IPCI 2024: Oslo Commitment Protects Sexual and Reproductive Rights Across All Contexts

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Ase Kristin Ask Bakke, MP and Chair of APPG Norway, reads the Oslo Statement of Commitment. Alando Terrelonge, MP, Jamaica, chair of the IPCI Drafting Committee, sits second from left. Credit: Naureen Hossain/IPS

Ase Kristin Ask Bakke, MP and Chair of APPG Norway, reads the Oslo Statement of Commitment. Alando Terrelonge, MP, Jamaica, chair of the IPCI Drafting Committee, sits second from left. Credit: Naureen Hossain/IPS

OSLO, Apr 12 2024 (IPS) – Parliamentarians from 112 countries have adopted the IPCI statement of commitment to protect and promote sexual and reproductive health rights, committing to the principle that “life or death is a political statement.”

As IPCI Oslo drew to a close on Friday, April 12, 2024, parliamentarians adopted a new Statement of Commitment that was “the collective effort of every single delegate,” said Alando Terrelonge, MP from Jamaica and chair of the drafting committee.

Remarking on the drafting process, he remarked, “We have definitely placed people’s rights and their dignity, the whole essence of human rights, at the forefront of our discussion.”

“Human rights really are at the heart of human civilization and sustainable development.”

Terrelonge, along with Ase Kristin Ask Bakke, MP and chair of APPG Norway, presented the statement before the conference in its penultimate session.

In brief, the Oslo Statement calls for parliamentarians to advocate for and promote SRHR across the life course, from birth to old age. It addresses the “rising polarization, conflicts, and fragile environments” that threaten the achievements made in the realization of IPCD’s Programme of Action by mobilizing their efforts and cooperating with relevant stakeholders.

It calls for increased accountability towards governments, the tech and healthcare sectors, and other relevant stakeholders, to respect human rights law. The statement makes a specific note to protect women, adolescents, and other vulnerable, marginalized groups who suffer disproportionately in conflicts and crises.

This statement seems pertinent in the wake of prolonged conflicts in Gaza, South Sudan, and Ukraine. In this light and in a broader context, the statement reaffirms a commitment to uphold international human rights law and humanitarian law in all contexts.

The statement reaffirms and expands on the core issues of the conference: policy and megatrends in demography, technology, and financing.

Technology’s impact on SRHR and political practices was officially codified in the statement, as it calls for governments to recognize the impact of digital technology on people’s lives, and the “immense potential” for the “full realization of the ICPD [Programme of Action].”

It also cautions that governments promote the safe and meaningful participation of women and girls in the digital space.

Financing SRHR programs has also been recognized as a priority, along with urging governments to allocate 10 percent of national development budgets towards the implementation of the Cairo program of action (POA). Furthermore, the statement advocates for following another UN-codified program, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, for its framework on long-term investments in development projects.

The participants had also agreed to increase political commitment to the continued implementation of the IPCD POA on parliamentary action for accountability and political commitment. The parliamentarians present pledged to accelerate developments and promote laws that respect international human rights obligations.

All those present enthusiastically applauded the statement’s adoption by consensus. As the conference reached its end and the statement was formally pledged, attendees expressed their support and its relevance to their states.

A delegate from Guatemala noted that while there were several pieces of legislation aimed at SRHR, they were not implemented clearly enough for civilians to know that these laws existed. She added that it was important to bridge the gap between governments and civilians in their understanding and implementation of SRHR policies.

The MP from Peru said parliamentarians needed to return to hold their governments accountable for the setbacks in the SRHR. She added that there needed to be investigations into the factors driving conservative groups to push back against the expansion of SRHR.

A MP from the Mauritiana delegation noted the progress that is achieved through pursuing gender equality: “Any society that does not give a space for women is a society that will suffer, socially and politically.”


Abandoned Children Growing Problem in Northern Syria

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Humanitarian Emergencies

Children eating and drinking at the Children's House in Idlib. Abandoned children is a growing issue in the region. Credit: Sonia Al-Ali/IPS

Children eating and drinking at the Children’s House in Idlib. Abandoned children is a growing issue in the region. Credit: Sonia Al-Ali/IPS

IDLIB, Syria, Mar 27 2024 (IPS) – Wael Al-Hassan was returning from work in the Syrian city of Harim when he heard the sound of a baby crying.

