Child Health Initiative launched to support ‘safe journey for every child’

Child Health Initiative launched to support ‘safe journey for every child’

The Child Health Initiative comprises a founding partnership of UNICEF, Save the Children, UNEP, the World Resources Institute, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the FIA Foundation. Intended as an implementation partnership for the Global Goals, the headline mission is to work towards a vision that, by 2030, every child should enjoy a safe and healthy journey to school.

The initiative was launched at an event held at ODI in London, with key note speakers including road safety advocate Zoleka Mandela; ODI Executive Director Kevin Watkins; the Chairman of the FIA Foundation, Lord Robertson; and the new Executive Director of UNICEF UK, Michael Penrose.

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With at least 500 children killed every day on the world’s roads, thousands more injured in road traffic crashes and millions suffering from chronic respiratory illness or stunting as a result of air pollution, a significant proportion of which can be attributed to motor vehicles, there is a clear need to make safe and sustainable mobility a priority policy issue. The Child Health Initiative aims to work to support three key rights of the child:

  • Safe, accessible, low-carbon mobility to promote equity and combat poverty

  • Clean air and a healthy environment;

  • The role of safe and healthy mobility in enabling the right to an education.


The partnership will focus on global advocacy research; evidence building through demonstration programme implementation; and support to countries and cities through technical assistance and catalysing national action coalitions. With initial funding from the FIA Foundation, each of the partners will build on existing programmes or establish new work with a specific child health focus.

One element of the initiative is an initial two year, €2 million, partnership between UNICEF and the FIA Foundation to build road safety capacity and support for legislative change through UNICEF country offices in South America and South East Asia. Save the Children will also provide advocacy support. The World Resources Institute is focusing on assisting cities with urban design change to enable safe walking and cycling; while UNEP will work with countries to provide similar active mobility technical assistance. ODI is undertaking a two year research study on the political economy of implementing sustainable mobility change, which will include recommendations for specific cities.

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Zoleka Mandela with Coombe Girls School headteacher Deborah Walls and pupils in the memorial garden to Lavna Chuttoo.

The partners will seek to coordinate activities and identify joint interventions, while the FIA Foundation will also seek to align support for its regional NGO partners with the Child Health Initiative objectives and activities. Working alongside existing environmental partnerships including the Partnership for Clean Fuels & Vehicles and the Climate & Clean Air Coalition, the initiative aims to provide advocacy on behalf of children to support efforts to reduce harmful vehicle emissions, especially particulate matter.

Speaking at the launch of the Global Initiative for Child Health & Mobility, Zoleka Mandela said: “In planning and in policy, children seem to be at best an afterthought - or in the worst cases, just totally neglected. You have to conclude that there’s not much value being placed on safeguarding our children on the roads. This has to be seen as a violation of our children’s rights. And it is incredible that such a violation is allowed to continue. This is not a society I want to live in. As a mother, I am angry and I am scared. And as a mother, I want a different future for my children. The partners assembled here today are uniquely placed to take this agenda forward. This is a partnership to push for delivery on the Sustainable Development Goals. It’s an initiative for the health of future generations, for the right to an education, for the fight against poverty. This is an initiative for all of us, for every child, on every journey.”


Hosting and moderating the event, Kevin Watkins, Executive Director of the Overseas Development Institute, said: “This is one of the great development challenges of our age. On the world’s roads, every single day 500 children lose their lives and many thousands more are left with permanent disabilities. So much of this happens on the journey to school. This journey ought to be the safest journey that any child takes. Yet it’s too often a matter of life and death.”

FIA Foundation Chairman Lord Robertson said: “We are here to ensure that road builders thinking of designing yet another expressway rather than a new cycle-way, think twice; the city planners risking damage to local communities by prioritising trucks over tricycles, think twice; the car makers plotting the next emissions cheat device, think better of it; that all of these decision makers will think of children and then think twice. Our vision is that by 2030 every child should have a safe and healthy journey to and from school. This is ambitious, yes. But it is a vision that will resonate with people around the world. It is a vision that countless communities from New York to New Delhi are already organising and fighting for. Schools are a vital social network. They sit at the heart of every community. And this important journey that our children make every day is the ideal starting point for a transformation of the entire mobility agenda.”


Michael Penrose, Executive Director of UNICEF UK, said: “At UNICEF UK, our priority is action for every child in danger. That’s why we’re so proud to be part of the Global Initiative for Child Health and Mobility. It’s unacceptable that today, and each day, 500 children die in road crashes, and the majority of them in fast developing countries. This initiative will be critical for getting the evidence base to respond to this growing crisis. Unless we tackle this issue, we cannot ensure that children thrive and survive. This issue is fundamental to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and it’s imperative that we tackle it.”

The event also heard from a panel of initiative partners: for the FIA Foundation, its Director, Saul Billingsley; for WRI, Senior Associate Ben Welle; for Save the Children, Seung Lee, Senior Director for School Health and Nutrition; for UNEP, Rob de Jong, Head of the Urban Transport Unit; and for UNICEF Child Protection Specialist Gbemisola Akinboyo and Road Safety Adviser Avi Silverman.

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Zoleka Mandela at the launch of the Global Initiative for Child Health Mobility

Ahead of the launch event Zoleka Mandela visited London schools to discuss road safety with pupils. One of these schools, Coombe Girls, experienced a tragedy in November 2015 when a 14 year old student, Lavna Chuttoo, was killed by a HGV while walking to school. Zoleka Mandela talked with girls at the school about the incident and joined them in a memorial garden to remember their colleague and to call for action for better road safety for all children in the future.

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Read more about the Global Initiative for Child Health and Mobility