Global Annual Results Report 2021: Every child is protected from violence and exploitation
Goal Area 3: Progress, results achieved and lessons from 2021
Government leaders, political leaders and all leaders across the world, we need more commitment to help end violence against children.
In 2021, continued school closures, disruptions in health, social- and child protection and other services, compounded by caregiver sickness and death due COVID-19 placed the most vulnerable at an increased risk of multiple rights violations. Risk of violence against children and women, child marriage, child labour, trafficking, and family separation increased significantly as a result.
With twice as many children living in countries with complex emergencies than two years ago, the threat to the right to protection of these children is particularly acute. While countries in situations of fragility and conflict are some of the hardest hit, certain other contexts also accentuate threats to the protection of children, including poverty, loss of livelihoods, violence along migration routes, and increasingly, violence in the virtual world. In addition, children also face discrimination and neglect due to disability, racism, xenophobia, sexual orientation and gender identity, and ethnicity.
Against this backdrop, UNICEF Child Protection worked together with partners in 153 countries to continue progress in the final year of its Strategic Plan, 2018–2021. UNICEF adapted programming to continue to reach vulnerable and marginalised children across the world, reaching more children than ever across many areas of UNICEF’s child protection work.
4.4 million children
who experienced violence reached with related services (129 countries)
3 million parents and caregivers
reached with UNICEF-supported parent education programmes (94 countries)
Accelerating national progress to reduce all forms of violence
Across countries, the number of children experiencing violence who received health, social and justice services has increased exponentially, particularly in the South Asia and East and Central Asia regions. UNICEF has driven efforts to integrate positive parenting into primary prevention of violence approaches, contributing to the roll-out of a shared inter-agency vision for universal parenting support to accelerate progress. UNICEF support to protect children from online violence and abuse has accelerated. This was partly due to the widespread move to digital platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing role of digital platforms in children’s lives. Children’s digital experiences are now addressed within the UN Convention on the Rights of Child, General Comment 25, which has been adopted by the Committee. This has brought vital global-level leverage to accelerate coordinated strategies and plans.
Strengthening the social service workforce
There has been a steady increase in the number of countries in which UNICEF has supported strengthening aspects of their social service workforces, and a growing recognition of the critical importance of front-line services performed by the social service workforce and its contribution to societies. This has however not been associated with adequate growth in national investments – including workforce capacity-building – and the systematic integration into national budgets and development plans.
UNICEF, together with the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance is developing a first-ever global guidance on determining worker-population ratios and costing of the social service workforce (SSW). This guidance will prove to be a useful tool for advocating for and guiding national efforts to strengthen the social service workforce.
In East Asia and Pacific: Let's stand together for social workers
To raise awareness of the critical role the social service workforce plays in the lives of children, families, women and communities in the region, on World Social Work Day 2021, ASEAN and UNICEF East Asia and Pacific launched the #StandTogetherforSocialWorkers campaign. This joint campaign highlights the wide-ranging role played by social workers, including for families in economic crisis, children and families hit by natural disasters, for children and women suffering violence, children separated from their families, children in conflict with the law, and children with disabilities. Read more
Strengthening information management systems
UNICEF recognizes integrated Information Management Systems (IMS) as a critical component of strengthening child protection systems. UNICEF continues to support the adoption and utilization of digital information management systems for case management, with 3.5 times more countries reporting advancements than in 2017. Of note is the continued scaling up of the inter-agency digital solution Primero™ for different types of protection programming such as alternative care, social services workforce strengthening and justice for children. In 2021, the number of active Primero instances increased by 24 per cent from 2020 (+10) – overall this is a more than three-fold increase from the 14 instances at the start of the Strategic Plan, 2018-2021 period.
