2016: What is relevant for the well-being of children?

This year, more than 140 million babies will be born around the globe – a group nearly as large as the entire population of the Russian Federation. In total, there will be an estimated 2.2 billion babies by 2030, the overwhelming majority of whom will be born in Africa and Asia. What is in store for the first babies of 2016?

Our 2015 round-up was labelled “the end of predictability.” This remains a good header for 2016.

Five selected discoveries that could change the world of children in 2016:


Three girls looking at the camera

All eyes on the ‘not-so emerging markets’
The 3% global growth forecast in early 2015 did not materialize, according to the World Bank (2.4%), although it did for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) (3.1%). What was not anticipated were stark changes in growth dynamics: developed countries reclaimed the driver seat, while emerging and developing countries continued their steady trend towards decreasing growth rates.

While modest recovery is expected in developed countries, growth in emerging and developing economies is projected to slow in 2016 for the fifth year in a row. This reflects the slowdown and rebalancing of the Chinese economy and the resulting slump in commodity prices, with particularly large threats for resource-rich countries and those dependent on trade with China.

The health of the Chinese economy is one of the foremost uncertainties for 2016. All analysts are scrutinizing tensions between the Chinese domestic economic transition and its spillover effects on the global economy. Yet, despite a possible economic slowdown, China’s global footprint will continue to grow.

Millennial power
This year, the youngest members of the ‘Millennial Generation’ are turning 16. The cohort includes more than 2 billion people, split almost equally between upper-middle-income and high-income countries on the one hand, and low-income and lower-middle-income countries on the other. By 2020, Millennials will make up half of the global workforce.

Unfortunately, the global economy is not set to extend a warm welcome to these newest members of the workforce. The 15–24 year olds continue to bear the brunt of the last global recession, with unemployment rates nearly three times as high as those for older adults. Given the dour economic forecasts, rising youth unemployment is expected to make headlines again this year not only because of its economic impacts, but also for its social and political ramifications.

Two children with a blanket around them, and a hand reaching toward them.

Children of conflicts
This past year, we highlighted the rise of unaccompanied child migration, but, like many, did not foresee the migrant crisis bringing 1 million refugees – with a growing proportion of children – to Europe. In June 2015, children accounted for 16% of those on the move to Europe; by December, this number skyrocketed to 35%. This is undoubtedly an issue that will remain high on the 2016 agenda.

2016 will likely see a continued focus on children rights abuse in situations of armed conflict, and on the recruitment of children and youth by extremist groups in particular. Research shows that these recruits are within ‘normal’ bounds for empathy, idealism and compassion, making it very difficult to identify those at risk of recruitment. It also shows how forces that may attract youth to violent extremism – the search for belonging and meaning – can also be harnessed to provide them with more productive and affirmative identities.

A turbulent environment
This year is predicted to be the third-in-a-row warmest year on record. While El Niño peaked at the end of 2015 and will wane in the Spring of 2016, its indirect effects – think, for instance, of an impossibility to plant crops for the next season – will affect children around the globe for the rest of this year. A possible La Niña follow-up could make things worse in the second half of the year: bringing cooler temperatures, increasing the likelihood of tropical cyclones in the Pacific, and disrupting crop production and commodity prices the world over.

As more cities grapple with alarming levels of air pollution, evidence of its lethal impact continues to pile up. WHO data show that indoor and outdoor air pollution contributed to the deaths of more than 660,000 children younger than 5 years old in 2012 alone. A recent Nature study estimates that outdoor air pollution is killing more people every year than malaria and HIV/AIDS combined. Exposure to air pollution can also affect health and cognitive ability for life. One recent study argues that for every 10% decrease in exposure to suspended particles in a person’s year of birth, a person’s earnings increase by at least 1% by age 30 (and vice versa). Tackling air pollution is thus a perfect entry point to kick start a virtuous circle of health, wealth and climate change action.

Two girls look at a starter computer.

Virtual governance
Some 25 years after the first public website, the Internet counts 3.2 billion users. UNICEF Innocenti research identifies one in three of these users as children, with a higher proportion in developing countries, where most Internet growth is happening.

Increasingly, realizing children’s rights depends on both their offline and online environments. Children’s access to information is contingent on the availability and quality of online content. Their safety is threatened by unwanted online sexual solicitation, bullying and harassment, and even inappropriate marketing and advertising; their privacy is dependent on public and private uses of their online data footprints; and their job opportunities are shaped by the expansions of the digital world.

Hence, promoting children’s well-being depends on how both offline and online spaces are ruled. But with the exception of online abuse and exploitation, children’s issues are strikingly absent from debates on Internet governance.

A series of 2016 summits will shape the debate on the evolution and use of the Internet. But unless we engage key actors, children’s issues may remain absent from these conversations.

“Bitcoin is dead. Long live bitcoin.”
This past year, we flagged the increasing role played by big techs in areas traditionally delegated to the public sector. This is going crescendo. We also suggested that it would be the make-or-break year for bitcoin. While early 2016 a bitcoin’s lead developer declared the cryptocurrency an “inescapable failure”, others charge that this fundamentally misses the big idea’ behind bitcoin: its technical modality, the blockchain.

Explaining the blockchain is like explaining the Internet in 1985. “If the Internet is the network of information, the blockchain is the network of transactions”. Companies springing up around the blockchain seek to increase efficiency, security and transparency – and thus trust – around digital transactions, beyond the financial industry. The technology can be used to cut remittance fees, reduce land title fraud and generate new forms of donations. The transformative potential of the blockchain for development and humanitarian work will become increasingly visible in 2016.

You can download the full issue of January 2016 Horizons

Contributors to Horizons January 2016: Ozge Aydogan, Jasmina Byrne, Emily Garin, Eva Kaplan, Christine Klauth, Katell Le Goulven, Yulia Oleinik, David Ponet, Frank Borge Wietzke, Liang Zhao. Design and layout: Upasana Young. Production support: Nima Hassan Kanyare. Editor-in-Chief: Katell Le Goulven Advice and guidance were provided by Jeffrey O’Malley.

For more information, please contact UNICEF Chief of Policy Planning, Katell Le Goulven, klegoulven@unicef.org


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