53% of Ukrainian teenagers engage in risky behaviour despite being well-informed about risks posed by mines and unexploded ordnance  UNICEF study

06 June 2024
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UNICEF

Kyiv, 6 June 2024 — A study conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Rating Group on explosive ordnance risk awareness and safe behaviour practices among Ukrainian parents and children aged 10 to 17 has revealed that boys aged 14 to 17 (62 per cent) and adolescents from rural areas and low-income families demonstrate the riskiest behaviours. Despite 97 per cent of adolescents surveyed claiming to be aware of mine safety rules, risky behaviour remains prevalent.

The study, conducted by UNICEF and the Rating Group research company as part of European Union (EU) humanitarian assistance, took place from March to April 2024 across 27 areas contaminated by landmines and unexploded ordnance.

The results of what is Ukraine's most comprehensive study on awareness and behaviour among adolescents and caregivers highlight a troubling trend – boys from mine-contaminated communities are particularly prone to risky behaviour. Boys aged 14 to 17 are the most likely to exhibit dangerous behaviour related to explosive ordnance (EO). They are more independent, spend more time away from home and explore new places. Additionally, adolescents from rural areas and low-income families face a higher risk of engaging in hazardous behaviour. In contrast, older girls with similar levels of awareness tend to follow safer behaviour around EO. Specifically, 48 per cent of girls are at low risk, compared to only 38 per cent of boys. Сhildren aged 10 to 13 years demonstrate the highest level of safe behaviours. 

More than 90 per cent of the adolescents surveyed reported being covered by explosive ordnance risk education. Adolescents from the Zaporizhzhia, Kharkiv, Kherson, Donetsk and parts of the Sumy regions demonstrated the highest level of awareness and knowledge of mine safety. In contrast, adolescents in contaminated areas of the Chernihiv, Kyiv and Zhytomyr regions showed lower awareness levels, similar to those in ‘non-contaminated’ central areas. The lowest awareness was found among adolescents from the western regions, where the threat of mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) is minimal.

“It is important to understand that high awareness doesn't always equal safe behaviour,” said Munir Mammadzade, UNICEF Representative to Ukraine. “Children who are informed about mine safety might still demonstrate risky behaviours. That is why UNICEF continues to implement behaviour change interventions with partners to foster a culture of safety among children, adolescents and their caregivers.”

Key factors influencing adolescents's behaviour:

  • Leisure activities – Video games, especially shooters, reduce the perception of EO risk. Adolescents who spend much time online or playing computer games are more likely to engage in risky behaviour. Boys, in particular, often tend to play these games, which dulls their sense of real-life threats. At the same time, adolescents who spend their leisure time at home with their families, reading books or watching films are less likely to engage in risky behaviour. Despite more than 80 per cent of adolescents being aware of dangerous areas, a significant proportion from 'contaminated' regions still spend their free time in these risky places. High-risk behaviours during leisure time include spending time near ponds, lakes, rivers, etc (70 per cent), in forests and fields (70 per cent), on or near bridges, and railway tracks, and in destroyed and abandoned buildings (about 50 per cent), and on abandoned military positions or near equipment (30 per cent).
  • Learning formats – Awareness-raising activities and lessons where edutainment formats are used help to safe behaviour. Adolescents who received information about mine risks through UNICEF cartoons and comic books exhibited the highest levels of safe behaviours. For instance, 59% of adolescents who viewed UNICEF cartoons and activity books displayed low-risk behaviour, while only 9% exhibited high-risk behaviour.
  • Parental involvement – Adolescents whose parents repeatedly discussed mine risks with them showed safer behaviours (50 per cent), compared to those whose parents rarely (32 per cent) or never (31 per cent) discussed these issues. This highlights the critical role of parental engagement in fostering safe behaviour among adolescents.
  • Myths about mines affecting perceptions of safe behaviour – According to the qualitative phase of the study, a significant proportion of adolescents believe in common myths about EOs. These include misconceptions that using a mobile phone near a mine can trigger its detonation, that an EO will become inert after lying in the ground for several years, that it is safe to touch unexploded ordnance or detonated mines and approach anti-tank mines, and that mines can be touched carefully if sappers have already removed the TNT.