children, adolescents. parents and caregivers accessed mental health and psychosocial support
13.9 million women, girls and boys
provided with risk mitigation, prevention or response interventions to address gender-based violence (89 countries)
61 million children and adults
could access safe and accessible UNICEF-supported sexual exploitation and abuse reporting channels (93 countries)
52 million children
children received relevant prevention and survivor assistance interventions for landmines and ERW (21 countries)
2.3 million children
children on the move were provided with protective services (74 countries)
UNICEF has invested in transformative programming to achieve unprecedented results for children in humanitarian situations, engaging in 124 situations in 2021. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF has played an especially significant role in mobilizing inter-agency and multisector cooperation to implement innovative programming; develop standards, protocols and programming resources and tools; increase entry-points; and to reach more children with support and services. In 2021, the strategic alignment between UNICEF and its humanitarian partners was boosted by the launch of the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action Strategic Plan, 2021–2025, which places prevention as a top priority.
“Children’s rights are never suspended. Listen to children.”
Testimonial at the United Nations General Assembly, 2021, by Farida, a refugee who was displaced by violence that killed her mother, then married and became a mother herself, all before turning 16.
Mental health and psychosocial support
UNICEF has been instrumental in driving greater inter-agency collaboration and coordination to strengthen standards, expanding access to quality community-based mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) services and programming across humanitarian and development contexts, and increasing engagement with children, adolescents, and caregivers at community level. In combination, these actions have anchored UNICEF’s programmatic shift towards a more holistic and multisectoral approach to MHPSS, yielding considerable progress over the last four years.
To strengthen coordinated action across the mental health continuum of prevention, promotion and treatment, UNICEF released a Global Multisectoral Operational Framework for MHPSS in 2021.The framework details strategies to accelerate the inclusion of policies and practices that fundamentally support child, adolescent and caregiver mental health and well-being into national and regional development strategies.
Gender-based violence in emergencies
Over 70 per cent of women and girls living in conflict contexts have experienced gender-based violence (GBV). Even before COVID-19, refugee and internally displaced women and girls were at greater risk for GBV. The pandemic’s socioeconomic impact has intensified this risk, with displaced women and children experiencing higher rates of domestic and sexual violence as a result.
UNICEF works with UN agencies, governments, non-governmental organizations, academics and others, to coordinate programming to strengthen the quality-of-service provision. Joint efforts supported the finalization of the global inter-agency Remote GBV Case Management Guidelines in 2021. At country level, UNICEF continued to focus on delivering quality response services for survivors.
Over the UNICEF Strategic Plan, 2018-2021 period, gender-based violence in emergencies (GBViE) programming has become an implicit part of UNICEF’s humanitarian action, with 98 per cent of all UNICEF’s Humanitarian Appeals for Children in 2021 including a specific GBViE indicator and funding request.
Protection from sexual exploitation and abuse
Since 2018, UNICEF has played a leading role in mobilizing the inter-agency humanitarian system to prioritize collective and coordinated action to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) at country level by humanitarian workers, advocating for a survivor-centred approach and strengthened system-wide accountability. UNICEF continued its accelerated scale-up of systems and programmes to protect communities from sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian and development actors, resulting in 117 country offices engaged in establishment of systems for the protection of sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA). Of these, 53 have PSEA systems in place in 2021, having developed country action plans, rolled out the United Nations Protocol on Assistance to Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse, strengthened referral pathways, and implemented capacity-building for partners.
Monitoring grave violations
The year 2021 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of Graça Machel’s 1996 seminal report to the United Nations General Assembly on the impact of war on children. Since 2005, at least 266,000 such violations have been verified by the United Nations as committed by parties to conflict in 30 situations across the globe. In line with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1612 (2005), UNICEF monitored grave violations against children in 21 situations.
Children associated with armed forces and armed groups
UNICEF works closely with governments, UN country teams, and other partners to identify children and secure their release from armed forces and armed groups. Between January 2018 and December 2021, over 30,000 children have been verified as recruited and used by armed actors across 21 contexts. In addition, significant numbers of children are detained in the context of armed conflict rather than provided with supportive recovery and reintegration services. UNICEF provides protection and reintegration support for children who exit armed forces or groups. Across contexts, UNICEF also supports community-based protection mechanisms and systems to identify children at risk and address the root causes to protect them from recruitment by armed actors.
