On World Children’s Day, children show us the way forward

Young people more optimistic about the future

By Maniza Zaman
Maniza Zaman
20 November 2021

This article first appeared in The Standard on November 20, 2021.

Today is World Children’s Day. It marks the anniversary of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which has helped transform children’s lives around the world. This year is also UNICEF’s anniversary: we are 75 this year and have spent 50 years here in Kenya. This is a significant time, but our mandate keeps us young. We exist for children: to help them survive and thrive, no matter who they are or where they live.

UNICEF began in 1946, after World War Two, to help children whose lives were at risk, regardless of the role their country played in the war. Since then, our work has changed – expanding from emergency response, to long-term development issues like education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, and social protection to support vulnerable families and their children. We have beaten diseases like smallpox and secured education for millions of children.

Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we are facing another major global crisis. UNICEF is again at the forefront of the response, including by delivering an expected 1.4 billion COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX by the end of 2021. This is an unprecedented undertaking. We are also faced with the task of shaping a better future for every child, as we recover from the pandemic. And all this against the backdrop of a climate crisis that threatens the lives of our children and those in the future.


Yet, despite these challenges, we know we can always look to the new generation for hope. A new UNICEF and Gallup survey – ‘The Changing Childhood Project: A multigenerational, international survey on 21st century childhood’ – shows that children and young people are nearly 50 per cent more likely than older people to believe that the world is becoming a better place with each generation.

The survey finds that children and young people are also more likely to think childhood itself has improved. The vast majority believe that education, health care and safety are better for today’s children than for their parents’ generation. They are more likely to see themselves as global citizens and to embrace international cooperation to tackle threats like COVID-19. 

Kenya was one of 21 countries surveyed and respondents’ optimism shone through. More than two thirds (69 per cent) of young Kenyans between the ages of 15 and 24 believe that children will be better off economically than their parents. All generations of Kenyans were firm believers in international cooperation. And Kenya had one of the highest rates of both younger and older people believing that governments should listen to children when shaping policies.

Nonetheless, the survey does point to some serious challenges. Globally, it found that children are worried about climate change, sceptical about social media, and struggle with depression and anxiety. In Kenya, acceptance of violence was a key concern, with the second highest level of people thinking it is appropriate for a parent to physically punish a child. This shows that we still have a long way to go to address attitudes towards violence against children in Kenya.

Now is the time to look forwards. In Kenya, UNICEF has big ambitions with its partners. Here are some. We are working with the Government and others to connect all primary schools to the Internet by 2030 through the GIGA partnership. We are helping to ensure that all children and pregnant women benefit from preventive health packages and can access high quality care, as part of Universal Health Coverage. We are investing in the ‘Spot it Stop it’ campaign to address violence against children. We’re embracing solar-powered water systems for schools, health care facilities and villages. We would like to see social protection programmes reach all those who need it. And we will be engaging children as change agents, including for better care of our planet.

At UNICEF, we are proud of our past, committed to tackling the issues of the present, and hopeful for the future. Solutions do exist to the most pressing problems facing the world’s children. But we need commitment, diverse partnerships, innovations and bold, urgent action. That’s what UNICEF specializes in. We are going forward with the same passion and drive that we began with in 1946 – and we will not rest until we have reached every child.

By Maniza Zaman, UNICEF Representative to Kenya