing numbers of children and others with specific needs arriving in Europe, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and UNICEF are setting up special support centres for children and families along the most frequently used migration routes in Europe.

Twenty Child and Family Support Hubs, to be known as “Blue Dots,” will provide a safe space for children and their families, vital services, play, protection and counselling in a single location. The hubs aim to support vulnerable families on the move, especially the many unaccompanied or separated children at risk of sickness, trauma, violence, exploitation and trafficking.

© UNICEF/UN010673/Georgiev

A refugee family from Afghanistan walk towards the Tabanovce reception centre for in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

While the situation continues to evolve, at present the first hubs are now operational or about to open in Greece, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. All 20 will be operational within the next three months.

The “Blue Dot” hubs come at a time when women and children account for two thirds of those crossing to Europe: In February, women and children made up nearly 60 per cent of sea arrivals compared to 27 per cent in September 2015. They will also aim to identify and protect children and adolescents travelling alone, and reunite them with family wherever possible, depending on their best interests.

“We are concerned about the welfare of unaccompanied boys and girls on the move and unprotected across Europe, many of whom have experienced war and hardship in making these journeys alone,” said UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk. “The hubs will play a key role in identifying these children and providing the protection they need in an unfamiliar environment, where they may be at risk,” he added.

“The lives of children on the move have been turned upside down, they have faced turmoil and distress every step of the way. The hubs will offer a level of predictability, certainty, and safety in their uncertain lives, a place where they can get the help and support that is every child’s right. And they will contribute to stronger national child protection systems,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF’s Special Co-ordinator for the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe.

But identifying children in need is challenging. In some countries, young travellers pretend to be adults to avoid being delayed or detained on their journey, exposing them to the risk of exploitation. Last year, more than 90,000 unaccompanied or separated children registered and applied for asylum or were in care in Europe, mostly in Germany and Sweden.

The Child and Family Support Hubs will be clearly identifiable and provide a standardized and consistent basic package of services provided by different organizations, including National Red Cross Societies and NGO partners. However they do not replace the responsibility and obligation of the states to do all they can to support and protect unaccompanied and separated children and to prevent sexual and gender-based violence.

The hubs will be located in selected strategic sites - border entry/exit points, registration sites, some strategic urban centres - as well as through mobile/outreach teams. The services include:

  • Restoring family links - services provided by the Red Cross and Red Crescent network;
  • Family reunification;
  • Child friendly space and dedicated mother and baby/toddler spaces;
  • Private rooms for counselling;
  • Psychosocial first aid;
  • Legal counselling;
  • Safe spaces for women and children to sleep;
  • Outreach social workers;
  • Information desk with Wi-Fi connectivity.


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