What the survey asked

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The survey's objective was to gain awareness of the feelings, thoughts and perceptions that children have regarding their various life surroundings, their needs and motivations, and whether they perceive that they belong to a society that safeguards their rights and well-being.

Fifty per cent of the children do not find - either at home or school - an appropriate space for talking about their problems, needs and the legitimate defence of their points of view. More than half the respondents perceive failings in the education system, demanding access to "clearer" and "more entertaining" classes, quality relationships with teachers and places to express themselves.

Awareness of child rights is insufficient with only the right to an education mentioned spontaneously by one out of two children (56%), with a third (29%) aware of the right not to be maltreated. Respondents seem almost completely unaware of the existence of their other rights, leaving them defenceless when these are not respected.

Access to information on relevant subjects such as drug abuse prevention, sexual education and HIV/AIDS is poor for many children in, for example, rural areas or lower income groups, leaving them vulnerable to abuse. Significantly, most children can recall bad news, such as natural disasters, but have difficulty recalling positive news.

The family is the main source of feelings of happiness for both young children and adolescents. It is also the source of learning values, yet 18% of respondents - particularly adolescents and those from low income groups - say they do not receive any positive reinforcement.

Nearly half the children would like to change the attitudes and character of their parents or guardians when these affect their relationships. Their right to live in tranquillity is threatened by violent or aggressive behaviour in the home (26%), and beatings and insults (16%) which affect their feelings.

Children trust their parents first and foremost and also hold the Church and teachers in high esteem. However, two out of three respondents report having little or no trust in their Government and related institutions, including either the Mayor of the municipality, the Government or the President. The same proportion of respondents do not feel as though they are of any importance to these institutions. They trust and believe in those they feel consider them to be important.

Peer relationships are generally positive relationships of mutual respect and affection, except for 25% who highlight competitiveness between groups. Only half the children belong to some organized peer group, such as males who belong to sports groups. Leaders - other than the selected peers they admire - are absent, with one in four respondents reporting that their group does not admire "anyone."

These children dream of a country inhabited by "good people," without crime, where there is a better economy, peace and social equality. It is a world free of any drug addiction, alcoholism or pollution of the environment. If they were elected President, they would be supportive and help the poor, give jobs to the unemployed, control crime and improve education.

The survey reveals contradictory attitudes: individual optimism and social pessimism.

Children in diverse situations throughout the region show very high and positive expectations of the future quality of life, relative to how their parents currently live - about 76% of respondents think their life will be better than that of their parents. In the wider social context, however, this optimism becomes inverted. Nearly 70% (particularly those in urban areas, higher income groups, of white/mixed race and adolescents) believe that living conditionss in their country, will worsen or at best remain the same.

The fact that countries with a greater development index and higher income segments show a greater proportion of pessimism demonstrate that children's expectations do not relate only to economic conditions.

The reasons for considering their countries to be a better or worse place to live in the future all point to the same general theme: A better place is one in which crime is being fought, the country is being developed and problems are being solved. In contrast, a worse place is one where there is too much crime and violence, economic crises and high unemployment, and where the government and politicians do not deliver.

Analysis suggests that the feeling of insecurity among citizens is one of the factors that most influence children's expectations and is one of the main reasons for believing that their countries are heading towards a more dismal future. With half the sample indicating a firsthand experience with robbery and 14% reporting having been personally victimized, it is not surprising that one in two children perceive their society as not very safe or not safe at all.

A basic internal frame of reference was drawn up by cross-referencing this variable throughout the report. Children with a positive vision of the future show a greater tendency to:

  • Feel happy a greater proportion of the time.
  • Recognize demonstrations of affection and positive feedback from parents.
  • Assess their school experience more positively and recognize greater space for expressing themselves.
  • Belong to organized peer groups in greater proportions, especially sports, showing a greater capacity for play.
  • Visualize leaders with greater ease.
  • Feel more confident when dealing with adults and social institutions, thus displaying more trust in each.

The voices of young children and adolescents show that they are clearly perceiving the world which we live in, where situations frequently occur that do not allow for a satisfactory quality of life. Carrying out changes will be a task for everyone and will require more than the actions of political, economic and governmental institutions.

This task demands a population with a positive attitude that believes in change. The profiles of children that have positive future-life expectations in spite of the problems facing their countries give us information on how to favour that attitude, beginning from their closest and most immediate environment - their family - and including those perceived as more distant, such as social institutions and government representatives.

This information is provided as a contribution to discussion on important issues affecting children. UNICEF Regional offices conducted the polls, analysis and interpretations of the findings. For more information, please contact the regional poll contact person directly.

About the poll
Children's awareness of their rights
Physical, mental and spiritual health
Violence at home
Access to information
Well-being and development