Unaccompanied and separated children
Children who are unaccompanied or become separated from their families and caregivers in emergency settings face tremendous protection risks. Over the Strategic Plan, 2018–2021 period, UNICEF has steadily expanded its reach and services for unaccompanied and separated children in humanitarian settings, providing reunification and/or alternative care services to more than 80 per cent of the children identified in UNICEF-supported interventions. As a result of sustained multi-year advocacy and service investments, there has been a demonstrable shift in scaling up family or community-based modals of alternative care. Around 70 per cent of the 80,000 children receiving alternative care in 2021 benefited from family or community-based arrangements as opposed to residential care placement.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Fear and displacement
A generation of uprooted children are at risk in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Read here
Mine action and explosive weapons
The use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA) is increasing, with devastating consequences for children and families. Ninety-one per cent of casualties resulting from EWIPA are civilians and approximately half are children. UNICEF, together with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and other United Nations entities, continues to advocate for political commitment to avoid the use of EWIPA. Several steps were taken to push the agenda forward in 2021. UNICEF, together with OCHA and the Office of Disarmament Affairs provided key interagency inputs to the Government of Ireland-led high-level consultations attended by 70 states, calling for an unequivocal global declaration to avoid the use of EWIPA.
Lives on the line: Cost of conflict still high for families in eastern Ukraine
After a grenade explosion left her daughter scarred for life, one mother tells of her struggle to overcome trauma in eastern Ukraine. Read more
Children on the move
UNICEF protects children on the move through the implementation of the six-point Agenda for Action to protect all refugee and migrant children. The organization advocates and supports national authorities to mainstream policy and programming for children on the move into national child protection systems-strengthening frameworks. This includes leveraging partnerships at regional and global level and improving data generation and use to inform policy and programming.
UNICEF-supported programmes include interventions to promote alternatives to child immigration detention, mental health and psychosocial support, child-friendly legal aid, as well as longer-term support during reintegration into communities. In recent years, UNICEF works to progressively mainstream the rights of children on the move into its broader strategic and programme planning, providing new impetus to report on results for children and young people on the move across sectors including Health, Education, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, and Social Protection.
Nearly 7.6 million adolescent girls
were reached with UNICEF-supported child marriage prevention and care interventions (47 countries)
Nearly 800k girls and women
received UNICEF-supported prevention and protection services on FGM over the Strategic Plan 2018-2021 period
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF and partners have adapted to get programming back on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goal 5.3 target by 2030. Based on over a decade of experience and learning from the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation: Accelerating Change (JPFGM), and the UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to End Child Marriage (GPECM), UNICEF promotes rights- and evidence-based programming approaches for the elimination of harmful practices. This includes empowering adolescents and their meaningful participation in decision-making processes, strengthening community engagement to transform social norms, and developing legal and policy frameworks.
Regional alliances, particularly with the African Union, and the traction gained by the GPECM resulted in 7.6 million adolescent girls across 47 countries receiving prevention and care interventions in 2021, compared with 2.1 million across 23 countries in 2017. This means that the 2021 target was met; with an increase of nearly four times the number of adolescent girls reached by UNICEF-supported interventions.
A key programmatic shift in recent years is the adoption of evidence-based, rights-based and action-oriented gender-transformative approaches to address gender and social norms barriers and restrictions that increase adolescent girls’ and young women’s risk to child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).
In West and Central Africa: UNICEF raised considerable attention with the ground-breaking release of Vaillante, a fictional mini-series that explores the issue of child marriage. The series provided critical messages on how young people, especially girls, can be part of the solution if empowered to take action. The series reached more than 20 French and English markets via YouTube, while 10.6 million people viewed UNICEF social media posts, and visitors to the Vaillante web page came from over 100 countries worldwide. Watch the series here
Female genital mutilation
The UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of FGM has entered its fourth phase, with a stronger focus on promoting girls’ agency and building strategic partnerships to drive innovation and collaboration. Education, communication and social mobilization platforms promoting FGM elimination engaged 10.2 million people in 2021. Over 213,000 girls were saved from undergoing the harmful practice, while around 4,500 communities involving 3.4 million people made public declarations to abandon FGM, of which 3,813 communities established surveillance systems that continued to protect girls from undergoing the practice in 2021.
