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Some Progress for Children Despite Pandemic’s Toll

Ten Points to Celebrate from 2021

Jo Becker
Advocacy Director, Children's Rights Division

The Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating for children around the world. Earlier this month, UNICEF reported that the pandemic has plunged 100 million more children into poverty and rolled back virtually every measure of progress.

This grim reality demands strong action. But 2021 also brought some bright spots. As we near the year’s end, here are 10 areas of progress for children we can celebrate:

  1. South Korea and Colombia banned all corporal punishment of children, bringing the global total of countries with a comprehensive ban to 63. Forty years ago, there was only one.
  2. A new malaria vaccine is projected to save the lives of tens of thousands of children every year in sub-Saharan Africa, while the World Health Organization declared China – once home to 30 million malaria cases a year – malaria-free.
  3. Despite the pandemic, infant mortality rates have continued to fall, dropping 2 percent since 2020 and by nearly half since 2000.
  4. Tanzania lifted its ban on schooling for teenage mothers. Previously, thousands of girls each year had been expelled from school after becoming pregnant.
  5. The Dominican Republic and the US states of New York and Rhode Island passed laws prohibiting child marriage.
  6. Military use of schools dropped by more than 50 percent in countries that were early endorsers of the Safe Schools Declaration. In 2021, six more countries – Mexico, Algeria, Maldives, Timor-Leste, Togo, and Namibia – endorsed the declaration, bringing the global total to 113.
  7. More than 45,000 children across 84 countries have been released from detention during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  8. In the United States, 100,000 fewer youth entered the adult criminal justice system as a result of “Raise the Age” initiatives, which lift the age of criminal responsibility to 18 for all but the most serious crimes.
  9. A coalition of armed groups in Mali signed a United Nations action plan pledging to end their use of child soldiers and other violations against children in armed conflict. Nineteen such action plans are currently being implemented around the world.
  10. In response to a lawsuit by nine youth climate activists, Germany’s supreme court ordered the government to set clear targets to reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses after 2030.

A recent poll across 21 countries found that despite the world’s challenges, children and youth are 50 percent more likely than older people to believe that with each generation, the world is becoming a better place. In 2022, governments should take renewed action to advance their rights and protect their future.

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