UNICEF says conflicts, climate crisis, online misinformation are big emerging threats to children

Organisation’s executive director Henrietta Fore in open letter outlines eight growing challenges for the world’s children

September 19, 2019 02:45 pm | Updated September 20, 2019 08:49 am IST - NEW DELHI:

Silhouette of unrecognizable sad autistic girl behind stained glass window sitting alone in the backyard

Silhouette of unrecognizable sad autistic girl behind stained glass window sitting alone in the backyard

Protracted conflicts, the worsening climate crisis, a rising level of mental illness among young people, and online misinformation are some of the most concerning emerging global threats to children, cautions the UNICEF.

In an open letter issued by the organisation’s executive director Henrietta Fore marking 30 years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UNICEF sounds the alarm on major growing and future challenges facing children.

‘New set of challenges’

The letter outlines eight growing challenges for the world’s children including prolonged conflicts, pollution and the climate crisis, a decline in mental health, mass migration and population movements, statelessness and online misinformation.

“The children of today, are facing a new set of challenges and global shifts that were unimaginable to your parents,” writes Ms. Fore.

“Our climate is changing beyond recognition. Inequality is deepening. Technology is transforming how we perceive the world. And more families are migrating than ever before. Childhood has changed, and we need to change our approaches along with it.”

The letter also expresses concern that the majority of children will grow up as natives of a digital environment saturated with online misinformation. For example, so-called ‘deep fake’ technology uses artificial intelligence techniques to create convincing fakes of audio and video content, relatively easily.

The letter warns that an online environment where truth can become indistinguishable from fiction has the potential to totally undermine trust in institutions and information sources, and has been demonstrated to skew democratic debate, voter intentions, and sow doubt about other ethnic, religious or social groups.

“Online misinformation is already leaving children vulnerable to grooming, abuse, and other forms of exploitation; skewing democratic debate; and, in some communities, even prompting resurgence in deadly diseases due to distrust in vaccines fuelled by online misinformation – the results of which could be the creation of an entire generation of citizens who do not trust anything,” states the letter.

The UNICEF suggests that we should start by equipping young people with the ability to understand who and what they can trust online, so they can become active, engaged citizens.

The letter cautions that mental illness among adolescents has been on the rise in the years since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that depression is now among the leading causes of disability in the young.

The letter urges that appropriate promotion, prevention and therapeutic treatment and rehabilitation for children and young people affected by mental health issues be prioritised, and that the stigma and taboo surrounding mental illness be challenged so that treatment can be sought and support provided.

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