2024 Action Agenda:
Confronting the 10 Challenges Affecting Children Worldwide

January 2024

As we enter a new year, we find ourselves amidst a whirlwind of rapid technological advancements and economic uncertainties. Against the backdrop of dual crises – climate and conflict – the world grapples with a challenging landscape.

Children are often at the forefront of these issues. And while governments strive to keep pace and safeguard their citizens, agile companies are outpacing these efforts. Companies have significant influence and with this comes a profound responsibility to proceed with care and consideration.

At Global Child Forum, we operate at the nexus of children’s rights and business, and the key to our work is understanding the shifting landscape in which we operate. Recently, we identified the key issues shaping our agenda for the upcoming year.

Do you share our perspective? How can your company contribute to addressing these pressing concerns?

10 challenges affecting children worldwide in 2024

1. Eliminating child labour

The resurgence of child labour is an alarming reality in the 21st century and demands unequivocal condemnation. Over a decade ago, strides were made in diminishing this scourge, but we confront a distressing reversal as we step into 2024. Shockingly, child labour is reemerging in countries where it was once considered an issue of the past.

Recent media exposés, such as The New York Times’ revelation of children engaged in perilous roofing work, reveal the gravity of the situation. Disturbingly, ten states in the US have recently rolled back child labour laws, posing a grave threat to the well-being of our youth. And global corporations, like Tesla, stand accused of links to child labour through their supply chains.

Regardless of where it occurs, all parts of society must double down on doing their due diligence and ensuring their practices are in accordance with employment laws. Children deserve to have a good start to life.

Does your company need support with preventing and dealing with child labour in its operations? Read our Child Labour Policy Guide.

2. Impact of AI on children’s rights

The unrestrained proliferation of ever-more potent, versatile AI technologies is poised to profoundly transform economies and societies in the next decade, yielding positive and negative consequences. While offering notable gains in productivity and revolutionary advancements in fields ranging from healthcare and education to climate change, advanced AI also presents significant societal risks – especially to children.

One primary concern revolves around the potential harms stemming from the lack of unbiased input when dealing with children, underscoring the critical importance of implementing safety and security by design to safeguard their well-being, a necessity even more pronounced than in the case of adults. Another concern is the potential for increased exposure to inappropriate or harmful content online, as AI algorithms may not always effectively filter out age-inappropriate material.

Additionally, there is a risk of privacy infringement, as AI systems gather vast amounts of data, including sensitive information about children. The development of AI-driven toys and devices also raises concerns about cybersecurity vulnerabilities, potentially exposing children to unauthorised access or data breaches. Moreover, using AI in educational settings may lead to issues such as algorithmic biases affecting students’ learning experiences and exacerbating educational inequalities.

As AI technologies continue to evolve, it is essential to carefully address and mitigate these risks to ensure the well-being and safety of children in the digital age.

3. Climate change & children’s rights

With 2023 registered as the warmest year on the planet, the impact of climate change is accelerating and poses a direct threat to the well-being of children, affecting their health, safety and overall development.

According to a recent paper by the International Labour Organization (ILO), climate change is multiplying the incidence of child labour, particularly in agriculture, where 70% of all child labour is found. Mitigating climate change, adapting to its effects, and advocating for the rights of children in the context of environmental issues is a must. This involves companies getting on board, addressing immediate environmental hazards and ensuring a sustainable future for next generations. 

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10 challenges affecting children worldwide in 2024

4. Children in conflict areas

With the rise of geopolitical conflicts, companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, and it is even more important to ensure the well-being of children in conflict zones.

Due diligence on supply chains is particularly important in conflict-affected areas where exploitation of vulnerable populations is more likely. Companies can also provide training and resources to help improve educational opportunities for children and youth in these areas. Security measures must also be implemented to ensure the safety of employees and local communities, particularly children. This includes measures to prevent the use of company facilities or resources by armed groups, and to protect against any potential harm to children.

5. Children’s mental health challenges

Unlike ever before, children’s and teenagers’ mental health is facing unprecedented challenges. The pervasive influence of social media and the compounded stresses arising from climate change, conflict, and economic uncertainties have placed an immense strain on the well-being of our younger generation.

