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Children and Youth: “Opportunities and Challenges until 2026”

The Second International Symposium of Developed Iran in 2026 Vision

 

I am very grateful to be given the opportunity to share with you some thoughts about the long-term development strategies of Iran. UNICEF has contributed to the social development and the realization of the children’s and women’s rights in Iran since 1950. Based on our international and national experience I respectfully ask for your patient attention to some ideas about the need to upgrade public policies towards the rights and well-being of children and adolescents in Iran in the coming decades.

 

Iran is one of the youngest countries in the world: approximately 38% of its citizens are under 18 years and even 70% under 29 years. Given Iran’s demographic composition, the main idea I am presenting to you this morning is to look at the roadmap 2025 as important guide for the journey of Iran’s next generation of Iranians towards adulthood.

 

The children born today will be 18 years old in 2026. Therefore the roadmap document 2025 can and should orient society and political decision makers to ensure optimal conditions for young Iranians to grow up happy, healthy, and well-educated in the years to come.

 

In this context, I’d like to highlight three policy areas of particular strategic importance in the years to come:

1. Integrated Early Childhood Care and Development Policies

2. Youth Policies

3. Policies for the prevention and care for children in need of special protection

 

I will also briefly refer to three cross-cutting issues which in my view are crucial to achieve strategic outcomes for Iranian children and youth until 2026:

4. Data collection and monitoring

5. Capacity building of local authorities and the

6. Strengthening of civil society

 

 

1. Integrated Early Childhood Care and Development

 

The cultural, social and economic position of any country depends on the competencies of its people. Many of those competencies are set very early in life – before a person reaches the age of six. Scientific research from all over the world has demonstrated that human capabilities can be strengthened best through an integrated approach to the development of the young child. Especially scientific evidence from brain research shows that most brain development of the human being happens before a child reaches the age of three.  During the first three years of life approximately 100 billion brain cells of an infant proliferate, connect with each other and establish the brain capacities of a life time.  In only 36 months, children develop their abilities to think and speak, learn and reason and lay the foundation for their values and social behaviors as adults. 

 

Returns as high as 7$ for each dollar spent on early childhood programmes have been

internationally documented. These returns for good IECD policies and programmes come in the form of cost savings associated with less school drop-outs, better educational performance, less violence and crime and - last but not least - greater economic productivity.

 

Iran has already achieved outstanding progress in reducing child mortality, child malnutrition rates and universal primary education. These achievements were possible through efficient sectoral and vertical interventions. However further progress in this direction will largely depend on the ability of the State to coordinate and better integrate existing services for children, particularly at the provincial, district and at the community level. Today, Iran needs to go beyond sectoral policies and develop an integrated and holistic approach towards the young child. There is a need for a high level "child development council" which can proactively and inclusively coordinate, plan and monitor all aspects of integrated child development.

 

Consequently, the roadmap 2025 should include a goal for Iran to develop an integrated policy for early childhood care and development and the next socio-economic development plan should consider to establish a high level mechanism to coordinate early childhood programs effectively.

 

 

2. Youth policies

 

Iran has been very successful in family planning.  As a consequence adolescents and young people have become the largest age group among the population during the past two decades.

For the next two decades, the management of the youthful age structure of the Iranian population poses a key challenge for the leaders of this country. Hence, the roadmap 2025 needs to emphasize on the pressing need for the Iranian State to well-manage the youth bulk of Iran’s population so that Iran can benefit to a maximum extent from the strengths and energy of its young population while mitigating downsides such as risky behaviors in the traffic, in drug abuse and juvenile delinquency.

 

The changes that Iranian policy makers are confronted with are huge: social demand for secondary education, vocational training and higher education has sharply increased and every year more and better educated young people enter the labor market in search for economic opportunities and jobs. A fast growing cohort of well-educated women slowly changes the position of women inside the family and in the Iranian economy. Rising incomes, migration, urbanization and a young population also lead to changes in lifestyles and brain drain. New demands for leisure, culture and sports have arisen. Last but not least Iran also underwent an epidemiological change with dramatic impact on the health of young people. For example traffic accidents have become the largest cause of injuries for young people and also new diseases like HIV/AIDS are mainly threatening the well-being of young citizens. The main public sectors  (education, health, welfare) of Iran need to develop adequate systems and structures to manage such speedy changes and to deal with newly emerging issues through  “preventive” and “enabling” measures so that society can benefit from the energy of the Iranian youth.