He was returning from work on December 10, 2023. He stopped momentarily, turned on his mobile phone flashlight to investigate, and spotted a baby girl, around one month old, wrapped in a white blanket, lying by the roadside.

He felt saddened by the infant’s condition and said, “She was crying loudly, and I saw scratches on her face from cat or dog claws. I then carried her in my arms and took her home, where my wife breastfed her, changed her clothes, and took care of her.”

The phenomenon of abandoning newborns is increasing in northern Syria, where individuals leave their newborns in public parks or alongside roads, then leave the area. Passersby later find the infants, some of them dead from hunger or cold.

Al-Hassan said that the next morning, he handed the baby girl over to the police to search for her family and relatives.

Social Rejection

Social worker Abeer Al-Hamoud from the city of Idlib, located in northern Syria, attributes the primary reason for some families abandoning their children to the widespread poverty and high population density in the province. Additionally, there is fear of the security situation (the area is not in the control of the Syrian regime and is often under attack), the prevalence of divorces, and spouses abandoning their families after traveling abroad.

Al-Hamoud also points out another reason, which is the spread of the phenomenon of early marriage and marrying girls to foreign fighters who came from their countries to Syria to participate in combat. Under pressure from their families, wives often have to abandon their children after their husband’s death, sudden disappearance, or return to their homeland, especially when they are unable to care for them or provide for them financially. Moreover, these children have no proper documentation of parentage.

Furthermore, Al-Hamoud mentions another reason, which is some women are raped, leading them to abandon their newborns out of fear of punishment from their families or societal stigma.

Al-Hamoud warns that the number of abandoned children is increasing and says there is an urgent need to find solutions to protect them from exploitation, oppression, and societal discrimination they may face. She emphasizes that the solutions lie in returning displaced persons to their homes, improving living conditions for families, raising awareness among families about the importance of family planning, and launching campaigns to integrate these children into society.

Alternative Families

It’s preferable for members of the community to accept these children into their families, but they face difficulties in registering the births.

Thirty-nine-year-old Samaheer Al-Khalaf from the city of Sarmada in northern Idlib province, Syria, sponsored a newborn found abandoned at a park gate, and she welcomed him into her family.

She says, “After 11 years of marriage to my cousin, we were not blessed with children, so we decided to raise a child found in the city at the beginning of 2022.”

Al-Khalaf observes that the Islamic religion’s prohibition on “adoption” prevents her from registering the child under her name in the civil registry. Additionally, she cannot go to areas controlled by the Syrian regime to register him due to the presence of security barriers.

She says, “I fear for this child’s future because he will remain of unknown lineage. He will live deprived of his civil rights, such as education and healthcare, and he won’t be able to obtain official documents.”

Children’s House Provides Assistance

With the increasing numbers of children of unknown parentage, volunteers have opened a center to receive and care for the children abandoned by their families.

Younes Abu Amin, the director of Children’s House, says, “A child of unknown parentage is one who was found and whose father is unknown, or children whose parentage has not been proven and who have no provider.”

“The organization ‘Children’s House’ opened a center to care for children separated from their families and children of unknown parentage in the city of Sarmada, north of Idlib,” says Abu Amin. “The number of registered children in the center has reached 267, ranging in age from one day to 18 years. Some have been placed with foster families, while others currently reside in the center, receiving all their needs, including shelter, food, education, and healthcare.”

Upon arrival at the center, Abu Amin notes that the center registers each child in its records, transfers them to the shelter department, and makes efforts to locate their original family or relatives and send them to them or to find a foster family to provide them with a decent life.

Abu Amin explains that the center employs 20 staff members who provide children with care, psychological support, and education. They work to create a suitable environment for the children and support them psychologically to help with emotional support.

He emphasizes that the center survives on individual donations to cover its expenses – which are scarce. There is an urgent need for sufficient support, as the children require long-term care, especially newborns.

A young girl Marah (8) and her brother, Kamal (10), lost their father in the war. Their mother remarried, leaving them to live in a small tent with their grandfather, who forces them to beg and sell tissues, often leaving them without food for days.

Consequently, they decided to escape from home. Kamal says, “We used to sleep outdoors, overwhelmed by fear, cold, and hunger, until someone took us to the child center.”

Upon reaching the center, they returned to their studies, played with other children, and each other, just like children with families.

Kamal expresses his wish, “I hope to continue my education with my sister so we can rely on ourselves and escape from a life of injustice and deprivation.”

