In an open letter to the world’s children, UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, explains the eight reasons why she is worried but also hopeful for the next generation.

1. "Clean water, clean air and a safe climate.”

“It sounds obvious that all children need these basics to sustain healthy lives - a clean environment to live in, clean air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat... The next generation of children will bear the greatest burden of hunger and malnutrition” - Fore.

We already see evidence of climate change, with the increase of more destructive and more frequent weather events. The International Organisation for Migration cites that the number of environmental migrants will hit 200 million to 1 billion by the year 2050.

UNICEF works to curb the impact of extreme weather events on children by designing infrastructure made to withstand natural disasters, supporting preparedness drills and supporting community health systems. To mitigate climate change, governments and businesses must work together to lower greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the Paris agreement. 
"Your generation, the children of today, are
facing a new set of challenges and global
shifts that were unimaginable to your parents."
A child wades through water on her way to school in Kurigram district of northern Bangladesh during floods © UNICEF/UN0286416/Akash

2. “One in Four of You Are Likely to Live, and Learn, in Conflict and Disaster”

“One in four children now live in countries affected by violent fighting or disaster, with 28 million children being driven from their homes by wars and insecurity. Conflicts and natural disasters have already disrupted learning for 75 million children and young people, many of whom have migrated across the borders or been displaced.”

To help children who are living in unstable situations due to conflict and disasters, UNICEF is now collaborating with Microsoft and the University of Cambridge to develop a digital learning passport. The digital platform will facilitate learning opportunities for children. It is currently being tested in countries that host refugees, migrants and internally displaced people. The passport will allow children to access education, no matter the situation. 
A boy walks through the streets of Aleppo, Syria © UNICEF/UN0287091/Grove Hermansen

3. “We Must Make it OK to Talk About Mental Health”

“The evidence actually shows that teens today smoke less, drink less, get into less trouble and generally take fewer risks than previous generations...Yet there is one area of risk for adolescents showing an extremely worrisome trend in the wrong direction – one that reminds us of the invisible vulnerability that young people still carry inside of them.”

Mental health disorders among under 18s have been rising steadily over the past 30 years, with 90% of youth suicides occurring in middle to low income countries. 

UNICEF uses campaigns in schools to promote open discussion about mental health. For example, in Kazakhstan, which has one of the highest suicide rates among adolescents worldwide, UNICEF stepped up efforts to improve the psychological well-being of adolescents through a large-scale pilot programme in over 450 schools.

"One that reminds us of the invisible vulnerability
that young people still carry inside of them."
Syrian refugee children attending the Makani learning centre, here children who have fled the violent civil war in Syria can come to learn, receive counseling and learn how to better interact despite the pressures of daily life and the horrors many have seen in Syria. © UNICEF/UN043072/Rich

4. “Over 30 million of you have migrated from your place of birth.”

“We live in a mobile world in which at least 30 million children have moved across borders. For many, migration is propelled by a drive for a better life.”

For many children in these dire situations, migration is not a choice but a necessity as they have lost the ability to build a safe and prosperous life in their home country. These journeys are all too often dangerous, leaving children vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

By addressing the root causes of why children feel forced to migrate, such as war and violence, children can gain the skills they need to build a better and safer future for themselves and their home countries. UNICEF is also dedicated to helping those children who have migrated, wherever they are, whatever their story, it is essential that child migrants, legal or otherwise, have their rights upheld. 
Three children look out of the window of a train as refugees primarily from the Syrian Arab Republic, Afghanistan and Iraq board the train at a reception center for refugees and migrants © UNICEF/UNI197652/Gilbertson VII Photo

5. “Thousands of You Will Officially Never Exist, Unless We Act”

“Every child has the right to a legal identity, to birth registration and a nationality.” 
However, of the 100,000 babies born every day, a quarter will never have birth certificate due to living in poor and marginalised areas. This makes citizenship, healthcare and education for those children infinitely harder to navigate.

To combat this, the United Nations has set goals that every human being will have a legal identity by 2030. UNICEF is working with governments to achieve this goal, starting with registering births. In Bolivia, UNICEF worked with other organisations to increase birth registrations in hospitals and health centres, leading to an increase of 500% from 2015 to 2018 
Newborn baby Fernanda's footprints are recorded on a chart, in Bolivia. © UNICEF/UNI159401/Pirozzi

6. You Need 21st Century Skills For a 21st Century Economy.

“Often, young people lack the access to education that will prepare them for a contemporary job - as they are not taught the skills they need to thrive.”

As absolute income inequality rises, low-income families are not afforded the same education as their wealthier peers. This makes it very difficult for them to enter the contemporary job market, which further traps low-income people into a cycle of poverty. 

To combat this, UNICEF has launched a new initiative to prepare young people to become more productive individuals. UNICEF’s Generation Unlimited campaign aims to ensure every young person is in school, learning, training or employed by 2030.
Anwar, 14 years, and Dina, 15 years, with their invention – a lamp powered by a power bank © UNICEF/UN0206982/Herwig

7. “Your Digital Footprint Must Be Protected”

“More than 1 in 3 children globally are thought to be regular users of the internet, and as this generation grows up, that proportion is set to grow and grow.” 

Too often, children do not know the rights they have over their data. Additionally, they do not understand the implications of their data use; this leaves children vulnerable to having their information exploited. 

To tackle this, we are beginning to see action. Governments are strengthening regulatory frameworks; private sector providers are recognising their role in protecting children and educators are thinking about how to equip children with the tools to navigate the online world safely.  
Aliya, age 13, (left) spends time with her classmates using their phones © UNICEF/UN0214616/Babajanyan VII Photo

8. “You Might Be the Least Trusting Generation of Citizens Ever”

“Every child has the right to actively participate in their societies, and for many of you, your first experiences of civic engagement will be online.” 

In the era of ‘fake news’, studies indicate that children and young people today have a difficult time distinguishing fact from fiction and as a consequence, they are unable to know who to trust. A United Kingdom study on fake news found that only a quarter of children reading online news actually trust the sources they are reading. 

While the sharing of fake news is higher among older people than their younger ‘digital native’ counterparts, there is still work to be done.