In this era of constant connectivity and global challenges, children are navigating a complex landscape that can impact their mental health at alarming rates. The need for comprehensive and compassionate support systems has never been more critical to address the unique and multifaceted challenges that children today are grappling with on a daily basis. It is imperative that we recognise and respond to this alarming increase in child mental health issues with urgency and empathy, to ensure a brighter and healthier future for our youth.

The corporate sector has a responsibility not to exacerbate these issues and must examine their role in contributing to, for example, greenhouse gas emissions, aggressive marketing tactics, or providing “unsafe” services to youth.

6. Education for all

In 2024, ensuring quality education remains a fundamental right for every child. It is vital to bridge the digital divide and dismantle barriers that hinder access to education, particularly in socio-economically disadvantaged communities.

Emphasising equitable access to educational resources, adapting pedagogical approaches, and cultivating a supportive learning environment will further enhance the pursuit of quality education in 2024. Embracing technology responsibly and integrating it seamlessly into the educational landscape can serve as a catalyst for innovation, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to thrive academically and emotionally.

7. Child nutrition & health

Child nutrition and health pose urgent global challenges, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas where insufficient access to nutritious food contributes to malnutrition, stunting, and associated health issues.

Highly processed and unhealthy food and drink options exacerbate the problem, leading to an uptick in childhood obesity and related health risks. Inadequate healthcare infrastructure and limited access impede timely diagnosis and treatment. Socioeconomic disparities further deepen inequalities in nutritional and health outcomes, perpetuating a concerning cycle.

Comprehensive strategies, spanning education, healthcare, socio-economic initiatives, and responsible marketing practices, are imperative to ensure universal access to nutritious food, proper healthcare, and essential support systems for optimal growth and development.

8. ESG investment framework under threat

Over the past year in the United States, certain conservative politicians and pundits have persistently criticised environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment frameworks. Their focus has been on challenging asset-management firms that provide ESG options, essentially dismissing any acknowledgment of companies’ environmental or social impact as a form of perceived “woke capitalism.”

Rather than dismiss ESG investment strategies, we must ensure the seamless integration of children’s rights considerations and lay the foundation for responsible and ethical business practices. By weaving children’s rights into ESG frameworks, investors have the power to call on companies to prioritise the well-being of children in their operations and supply chains, leaving a lasting impact on future generations.

9. Ensuring youth voices are heard

The rise of youth empowerment signals a transformative shift in societal dynamics, with youth increasingly asserting their voices and actively engaging in shaping the world around them. Recognising the unique perspectives, innovative ideas, and fervent energy that young people bring to the table, there is a growing imperative for the corporate sector to hear their voices.

We see that this is being formalised – for example, in the Corporate Sustainable Reporting Directive (CSRD) on stakeholder engagement – but today, children and teenagers are largely overlooked by companies that don’t consider them as stakeholders. As the guardians of the future, youth possess valuable insights into evolving societal needs, technological trends, and ethical considerations. Companies that prioritise listening to and incorporating the perspectives of young voices foster a more inclusive and diverse corporate culture, and gain a competitive edge in adapting to the rapidly changing landscape.

Empowering youth in decision-making ensures that the corporate sector aligns with the values and aspirations of the next generation, fostering a collaborative approach that resonates with current and future stakeholders.

10. A final word of hope

Despite the challenging state of the world, there is reason for hope that children will flourish. History has shown humanitys capacity for resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity. With advancements in technology and new legislation on due diligence in relation to social impacts, there are unprecedented opportunities for global collaboration, education, and innovative solutions. Moreover, the growing awareness of social and environmental issues has sparked a collective commitment to positive change.

As societies increasingly prioritise inclusivity, education, and mental health, there is also a heightened awareness among society – and the corporate sector – to provide children with the tools and support they need to navigate and contribute to a better world. The innate resilience, creativity, and boundless potential inherent in every child, coupled with the global commitment to sustainable progress, offer a hopeful outlook for the future, providing the foundation for children not only to survive but to truly flourish.

Would you like to discuss any of the important topics raised in this article? Contact our team.

Sector deep-dive

Go further

Some of the critical children’s rights challenges outlined above can be addressed by companies within the Technology & Telecommunications and Food, Beverage & Personal Care sectors.

But how did these sectors perform in our latest global benchmark? Take a look at their scorecards!