COVID19 - Global solidarity is key to protect children during and after the crisis, as we are all in this together, ensuring no child is left behind
Is it tomorrow or today? As time advances in the COVID19 crisis, so does confusion, anxiety and frustration for millions of children who are forced to suffer in silence. The Great Lockdown, as it was called recently, will be for many of them the darkest period of their young lives.
The SGs appeal in his Policy Brief on The impact of COVID19 on children is clear: children’s protection from violence must be a priority: “With the pandemic placing so many of the world’s children in jeopardy, I reiterate my urgent appeal: let us protect our children and safeguard their well-being”.
Protecting children from violence
Confinement measures and the disrupted provision of already limited child protection services exacerbate the vulnerability of children to various forms of violence, including violence and abuse within their circle of trust, physical, emotional and psychological violence, mistreatment and neglect, gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, as well as different forms of violence from outsiders, not least through on-line violence and abuse.
Domestic violence is exponentially on the rise for children who stay home. The added stress and anxiety parents and caregivers are feeling, including job loss, isolation, excessive confinement, and anxieties over health and finances – are a serious driver of violence in the home, including between partners and by caregivers against children.
With child-helplines reducing staff and limiting child protection services due to imposition of curfew and reduction of costs, the increase in incidents of domestic violence against children goes either unnoticed or underreported.
According to recent reports violence is also affecting those who violate imposed curfews or movement restrictions who have suffered physical and humiliating punishment imposed by authorities.
If children spend more time online, so do predators. The COVID-19 crisis heightens the risk of online child sexual exploitation. Europol found that law enforcement partners are reporting “increased online activity by those seeking child abuse material,” due to increasing opportunities for offenders to engage with children whom they expect to be more vulnerable due to isolation, less supervision and greater online exposure.
And as the SG reminded in his global appeal, we must join forces to find adequate responses and “social media companies have a special responsibility to protect the vulnerable.”
Leaving no child behind – special attention to the most vulnerable
UN SG on The impact of COVOD19 on Children
The most vulnerable children – including those living in poverty, street connected and homeless children, refugees, migrants, internally displaced children, children deprived of family care and those deprived of liberty, children living in conflict affected areas and in countries with weak legal, educational, health and protection systems are all at greater risk of becoming victims of abuse and violence.
Growing economic vulnerability for children experiencing extreme poverty further exposes them to more abuse, forced child labour, child marriage and child trafficking.
There is a need to protect children whose vulnerability is further increased by the exceptional circumstances caused by the pandemic
Addressing mental health issues
With 60% of all children worldwide living in countries where a full or partial lockdown is in place the worldwide closure of schools has no historical precedent. 188 countries have imposed countrywide closures, affecting more than 1.5 billion children and youth. For these students days turn into weeks, weeks are turning into months of isolation, of increased anxiety and stress.
With no foreseen end or escape from this new reality, millions of children are unprotected from their extended safety nets. These include friends, teachers, neighbors, extended family, psychologists, physicians and social workers. With no one to talk or turn to, these children can feel trapped, afraid, abandoned and depressed. Most of them will likely not get infected by the coronavirus, but live day by day in an environment that makes them feel, afraid powerless and insecure, with severe effects on their mental health, which can remain with them for many years to come.
Children leading the way out – Informing, listening, empowering children
On other hand children are, as they often like to be, innovative. Surprising the world with new ideas and forging ways out of this crisis. Children groups are using digital technology to support each other, exchange information, and share information. From South America to Asia children are meeting online, exchanging views and identifying gaps in government responses - in South Asia, some children have produced videos with advice on Covid-19 measures.
We are all in this together. Children included. Therefore there is a need to involve children in the solution, through consultation, dialogue, dissemination of child-friendly and accessible information about COVID-19 as well as resources to help them cope with their current situation. We need to work in developing opportunities for children’s views to be heard and to be taken into account as part of a unified response. Without them we cannot make it!
A global health and economic crisis calls for a global response. Solidarity and multilateralism are needed now more than ever.
The current situation will have serious implications on all layers of the protective environment around children and will undermine any progress towards the Agenda 2030 Goals, including SDG 16.
The global economic crisis caused by COVID-19 will have an unprecedent impact on the fiscal position of all governments, with a high risk of decreasing budget for the most vulnerable, including children, coupled with a decrease of bilateral and multilateral development aid, will pose a real struggle to keep up with their journey to achieving the Sustainable Development Agenda.
This calls for a strong mobilization of governments, bilateral/multilateral donors, civil society and private sector to ensure children are duly protected and will have the possibility to thrive and reach their full potential, when this crisis will be over.
Solidarity is key – solidarity at global, regional and national levels, solidarity with children, and solidarity among children, as we are all in this together, ensuring no child is left behind.
Najat Maalla M'jid
Policy brief: The impact of COVID19 on children