Following a year of historic global agreements, world must translate promises into action to benefit most vulnerable children in 2016

17 December 2015 - More than 16 million babies were born in conflict zones in 2015 – 1 in 8 of all births worldwide this year – Unicef said today, a figure that underscores the vulnerability faced by increasing numbers of children.

“Every two seconds, a newborn takes its first breath in the midst of conflict, often in terrifying circumstances and without access to medical care,” said Unicef Executive Director Anthony Lake. “Too many children are now starting their lives in extreme circumstances – from conflict to natural disasters, poverty, disease or malnutrition. Can there be a worse start in life?”

In conflict-affected countries such as Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, or on perilous journeys to escape fighting, new-born children and their mothers face enormous risks. Pregnant mothers are in danger of giving birth without medical help and in unsanitary conditions. Their children are more likely to die before they reach their fifth birthdays and to experience extreme – or “toxic” – stress, which can inhibit their long-term emotional and cognitive development. 

In addition to conflict, poverty, the effects of climate change and lack of opportunity are making children increasingly vulnerable and have pushed millions on dangerous journeys away from their homes.

  • More than 200,000 children applied for asylum in European Union countries in the first nine months of 2015, adding to the 30 million children across the globe forced from their homes by 2014 due to war, violence and persecution. More people are displaced now than at any moment since World War II.
  • More than a quarter of a billion children – or 1 in 9 – live in countries and areas in conflict and face enormous obstacles to their health, education and well-being.
  • More than half a billion children live in areas where floods are extremely common and nearly 160 million live in high or extremely high drought severity zones.
  • Children represent almost half of all people living in extreme poverty although they make up roughly a third of the world’s population.

“The final months of 2015 have seen the world come together around tackling climate change and a new global development agenda.  These ambitious agreements present a huge opportunity if we can translate our promises into action for the most vulnerable children,” said Lake.  “If we address the reasons so many families feel the need to uproot themselves and their children from their homes – by resolving conflict, by addressing climate change, by expanding opportunity, we can make 2016 a year of hope for millions – not a year of despair.”

Ahead of the first ever World Humanitarian Summit in May, we can change how the world responds in emergencies. The UK Government must make the protection of children a priority – committing to protect children from extreme violence, protecting the schools that keep them safe, and protecting children who are torn from their families by wars and disasters. Please sign the petition telling David Cameron to make protection from violence a priority at the summit - unicef.uk/protect

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Notes for editors:

Photos and videos are available here: http://uni.cf/1YeVCOj

Unicef's new video Born Into Danger is available here: http://bit.ly/1JaqmUg

For further information, please contact the Unicef UK Press Office +44 (0)207 375 6090  media@unicef.org.uk

About UNICEF
Unicef is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children.  As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK. For more information please visit unicef.org.uk