Long neglected by the international community, child injury prevention is now becoming recognised as an urgent priority. In its 2011 ‘State of the World’s Children’ report the UN children’s fund, UNICEF, urged that “injury prevention in a child’s second decade of life should become a major international public health objective”. In May 2011 the World Health Assembly endorsed a new child injury prevention resolution, warning that “in the absence of urgent action, this problem will hamper attainment of the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in developing, low- and middle-income countries where there exists a significant burden of child injuries”. As Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF, says: “Road accidents are the biggest killer of young people in the world…it’s a burden on the poorest countries, the poorest families.” WHO’s Director General, Dr Margaret Chan, warns: “We cannot afford to pay the price of road crashes with young lives.”

For the Road Safety Fund, investing in child safety is a priority. The Fund partners with local organisations that have a track record in evidence-based child injury prevention, awareness raising and education.

In Vietnam and Cambodia, for example, the Road Safety Fund is supporting the work of the non-profit Asia Injury Prevention Foundation which promotes motorcycle helmet safety awareness. Its award-winning ‘Helmets for Kids’ program provides helmets to children for whom a motorcycle is the only form of family transport, often working with private sector donors like Johnson & Johnson and UPS who sponsor and brand the helmets. The scheme has distributed more than 500,000 helmets, backed up with training for teachers and parents, classroom road safety education and monitoring to ensure helmets are used.

"Road traffic crashes have a tremendous impact on the health and well-being of children in Vietnam," says Mirjam Sidik, CEO of AIP Foundation. "Through the Helmets for Kids program and training activities for children and parents at the school, we hope to create a safer traffic environment for the children."

In South America, we are working with the Gonzalo Rodriguez Foundation, based in Uruguay, on their ‘Educar’ programme, a holistic campaign to improve the quality of child seats and to encourage use of child restraints and seat belts. The initiative targets lack of awareness of the safety benefits of child restraint systems (around 70% of Uruguayan parents have CRS in their vehicles but don’t use them) and campaigns for improved product quality, legislation and enforcement.

In Ghana, Kenya and Tanzania the Road Safety Fund is enabling the work of Amend, a non-profit which combines school based road safety activism and education and localised road engineering to keep children safe on their school journey. Children are particularly vulnerable as they try to negotiate traffic - Amend’s research in Tanzania has found that more than 90% of the children injured in the capital Dar es Salaam are pedestrians. Amend works with teachers, administrators, and parents at schools where many children have been injured in road traffic to organise an appeal to the relevant government authorities to install speed bumps and provide better police enforcement on roads near the school. It also partners with local road authorities to fund and provide traffic calming, and encourages and assists parents in forming street crossing patrols for their children.

Amend sees helping communities get organised as a key part of creating the long-term cultural changes that will keep children safer on the roads. Musician and activist Moby, a board member of Amend, says: “Traditionally there has been an approach to dealing with public health issues in the developing world that is responding to problems that have already happened, and what’s great about road safety is that it is about preventing problems before they happen. It’s so much easier and so much less expensive”.

The Road Safety Fund is also working with Safe Kids Worldwide to deliver Safe School Zone demonstration projects in more than ten countries, applying a similar methodology of risk assessment, infrastructure improvement and community engagement. And we’re supporting the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Sesame Street in developing innovative teaching materials for children on high risk school routes in Costa Rica.

“Education is a top priority for the international community and, as the UN’s global My World survey for the post-2015 agenda shows, it is the number one priority for the public too”, says Saul Billingsley, Director of the Road Safety Fund. “But just as ‘Education for All’ is seen as a basic human right, so the right of all children to travel to and from school in safety and security must also be recognised. We estimate that more than a million children every year lose their right to an education through death or serious injury in a road crash. Many more have to drop out of school or reduce the time and quality of their education because their family loses a breadwinner through a road traffic injury.”

In a world designed for adults – and road networks that have typically been designed for cars – effective child protection requires some fundamental policy shifts. The work of the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP) in encouraging speed limits safe for the road environment, with an emphasis on slowing traffic around people, is just one example of the philosophical shift towards the ‘Safe System’ approach that the UN Decade of Action’s Global Plan is promoting and the Road Safety Fund is supporting. One practical example: with funding from FedEx we’ve embarked on a research project to introduce iRAP’s ‘star rating’ infrastructure safety assessments to the route to school, beginning with a community in Mexico.

All children deserve an education, and the opportunity it brings. And as Rachel Kyte, Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank, says: “We cannot balance development on the backpacks of small kids just trying to go to school.”