Conflicts, climate change and mental illness among ‘biggest emerging threats to children', United Nations warns

Young people more vulnerable to grooming and abuse amid online misinformation, children's charity says

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Wednesday 18 September 2019 07:10
Students at the YouthStrike4Climate demonstration against climate change in London's Parliament Square
Students at the YouthStrike4Climate demonstration against climate change in London's Parliament Square

Conflicts, the worsening climate crisis, a decline in mental health and online misinformation are among the biggest emerging global threats to children, the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) has warned.

Global leaders must step up their efforts to address growing challenges facing the younger generation, the charity said.

“Childhood has changed and we need to change our approaches along with it," its executive director, Henrietta Fore, warned in an open letter, which also outlined eight threats for the world’s children, including climate change, online misinformation and mental health problems.

“Our climate is changing beyond recognition. Inequality is deepening," she added. "Technology is transforming how we perceive the world. And more families are migrating than ever before.”

The rise in extreme weather patterns and toxic air, prolonged drought and flash floods, because of the climate crisis, is disproportionally affecting the poorest, most vulnerable children, the letter states.

The majority will grow up as "natives of a digital environment saturated with online misinformation" including fake audio and video content, it adds.

Online misinformation is leaving children vulnerable to grooming and abuse, the letter warns, adding that it is fuelling distrust in vaccines and in some cases prompting a resurgence in deadly diseases.

“We can no longer rest on the naive assurance that truth has an innate upper hand against falsehood in the digital era, and so we must, as societies, build resilience against the daily deluge of falsity online," Ms Fore wrote. “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 also calls for the treatment and rehabilitation for young people affected by mental health issues to be prioritised.

Depression is now among the leading causes of disability in the young, it states.

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“Children and young people of today are taking the lead on demanding urgent action, and empowering yourselves to learn about, and shape the world around you," it adds. “You are taking a stand now, and we are listening.”

It comes as young people around the world are preparing to take part in what is predicted to be the largest global climate strike on Friday.

They will once again walk out of lessons to demand urgent action to curb global warming.

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