These children, innocent of any wrongdoing, are often left to fend for themselves, bearing the brunt of war-induced poverty, insecurity, homelessness, instability, and early marriage.

IPS UN Bureau Report


Thailand’s ‘Humanitarian Corridor’ for Myanmar Faces Pushback

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Migration & Refugees

A Myanmar girl, displaced by war, sells cigarettes through the razor-wired border with Thailand near the frontier town of Mae Sot. Thailand is bracing for another influx of refugees. Credit: William Webb/lPS

A Myanmar girl, displaced by war, sells cigarettes through the razor-wired border with Thailand near the frontier town of Mae Sot. Thailand is bracing for another influx of refugees. Credit: William Webb/lPS

MAE SOT, Thailand, Mar 13 2024 (IPS) – The Maung family is rebuilding their lives in a foreign land. A freshly painted signboard with a play on the word Revolution declares their small restaurant is open for business, and breakfast features traditional Myanmar mohinga—rice noodles and fish soup.

Three years ago, the family of four was prospering in the central Myanmar city of Mandalay but suddenly everything changed. The military seized back power from the newly elected government, and thousands of people took to the streets in protest, including the Maungs. A brutal crackdown ensued across Myanmar, the father was arrested and their two restaurants seized.

Since the 2021 coup, the UN estimates some 2.4 million more people have been displaced by conflict across Myanmar, while 78,000 civilian properties, including homes, hospitals, schools, and places of worship, have been burnt or destroyed by the military.

The Maung family was wise to leave Myanmar when they could, and fortunate to survive the hazardous journey eastwards towards the border with Thailand. After spending a year in a border camp for IDPs run by the military wing of the Karen National Union (KNU) in eastern Kayin State, the family managed to cross into the Thai frontier town of Mae Sot to start afresh, even if they exist in a grey zone of legality alongside tens of thousands of others.

More waves of refugees are following in their footsteps.

“We have 750,000 IDPs in our territory,” said a senior official of the KNU, which has been waging the world’s longest civil war against successive Myanmar regimes since 1949. “A year ago, there were 500,000 to 600,000. Numbers are rising because the military is deliberately targeting civilians,” he told IPS in Mae Sot, asking not to be named.

Myanmar refugees in Thailand pick out clothes piled in the street that have been donated in the border town of Mae Sot. Credit: William Webb/IPS

Myanmar refugees in Thailand pick out clothes piled in the street that have been donated in the border town of Mae Sot. Credit: William Webb/IPS

Against this background and wanting to preempt an influx, Thailand’s new coalition government announced its intention last month to open up a ‘humanitarian corridor’ into Myanmar to funnel aid to IDPs and keep them well away from the border.

Thailand’s military—the real arbiter of power in these border regions and holding sway over two parties in the coalition—is haunted by the spectre of past and present examples of chaos through conflict. In the 1980s, Thailand reluctantly hosted several hundred thousand Cambodian refugees, including remnants of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, on its eastern borders. Today it looks west and sees Bangladesh struggling to contain in camps some one million Rohingya refugees forced out of Myanmar in what the UN special rapporteur on human rights called a genocidal campaign by the Myanmar military.

But beyond the ‘humanitarian’ aspect, what has caused anger within the various groups fighting the Myanmar military as well as rights activists, is Thailand’s own admission that its humanitarian corridor proposal is aimed at drawing the regime’s State Administration Council (SAC) into a dialogue that would lead to a negotiated settlement with Myanmar’s diverse resistance forces.

Neither the KNU nor the parallel National Unity Government set up by ousted Myanmar lawmakers after the coup were consulted by Thailand, which received a green light from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Under Thailand’s initiative, aid would be delivered initially to 20,000 IDPs by the Thai Red Cross and the Myanmar Red Cross (whose senior administrators are former military officers) and monitored by ASEAN’s Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management, where the Myanmar junta also has a presence.

“Aid is used everywhere in the world as a political entry point,” the KNU official commented. “This is not a pure humanitarian issue. They want to bring the SAC out of isolation. This is very problematic for us.”

A senior NUG official, also based in Thailand, was similarly concerned by the political intentions behind the proposal.  “It’s a desperate measure by ASEAN seeking a semblance of negotiated peace and dialogue,” he told IPS.

The official doubted it would get off the ground in its present form without the support of the Karen forces that control large areas of Kayin State, nor without the full backing of the US.