Over 45,000 children
were released across at least 84 countries since the start of of the COVID-19 pandemic after an unprecedented global call for the immediate release of children from detention
13.9 million birth notifications
were received (52 countries)
have comprehensive policies and programmes in line with the 2009 Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children from 23 countries in 2017
Strengthening justice systems
From the start of the pandemic, UNICEF convened United Nations agencies and partners to advocate for the release of children from detention, as part of a joint approach across the United Nations Development System. A major result in 2021 was the largest-ever release of children from detention. While a critical breakthrough, ramped-up action is still needed, including the need to end the unlawful and arbitrary detention of children, immigration detention of children, and detention due to association with armed groups or for national security reasons. This forms one of six actions of the ambitious 10-year Reimagine Justice for Children Agenda that UNICEF launched in 2021. The agenda calls on all States to accelerate progress so all children know and can claim their rights.
Improving birth registration
To strengthen birth registration and civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) services, improved interoperability with other sectors – especially with the health sector, increased decentralization of services, and investments in digitization are proving to be game changers for countries, even in emergency situations such as COVID-19. Cumulatively, between 2017-2021, UNICEF, working in close cooperation with national partners has supported the notification of births of 45 million children, registration of births of 97 million, and certification of births of 82 million children. Global Evaluation of UNICEF work on CRVS was released in 2021 providing important recommendations to accelerate action moving forward. This includes aligning UNICEF’s areas of support within a life-cycle approach of legal identity – that is, entry through birth registration and exit through death registration.
Children without parental care
With a scale-up of action in East and Central Asia and West and Central Africa, there are a little over three quarter more countries with alternative care policies that are aligned to the 2009 Alternative Care Guidelines than in 2017. In early 2021, the launch of the UNICEF agenda, It’s Time for Care, is boosting efforts to increase national investments in the care economy. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child Day of General Discussion (DGD) provided critical leverage to push forward calls on governments to increase their commitments to care reform.
Supporting children with disabilities
Over the past four years, UNICEF has also enhanced support to strengthen child protection systems that are inclusive of the specific needs of children with disabilities. Recent years have seen renewed impetus in generating reliable and internationally comparable data on children with disabilities, including, in 2021, the release of the first-ever cross-nationally comparable data on children with disabilities, with data estimates drawn from around 50 countries.
UNICEF will continue to advocate for putting child rights at the heart of economic plans and priorities as countries continue to fight poverty within their borders and rebuild systems shattered by the pandemic.
UNICEF’s new Child Protection Strategy, 2021–2030, launched in 2021, provides a pivotal opportunity to build on our experiences and lessons learned across each thematic area in which UNICEF engages, helping us define our role and shape our direction moving forward to build back better in the new contextual reality for child protection. The organization is making a strategic shift towards doubling down on prevention of child protection violations in both development and humanitarian contexts; and calls on every sector of society to work together and invest jointly to prevent child protection violations.
UNICEF’s new Strategic Plan for 2022–2025 represents a key platform to translate these priorities into demonstrable action.
This report highlights the achievements made possible by the generous contributions of softly earmarked thematic funding received from various partners. UNICEF would like to express it's sincere appreciation for these contributions.
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Working in close collaboration with a coalition of governments, United Nations agencies, civil society organizations and other partners, UNICEF child protection (Goal Area 3) teams around the world were able to deliver a wide array of results across 153 countries, including to 124 new and ongoing humanitarian situations. Scaled-up interventions, strengthened systems, and improved data reporting and information management mechanisms have enabled UNICEF and partners to reach millions of children, parents and caregivers with UNICEF-supported programmes. This report summarizes how UNICEF and its partners contributed to Goal Area 3 in 2021and reviews the impact of these accomplishments on children and the communities in which they live.