 

The economic issue that matters most to young Iranians is employment. The situation of youth employment will need continued top attention by Iran’s economic and social policy makers. This is not only important for the economic integration of Iran’s young labor force but has particular significance for the future of Iran’s social fabric. In the next 5-10 years there will be roughly 850.000 marriages and the fate of these marriages as well as the course these married couples will take in terms of their family size and family development will largely depend on their economic prospects. At the same time, ongoing social developments will most likely push more young and educated women to the forefront of Iran’s society and professional environment, a process which deserves special attention by policy makers.

 

In sum, the roadmap 2025 should reflect this urgent need to adapt public services and policies to the needs and rights of the large cohort of young people on the country. These policies and service may include heightened priority to areas such as HIV/AIDS, traffic injury prevention, spaces and means for leisure activities and opportunities for cultural/social engagement of youth, parental education for young couples and family counseling, reforms of secondary education and to build skills for entrepreneur ship and self-started enterprises.

 

3. Children in need of special protection

 

Iran has a long standing tradition to care for children in need of special protection such as orphans, disabled children, children affected by HIV-AIDS, street children, refugee children as well as children who came in contact with the law. These children are the most vulnerable human beings in the society. Thus the roadmap 2025 should dedicate attention to their situation and call for a systematic countrywide response to the prevention and care for “social injuries” and protection of child rights.

 

In this context, interesting discussions and developments have taken place in recent years on how to professionalize and expand social work for families, children and youth at risk. Policies, programmes and formation of a professional specialized workforce in this field must be consolidated and expanded in the next decades to enable the State to provide support to families and children in distress. This public effort will have to include increased services in the field of child protection and juvenile justice and continued efforts to build the professional capacity of the Judiciary, the Police, State Welfare organization and NGOs so they can contribute to the creation of a protective environment for vulnerable children.

 

The increased deployment of specialized social workers in community-based services is a key feature in this regard. The availability of community-based social work is not only a condition of effective prevention of social harms and support to families under stress but is also important for successful reintegration of juvenile offenders of the law.  For example, social workers inside of juvenile correction centers need a structure outside the center to refer a young offender after he or she has completed its sentence. Such a structure is currently non-existent.

 

In fact, inter-institutional referral systems are rare in Iran’s system of social protection and progress in this field will require the establishment of mechanisms for cooperation between the different State institutions such as the Judiciary, The State Welfare Organization, the Ministry of Health as well as relevant religious foundations, charities and NGOs. In this context, the Iranian Judiciary is envisioning the creation of a Child Protection Council which could coordinate all activities related to children who are victims of violence as well as regarding juveniles in contact with the law.

 

Another challenge to improve the situation of children in need of special protection has to do with the promotion of social awareness and upgrading the legal protection of child rights on Iran. Legal technical assistance, professional training and advocacy to further strengthen the position of the child as a subject of rights in national laws will continue to be important tasks for Iran in the next decade.

 

The roadmap 2025 mentions “safeguarding human generosity and human rights” among the principles for national development. In this context, please allow me to express UNICEF’s deep hope that during the next decade Iran will withdraw its general reservation to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, abolish the death penalty for juveniles who committed a serious offense before their 18th birthday and join CEDAW, the Convention against all Forms of Discrimination against Women.

 

In conclusion, all efforts for children in need of special protection should be all directed towards integrating this group of children in the society and to make sure that their rights are fully respected, protected and fulfilled.

 

Cross-cutting issues

 

As mentioned above there are also three cross-cutting issues that Iran needs to address in order to improve the situation of children and adolescents in the next two decades:

 

- Data collection, research and monitoring;

- Capacity building of local authorities in social planning, monitoring and evaluation;

- Strengthening of civil society.

 

The roadmap 2025 somehow refers to these issues directly or indirectly, however I feel that they need more practical attention in the years to come to move reality as close a possible to the vision of the roadmap. Please allow me to briefly explain these crosscutting areas.