"Russia's war has already left Ukraine with a deadly legacy of explosive ordnance and mines, which will take decades to clear. Unfortunately, the situation is worsening each day, putting more lives at risk,” said Claudia Amaral, Head of the EU Humanitarian Aid Office in Ukraine. “This is why the European Union is investing efforts and funds to clear Ukraine of deadly explosive traps and to raise awareness among Ukrainians, especially the youngest, about how to protect themselves from all the dangers of living in contaminated regions.”

The study shows that educational institutions and parents are the primary sources of explosive ordnance risk education for adolescents. Children from contaminated areas receive this information mainly through their teachers, parents, State Emergency Service workers, the military and the police. While younger children are more likely to learn about EOs at school, from their parents or cartoons, older children tend to get information from social media, websites, rescue teams and the military.

Minister of Internal Affairs Ihor Klymenko noted: "The study shows that altruism often drives risk behaviour. Adolescents try to help others in trouble – friends, acquaintances or animals – putting themselves at high risk, as where there is one mine, there are likely to be others. Most of the adolescents surveyed expressed a desire to provide first aid or rescue, rather than immediately calling emergency services. They forget that they are risking their own lives by approaching the affected or mined area. This underscores the importance of focusing our efforts on improving risk perception and promoting safe behaviour and practices."

Over 80 per cent of young people in Ukraine can identify explosives. Adolescents also know better (67 per cent) than their parents (42 per cent) which number to call (101) if they see a dangerous object. It turns out that younger children know this number best. However, when it comes to warning signs of the threat of EOs nearby, only 55 per cent of adolescents from contaminated areas recognise the white and red tape as a mine warning sign, while the rest do not associate it with this threat, believing it to be a warning and prohibiting passage. 

Additional information:

From 2023 to 2024, together with the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, and the State Emergency Service of Ukraine, UNICEF informed over 8,000,000 Ukrainians about mine safety, engaging 1,500,000 million children and 500,000 caregivers in activities on mine safety rules. Children, adolescents, youth and their caregivers across Ukraine are learning life-saving rules through behaviour change campaigns, interactive community engagement activities and special projects, such as Mobile Safety Classes, cartoons and comics featuring Patron the Dog. UNICEF has also launched a special online course for educators, rescuers and police on how to deliver effective EORE messages to children and youth. 

About the study

The comprehensive study on mine safety awareness and safe behaviour practices among caregivers and children aged 10 to 17 was conducted from 16 to 25 March 2024. The study aimed to identify the factors that contribute to children's risk-taking behaviour with explosive ordnance and to identify these risk groups. Additionally, the role of caregivers, schools and other institutions in teaching children mine safety rules, mine risk awareness and safe behaviour practices were assessed. 

A total of 25,500 respondents were surveyed (12,750 parents and 12,750 adolescents), including a nationwide random sample (4,128 respondents) representative of families with children aged 10-17 years, and a booster random sample (21,372 respondents) representative of families with children aged 10-17 years from each of the 27 contaminated districts in the Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zhytomyr, Zaporizhzhia, Kyiv, Mykolaiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Kherson, and Chernihiv regions. The survey was conducted in all areas except for non-government-controlled areas and areas where mobile communication was unavailable at the time of the survey.

The Rating Lab research laboratory, professional child psychologists and social and behavioural change experts from UNICEF developed a test to assess knowledge of mine safety rules and identify risk behaviours in children aged 10 to 17. The test formed the basis of a quantitative telephone survey of parents and a quantitative online survey (test) of children. In addition, a series of focus group studies were conducted with children. 

Media contacts

Damian Rance
Chief Advocacy and Communications
UNICEF Ukraine

About UNICEF

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