The US values its long-held strategic ties with Thailand and its military, and Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara returned from Washington last month, declaring that he had secured complete US support for the initiative, although the US public statement appeared more cautious.

Human rights activists and humanitarian workers on the Thai-Myanmar border remain highly sceptical of the initiative, denouncing it as a “weaponization of aid”.

Thailand, they note, has never officially recognized the refugee status of nearly 100,000 people living in nine UNHCR camps along the Thai-Myanmar border since the 1990s.

“This is not about providing humanitarian aid to the people of Myanmar. It is about giving a new lifeline to the junta to re-engage with ASEAN and everybody else,” commented Paul Greening, a former UN senior staff officer and now independent consultant in Mae Sot.

“Neighbours and other international actors, including the US and China, do not want the junta to fall. They do not want the junta to win but they do not want it to fall either. This is why they all want a ‘negotiated settlement’,” he said.

Igor Blazevic, a senior adviser at the Prague Civil Society Centre who previously worked in Myanmar, said a “carrot” was being held out to the Myanmar regime at a time when it was “seriously weakened and shaken” after losing large areas of territory to resistance forces both in Rakhine State in the west and in Shan State close to China.

“A political aim behind the ‘humanitarian initiative’ is the intention to treat genocidal power-usurpers in uniform as the inevitable and unavoidable key factor in Myanmar’s ‘stability’ and with combination of soft pressure and humanitarian incentives, try to force everybody else to surrender, in a soft way, to ongoing military dominance in politics and the economy,” Blazevic wrote in a commentary.

With the UN warning that nearly two million people in Myanmar are expected to fall into the “highest category of needs severity (catastrophic)” this year, the resistance is aware that they will come under intense international pressure not to reject the Thai initiative.

Recent developments indicate Thailand may rethink its proposal, however. It has opened channels with the KNU and the NUG to discuss their involvement in facilitating aid deliveries through Myanmar civil society organisations independent of the regime. Word has it that the Myanmar Red Cross is not that keen to be directly involved, knowing it is too close to the regime to be able to safely deliver aid to those who have suffered atrocities at its hands.

For the Maung family and their small eatery in Mae Sot, a dream would be to return to Mandalay and Myanmar in peace. But they have little hope of such an outcome, nor do they really want to remain in Thailand, along with over two million other Myanmar workers, classified as migrants, not refugees.

For the moment, life revolves around navigating Thailand’s complex and often corrupt system to secure papers that would give them a degree of legitimacy and enable them to move beyond Mae Sot and surrounding Tak Province. A possible lifeline is an ethnic Chinese branch of their family with members in Taiwan.

“Taiwan could be our future,” says the elder of two daughters, who still dreams of going to university. “I can learn Chinese,” she says, in excellent English.

IPS UN Bureau Report


UNWRA Chief Warns Agency’s Fate ‘Hangs in the Balance’

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Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), briefs reporters at UN Headquarters.

Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), briefs reporters at UN Headquarters.

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 6 2024 (IPS) – UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini asked the UN General Assembly to urge member states to support the organization’s mandate during this period of unprecedented crisis for the region and the agency. He also called for member states to facilitate a “long-overdue political process” for the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. Only then, in this context, should UNRWA be allowed to transition.

He was speaking at an informal session of the General Assembly on the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). This was convened to discuss the ongoing situation with UNRWA’s capacity as a humanitarian and human development agency in Gaza.

Despite its existence for 75 years, UNRWA’s presence was always intended to be temporary. “It is a stain on our collective conscience that for 75 years, UNRWA has had to fill a vacuum left by the lack of a political solution and genuine peace,” said Lazzarini.

The ongoing hostilities in the Gaza Strip and the resulting destruction of UNRWA facilities, which have disrupted humanitarian services in the region, have led to calls to seek alternatives that can deliver on the scale of the agency or to raise concern about whether other agencies can deliver the necessary humanitarian aid.

“UNRWA is facing a deliberate and concerted campaign to undermine its operations and ultimately end them,” said Lazzarini.

Lazzarini argued that dismantling UNRWA during the current crisis would be shortsighted, given that the agency was designed to provide public services such as education and primary healthcare in a region without state authority. “The notion that the Agency can be dismantled without violating a host of human rights and jeopardizing international peace and security is naïve at best,” he said.

Speaking at a press briefing that same day, Lazzarini told reporters, “We can only feel that the worst is yet to come.” He remarked that since January, aid delivery to Gaza has decreased by 50 percent. Since then, famine has become all but inevitable.

