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UNICEF Board Turns the Spotlight on Children and Young People in Africa

The UNICEF Executive Board concluded its second regular session of 2023 last Thursday.

A key highlight of the session was an interactive special focus session titled “An Africa Fit for Children and Young People: What investments are needed for Africa’s human capital?” which was held on Thursday morning, 7 September.

With an innovative format of young people dialoguing with prominent speakers, a panel including young activists, advocates, representatives from Member States and the African Union and a senior UNICEF staff member discussed the challenges faced by children and young people in the youngest continent on earth, as well as the opportunities presented.

With over 60 per cent of Africa’s population under the age of 25 years, the policies and investment choices in Africa’s youth we make now are critical to shape the future prosperity of the continent. Speakers called for investment in quality education, climate action and climate financing for green and sustainable business solutions – stressing how creating opportunities for the continent’s young and capable citizens will be a game changer not just for Africa but for the world.

In her opening address to the special focus session, UNICEF Executive Director, Ms. Catherine Russell, pointed to the inspiring examples of innovation, economic development and human resilience seen across Africa. “This future is contingent on every child receiving the support they need now, through equitable access to education and quality services”, she said. “This means investing in key systems that children rely on, like education.”

In his address to the Executive Board, H.E. Mr. Azali Assoumani, President of the Union of the Comoros and Chairperson of the African Union, highlighted the need to harness and nurture the potential of Africa’s children and youth to become agents of change, especially in education and climate. “In the African Union, the development of human capital through education and training is defined within the framework of Agenda 2063”, he said. “The year 2024 has been named the Year of Education and Training in order to assess the achievements made in recent years and put in place the next action plan for human capital development.”

Following the panel discussion, delegates expressed their appreciation for the convening of the dialogue. Points emphasized included the commitment to fostering partnerships to address the challenges faced by children and to achieve meaningful progress; the critical importance of inclusive education and of data – particularly what should be measured and why, and how the data would be utilized; the need to include young people in decision-making as key for sustainable development; and the importance of coordinated actions, such as programmes simultaneously addressing education, health and nutrition.

In wrapping up the panel discussion, Ambassador Claver Gatete, Executive Board Vice-President (Rwanda) expressed gratitude to UNICEF and the African Union for providing the opportunity for the important discussion.

Three calls to action were proposed: more political action and more investments from governments, donors and other partners so as to adapt solutions at scale; aligning with the Declaration on Transforming Education in Africa; and supporting countries’ access to climate finance for a just transition and to strategically respond to the climate crisis, ensuring the resilience of basic services for children.

Ambassador Gatete “as we look towards 2024 and the culmination of 25 years of entering into force of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, discussions such as this can go a long way in helping to strengthen partnerships with regional institution and to reaffirm the special place held by Africa’s children and young people, as well as the need to increase investments in children as essential for sustained and inclusive economic growth.”

 Accelerating progress for every child with the power of data

During the plenary meetings of the second regular session, the importance of data and evaluation to drive results for children were highlights of the discussions and a cross-cutting theme.

In her opening address to the Board on Tuesday morning, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell emphasized the critical importance of data to overcome the challenges to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. “Data plays a critical role in shaping policies and driving action,” she said. “We need to significantly improve data collection and analysis – at community, national and global levels…[and] we need quality disaggregated data to determine the concrete actions needed to reach the SDG targets.” 

Investing in data to boost progress for every child

On Wednesday, the Board considered 12 new country programme documents for Angola, Benin, Burundi, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Papua New Guinea, Senegal and Togo, and adopted them on a no-objection basis.

Built on the theme “Data accelerating progress for children,” a diverse panel discussion that animated the country programme presentation was introduced by an overview by Mr. Mark Hereward, UNICEF Chief Data Officer. He spoke of UNICEF longstanding track record on developing global data assets; setting new standards for child indicators and providing these and other assets to allow the world to get a better return on development investments; transforming efforts on how the organization engages with children and youth to contribute and use data and to strengthen local capacity to use data for planning and budgeting; and moving into new spaces, such as the use of frontier data, i.e., big data and new data techniques such as geospatial data and the use of artificial intelligence.

“Despite the critical role of data, funding is decreasing”, he said. He pointed to the need to mobilize funds and to make long-term investments, to address data gaps and demand actionable data, and to create influential data partnerships and harness global data governance discussions.

Four panellists shared insights on collecting and using disaggregated data to ensure no child is left behind. Ms. Aya Zeine, U-Reporter from Mauritania, zoomed in on the power of children’s participation in data collection through first-hand experience. Urging continued investment in data for children, using it for programme design and listening to children, she said that “each piece of data collected is one more step towards a better, fair and equitable world for all.”

Importantly, the UNICEF Strategic Plan, 2022–2025 identifies data, research, evaluation and knowledge as a change strategy to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals for children, and to realize their rights. Yet experience at country level has shown that data sometimes are only partially available, or underused. This is why speakers called for scaling up investments and partnerships to strengthen, and increase the resilience, of data systems; to collect disaggregated data and ensure that no child is left unaccounted for; and to equip local leaders with the know-how and resources to use data effectively.

Key decisions

By the end of the session, the Board had adopted five decisions: on 12 new country programmes; the extensions of 12 ongoing programmes; on the revised evaluation policy; on the structured dialogue on financing the results of the UNICEF Strategic Plan, 2022–2025, and on a framework of planned financial estimates for the Strategic Plan. In its decision on the structured funding dialogue, the Board reaffirmed the importance of sufficient and predictable regular resources, which are critical for UNICEF to achieve the results of its Strategic Plan, as well as and flexible and predictable thematic funding and inter-agency pooled funding, and it urged Member States to prioritize regular resources and multi-year pledges. In 2023, the Board adopted a total of 21 decisions, including the 5 decisions adopted at the second regular session.

In closing remarks, Executive Director Russell reiterated a point she said was frequently made, that “quality, disaggregated data is absolutely critical to helping governments develop child responsive planning, financing and policy decisions, and…so critical to our work.”

Ambassador Wegter concluded by thanking the delegations for their excellent constructive participation and for keeping the focus on the decisions and deliberations needed to keep the important work of UNICEF on track.

Source : UNICEF

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Ayser ibn Qasim

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