 

4. Data collection, research and monitoring;

 

Availability of good data are necessary for social planning and child-friendly budgeting but are also important to monitor progress towards the fulfillment or non-fulfillment of children’s rights in Iran.  The roadmap clearly prioritizes knowledge production as priority for Iran and envisions the future of the nation as knowledge-based society. Nevertheless, representative statistics dealing with Iranian children and youth are lacking in many policy fields. In some cases multiple data for the same indicator exist or data are not disaggregated by age, gender or locality or there are outdated so their value for evidence-based policy making in a country as diverse as Iran is very limited.  There is currently no institution that systematically records and analyses data and information relevant for child right in Iran. This makes scientific planning of policies and programs very difficult. One example is the case of data about violence against children. Such information is collected only randomly and scattered over many institutions such as the Judiciary, the Police, the State Welfare Organization, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Health and several NGOs. 

 

In sum, Iran needs to update its data collection systems and install appropriate monitoring mechanisms to protect children’s rights. Given this situation, the principles spelled out in the roadmap 2025 must be underpinned by more scientific evidence and better statistics to close the knowledge and data gaps concerning the social situation of Iran’s young generations.

 

5. Capacity building of local authorities in social planning, monitoring and evaluation

 

The roadmap values social justice, social welfare and proper income distribution very highly. Social progress in Iran, whether regarding the fulfillment of children’s rights and the needs of youth or the attainment of the MDGs, will depend on the ability of Iran’s policy makers to further reduce social disparities.  The pace of such reduction is intimately linked to the width and depth of the decentralization or deconcentration process. The classical “one size fits all” paradigm guiding centrally planned poverty alleviation programmes or any other national programme dedicated to children and youth will have difficulties to reach hard-to-reach groups in society. Further social progress for children will depend on the (improved) capacity and capability of sub-national authorities in social planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation so that local solutions can be found for local social problems.

 

The road towards a higher level of social development in 2026 will therefore have to pass through an increased capacity of  local Governments to address social disparities. The roadmap 2025 leads the way but to move the country into this direction all local actors must significantly step-up their know-how in social planning, monitoring and evaluation of integrated programmes for children and youth in the years to come.

 

6. Strengthening of civil society

 

The Iranian State and society have allowed for the development of a significant space for civic engagement in Iran which merits due considerations in strategic debates about the future of the country. There is a wide network of several thousands of civil society and para-statal organizations, spanning from religious foundations and charities as well as rural cooperatives to urban-based NGOs and professional associations who are active in almost all spheres of social development. Many of them work for the welfare and rights of children and youth.

 

It is important to strengthen the work of these organizations for several reasons. Civil society organizations are important “duty bearers” towards children and can work with Government agencies in areas where public institutions have limited or no experiences, access, budgets or technical experience to address problems. Civil society organizations sometimes have better access to vulnerable children and youth than Government organizations, such as in the case of street kids, youth affected and infected by HIV AIDS or youth addicted to drugs. Civil society organizations can also test and promote programmatic innovations for children and can be instrumental in the development of new conceptual paradigms, professional standards and social practices towards children. They bring fresh ideas and viewpoints into the professional debates and they stimulate the search for new solutions related to the care and protection of children. Furthermore they can play an important function as advocates for children’s rights and raise social awareness about children’s rights, the latter being a basic pillar of any effective social policy for children and adolescents in the 21st century.

 

The roadmap 2025 envisions a society full of “intellectual and social innovation and dynamism.” This implies a need to further strengthen civil society organizations as an important motor for social innovations and social outreach to children and youth. For this, civil society organizations need to be nurtured. They need to be given space to unfold their creative potential for the benefit of the common good. They need technical and financial support to professionalize their organizations and improve their performance in the best interest of the child.

 

Finally…

 

Let me close by expressing my solidarity with the people and especially with the children and youngsters of Iran. Given Iran’s excellent past record of pragmatic and science-based social policies I am confident that the future will carry further improvements for children and youth. 

 

The six issues I brought to your attention -

 

1. Integrated Early Childhood Care and Development Policies

2. Youth Policies

3. Policies for the prevention and care for children in need of special protection

4. Data collection and research for evidence-based policy making

5. Capacity building of local authorities in social planning, monitoring and evaluation

6. Strengthening of civil society

 

- are not new to Iran’s development framework. There are many highly experienced and qualified staff in the Iranian Government, in the Academia and in civil society organization that know how to handle these and other challenges. Let me assure you that UNICEF will continue to do its best to assist them in their endeavor to construct a bright future for Iran’s children and youth.

 

Christian Salazar Volkmann

Representative, UNICEF Iran

 

 

 

 

 
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