Remarking on the dual investigations into UNRWA’s operations, Lazzarini stated that the investigations were necessary as an accountability measure. These investigations were announced after it was revealed that he had terminated the contracts of 12 staff members who were allegedly involved in the October 7 attacks. Lazzarini added that the “swift decision” to terminate the contracts, as well as the investigations, would likely reflect the agency’s ability to follow through on recommendations from a risk management review.

Lazzarini admitted, however, that he had not anticipated the swift action that 16 donor countries took to suspend their funding in the wake of the allegations, which he revealed were conveyed to him in an oral manner.  “I have no regret,” he said, referring to his response to the allegations, “but to be honest, I did not expect that… over the weekend, 16 countries would take that decision.”

The UNRWA chief also indicated that most donor countries would consider resuming their support. For those donor countries, the pressure to pull support came from domestic or public opinion that seems divided over UNRWA rather than foreign policy considerations.

There is some promise that UNRWA will continue to deliver on its mandate with the help of donor states, as was seen with the European Commission’s decision to continue funding the agency, starting with a pledge of 50 million euros. However, this will only go partway into filling the gap of 450 million USD left by the 16 donor countries. Lazzarini warned that without additional funding, the agency would be in “uncharted territory” and would have “serious implications for global peace and security.”

The atrocities that were committed on and since October 7 have only resulted in increasing devastation and tragedy. The international community, as embodied by the General Assembly on Monday, seems largely united in their calls for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and for the safe release of all hostages.

Yet the ongoing hostilities in the region have prevented the UN and its agencies from fulfilling their mandate to safely provide critical emergency aid. Five months on, there is a seeming lack of forward momentum within the Security Council to deliver a ceasefire resolution. UNRWA has been contending with compounding existential questions about its survival as an agency from hostile forces in the Gaza Strip and beyond who call for its dissolution.

IPS UN Bureau Report


Funding, Policy Changes Could Result in Countries Reaping Benefit of Migration

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Migration & Refugees

The African Unions Migration Policy Framework for Africa (2018-2030) provides guidelines to manage migration and reap the benefits of well managed migration which contribute to global prosperity and progress. Credit: UNHCR

The African Unions Migration Policy Framework for Africa (2018-2030) provides guidelines to manage migration and reap the benefits of well managed migration which contribute to global prosperity and progress. Credit: UNHCR

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Feb 23 2024 (IPS) – Amid an escalation of global conflict and climate change-induced displacements, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is escalating its donor campaign.

For the first time since the organization’s formation in 1951, the IOM says it is “proactively approaching all partners to fund this vital appeal,” at a time when the number of migrants making perilous intercontinental journeys has increased.

“Irregular and forced migration have reached unprecedented levels and the challenges we face are increasingly complex,” said IOM Director General Amy Pope at the launch of the Global Appeal in Geneva in January.

It added to its appeal this week, asking for USD 112 million to provide urgent humanitarian and development assistance to over 1.4 million migrants and host communities in the Horn of Africa, Yemen, and Southern Africa. Routes from the Horn of Africa to Yemen and the Gulf States, and the Southern route from the Horn of Africa through Kenya and Tanzania to Southern Africa, are among the most dangerous, complex, and under-reported migratory routes in the world. In 2023, nearly 400,000 movements were recorded across the Eastern route, while an additional 80,000 movements were recorded on the Southern route, particularly to South Africa, the statement read.

“The evidence is overwhelming that migration, when well managed, is a major contributor to global prosperity and progress. We are at a critical moment in time, and we have designed this appeal  to help deliver on that promise. We can and must do better,”  Pope said at the launch.

The IOM has broken down the appeal as follows:

  • USD 3.4 billion for work on saving lives and protecting people on the move.
  • USD 2.7 billion for work on solutions to displacement, including reducing the risks and impacts of climate change.
  • USD 1.6 billion for work on facilitating regular pathways for migration.
  • USD 163 million for work on transforming IOM to deliver services in a better, more effective way.

“Full funding would allow IOM to serve almost 140 million people, including internally displaced people and the local communities that host them. Crucially, it would also allow for an expansion of the IOM’s development work, which helps prevent further displacement,” the IOM said in a media briefing.

However, experts and researchers say the global migration that has peaked in recent years has deeper, more complex roots that will require more than just responding to after the fact.

“What we’re seeing is a willingness from officials and citizens to thoroughly dehumanise migrants,” said Loren Landau, professor and chair at the University of Witwatersrand African Centre for Migration and Society.

“Not only can they be left to suffer, but they should be made to suffer. Only by doing this can ‘we’ send a message that others are unwelcome. The policies of the EU, Australia, and even South Africa are all designed to broadcast this sentiment,” Landau told IPS.

The IOM estimates that there are more than 140 million displaced people, and it’s global appeal for donor support will “save lives and protect people on the move, drive solutions to displacement, and facilitate safe pathways for regular migration.”

Thousands continue to make efforts to illegally enter Europe and the USA with assistance from traffickers,.

According to the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, 60,000 people have died or disappeared on perilous journeys to seek economic opportunities over the last nine years.

Migration has in recent years become a political hot button, with right-wing political parties in Europe accused of whipping up public sentiment against migrants.

However, Landau says global inequality has worsened the displacement of millions of people.

“Migration has long been a crisis, although it has often been framed differently. There have always been displaced people. There has long been violence and corruption on the border. However, it has now moved from the edge of public debate to the centre,” Loren said.

“Global inequality, labour demand, conflict, and environmental factors are encouraging people to move, but movement is natural,” he told IPS.

Claims that migrants steal jobs from locals and force governments to divert social spending to accommodate migrants have fueled anti-immigrant sentiment.

Researchers, however, have always questioned those claims as the IOM ups its efforts to assist migrants in their new domiciles.

“Migrants are generally not why fewer people have secure employment, social protection, or feel their cultures and values are under threat.  But in light of those anxieties, migrants have become the fetish on which politicians and the public fixate,” Landau added.

In its appeal for donor funding, the IOM says well-managed migration “has the potential to advance development outcomes, contribute to climate change adaptation, and promote a safer and more peaceful, sustainable, prosperous, and equitable future.”

“The consequences of underfunded, piecemeal assistance come at a greater cost, not just in terms of money but in greater danger to migrants through irregular migration, trafficking, and smuggling,” said Pope.

“Getting the job done requires greater investment from governments, the private sector, individual donors, and other partners,” said Pope.

The African Union, which has seen the bulk of global migration, says the continent has witnessed changing patterns of migration, “a phenomenon that has become both dynamic and extremely complex.”

As part of efforts to address this and in what is expected to aid the work being done by the IOM, the AU set up the Migration Policy Framework for Africa (2018–2030).

The Framework provides “guidelines to manage migration in a coherent manner and therefore reap the benefits of migration.”

Those benefits are captured in IOM findings that “281 million international migrants generate 9.4% of global GDP.”

Despite the dangers that have come to define migrant experiences, especially on the high seas, the factors that drive millions to leave their homelands remain unresolved.

“There are immediate practical concerns about ensuring people can migrate safely,” said Landau.

“Beyond this, there is a broader need to recalibrate how we speak about these issues. Migration is not going anywhere so there’s a need to shift the framing from one of crisis to one of ‘the new normal’, Landau told IPS.
IPS UN Bureau Report


Tracking Global Development in Child Benefits Through New Monitoring and Information Platform

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Sustainable Development Goals

Students attending at the Souza Gare school in the Littoral region, Cameroon. The school hosts displaced children who have fled the violence in the North-West and South-West regions. Photo credits: ECW/Daniel Beloumou

Students attending class at the Souza Gare school in the Littoral region, Cameroon. The school hosts displaced children who have fled the violence in the North-West and South-West regions.
Credits: ECW/Daniel Beloumou

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 15 2024 (IPS) – Inclusive social protections for children would be a positive signifier of social development in a time where 1.4 billion children globally are denied them. A step towards realizing this has been taken through a new monitoring tool on current social protection and child poverty statistics.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), UNICEF, and Save the Children have partnered together to create the Global Child Benefits Tracker. This online platform will globally monitor children’s access to social protection and identify gaps in existing social protections systems in over 180 countries.

On Wednesday, this tool was launched at a side event on universal child benefits (UCBs) during the 62nd Commission for Social Development (CSoCD62) hosted in New York. One of the prevailing themes for this year was the use of digital transformation to promote inclusive growth and development. In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, the tracker would go forward to monitoring growth in poverty eradication by calling on governments to implement responsible and appropriate social protection systems for all by 2030.

The platform includes a breakdown of child poverty statistics by country, region, and income bracket. Notably, the percentage of children that currently have access to social protections is higher when compared to the percentage of the country’s population that is covered by benefits and the expenditures on these social protections. The platform also provides data on the percentage of children at risk of or experiencing monetary or multidimensional poverty. The purpose of this platform will be to serve as a knowledge tool for use in designing evidence-based child-sensitive social protections, intended for use by policymakers in government and international development programmes, social protection programmes, and civil society organizations. The tool would facilitate the exchange of best practices and inspire greater investment in child-sensitive social protection.

The platform also includes a community tab, where supplemental material can be shared as designed by experts and practitioners, such as blog posts, podcasts, videos, and links to resources. David Lambert Tumwesigye, the Global Policy & Advocacy Lead, Child Poverty, of Save the Children International, has urged members of government, academia, development partners, and practitioners to contribute to the community tab and expand the broader understanding of child poverty. “We aim to highlight the scale of global child poverty,”  he said.

Disruptions in the global economy, increased costs of living, and the COVID-19 pandemic are cited as some of the factors that have underlined the need for resilient and comprehensive social protections, especially for children at high risk of experiencing poverty. Yet, as was pointed out by speakers at the event, there have been limited investments in social protections for children, despite the general sentiment that these would be imperative. This was described as a “moral, social, and economic catastrophe,” by ILO Director in New York, Cynthia Samuel-Olonjuwon.

At the launch of the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNICEF, and Save the Children's Global Child Benefits Tracker. Credit: Naureen Hossain/IPS

At the launch of the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNICEF, and Save the Children’s Global Child Benefits Tracker. Credit: Naureen Hossain/IPS

“Life without social protection inflicts enormous social costs, and they result in squandered and prematurely shortened lives,” she said. “For children, social protection can literally be a lifesaver. It can make the difference between a healthy, happy, and long life or one that is punctuated by ill health, stress, and unrealized potential.”

The data on countries’ current social protections has been compiled through public studies and those conducted by the ILO and UNICEF. It reveals that social protection programmes in low-income countries reach less than 10 percent of their child population, in contrast to high-income countries, where their programmes reach more than 80 percent of their child population. Yet, the global average of children covered by social protection or benefits caps out at 28.1 percent. Although the evidence suggests that low-income countries struggle to provide universal child benefits, child poverty is still a global issue that affects all countries, regardless of their income group.

ILO, UNICEF, and Save the Children have urged policymakers and leaders to take the necessary measures to implement universal child benefits, or at least more inclusive, child-sensitive social protections. This includes building a social protection system that provides benefits to its citizens across the life cycle, from birth to old age, and securing financing for these programmes through increased public investments and mobilizing domestic resources.

A comparison of child benefits in South Africa compared to the region. Credit: Child Benefits Tracker

A comparison of child benefits in South Africa compared to the region. Credit: Child Benefits Tracker

The Global Child Benefits Tracker may be a step forward in monitoring progress towards social development when considering the progress that remains in achieving the SDGs. While it is still in its early days, the tool may benefit from expanding its coverage to include contributions from actors on the ground. Philip Alston, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, suggested that the platform should include qualitative evidence through testimonies to get a clearer sense of the challenges that hinder social protections and how governments have chosen to act.

There will remain challenges to implanting the sort of social protections and benefits that are being called for. There are still gaps in information, as not all countries are featured. At present, there is limited investment in child benefits. It was acknowledged that the fiscal space is a determining factor, and for the low- and middle-income countries in the Global South, this can be even more challenging due to the limitations in their financial state. It is here that solidarity from the international community and support from financing institutions would serve these countries.

Child benefits can be part of the wider social protection systems, and it has been proven that they can positively contribute towards food security and improved access to basic social services, according to UNICEF’s Global Director of Social Policy and Social Protection, Natalia Winder Rossi. Not only can they directly benefit children and their families, but they can also contribute to their communities and local economies.

“The investment is clear, the evidence is clear, but we continue to face challenges in convincing our own policymakers that this is a wide choice,” she said. “I think the Tracker provides some of that progress, to track some of those results… At UNICEF, this is part of our very strong commitment to closing the coverage gap for children. To make sure that we have systems that are strong and inclusive, we must make sure that every child is part of them and receives adequate benefits. But also that systems are adequately responding to crises.”

Visit the Global Child Benefits Tracker here.

IPS UN Bureau Report