After COVID-19, a future for the world's children?
by WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commissioners
In February, 2020, the WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission's report 'A Future for the World's Children' examined threats facing children—from climate change and related crises of poverty, migration, and malnutrition; commercial marketing of harmful substances; and across all sectors, from unsafe roads and hazardous housing to inadequate education and social protection.
The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating many of these threats, jeopardising child welfare gains, and causing a global economic crisis in which children will be prime casualties.
Yet recovery and adaptation to COVID-19 can be used to build a better world for children and future generations.
Children are less affected clinically by COVID-19 than adults. Nonetheless, children are impacted by the pandemic's indirect effects, not least from separation or loss in their own families. Projections suggest that over a million preventable child deaths might occur due to decreased access to food and disruption of essential health services.
Children risk missing out on growth monitoring, preventive care, and timely management of acute disease and injuries. Some children are experiencing reduced access to social service referrals while suffering from increased rates of domestic violence.
Even as the COVID-19 response creates short-term benefits such as reductions in air pollution and road traffic injuries, the impacts of the pandemic led the World Food Programme to warn of a coming “hunger pandemic”, and tens of millions of children worldwide could face extreme poverty.
Malnutrition and poverty in pregnancy and early childhood can negatively influence children's physical health and cognitive trajectories throughout the life course.
COVID-19 has also prevented continuous education for over 1·5 billion children and young people.
School closures worsen the learning gap since children from wealthier families continue schooling with digital tools, whereas poorer children fall further behind, in all countries.
In some settings, girls might be less likely to resume schooling due to increased rates of early pregnancy, as occurred in Sierra Leone after the outbreak of Ebola virus disease.
Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of children who rely on school meals globally are deprived.
In this pandemic children constantly hear about disease and death, which prompted Norway's Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, to say, “It's OK to be scared” in a children-only press conference.
Many children have been or continue to be unable to play or socialise outside the home. Adolescents especially can suffer when deprived of social stimuli, since peer interaction is key to their development.
Many children and adolescents are spending more time online, allowing social interaction for some but also increasing the risk of exploitation, bullying, and intensified commercial marketing. The most vulnerable children are those who have been separated from caregivers; in past health-related disasters up to 30% of such children met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Parents may also struggle to provide the responsive parenting needed to help children thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Children's futures are at risk, especially those who are poor, female, disabled, Indigenous, from racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities, or are otherwise vulnerable in unequal societies. Among the children who make up more than half of the world's refugees, the shocks engendered by COVID-19 are especially dire.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child warned that COVID-19 poses grave threats to children's rights, and the pandemic has been used as a pretext to circumvent laws and treaties designed to protect children—eg, the US order in March, 2020, that allows expulsion of unaccompanied children who are “from a country where a communicable disease exists”.
Our Commission showed that what is good for children is good for societies: investment in children's wellbeing provides benefits that are immediate, long term, and intergenerational.
While the pandemic will strain public finances, there must be no return to the austerity policies that followed the 2008 financial crash, which escalated health and social crises in Europe and elsewhere. So far, countries' responses have focused on short-term business relief and social protection and not on the long-term recovery needed to create healthier and more equal societies.
Country leaders should put child health and wellbeing at the centre of recovery plans, include experts in children's issues in the relevant task forces and legislative working groups, engage their ministries to work together for children, and ask children and adolescents what changes they would like to see.
Action for children also means action on the climate emergency. Enforced global shutdowns are projected to decrease carbon emissions by only 5·5% this year, at great cost to human life, showing how deeply humanity's relationship with the environment must change. Removal of fossil fuel subsidies, new taxes on carbon, and stimulus money can fund a child-centred recovery, transforming health systems and societies for the better.
The pandemic's effects have underscored the necessity for coordination across sectors and with communities. The breadth and speed of implementation of multisectoral social protection measures prompted by COVID-19 show what is possible—as do the communities mobilising to care for each other. Local governments are well placed to implement a child-centred agenda, with mayors of dozens of major cities warning there can be no return to ”business as usual”.
Putting children at the centre implies radical change: redesigning neighbourhoods to give children spaces to play, valuing care work and ensuring families have time and resources to raise children, ensuring sustainable food systems to nourish growing bodies, and passing on a healthy planet for children to inherit.
Finally, COVID-19 underlines the need for greater international solidarity. World leaders, experts, elders, and ordinary people are calling for a “people's vaccine” for COVID-19 that is free and available to all, and for debt forgiveness to allow countries to improve citizens' lives today and in the future. Our Commission report called for a global movement, bringing together governments, civil society, communities, and children to put action for children at the centre of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The policy choices being made today will shape our societies' wellbeing for years to come. As the world responds to COVID-19, we propose one overarching question to guide countries' efforts: are we making the world better for children?
25 June 2020
Child Rights Connect - General Assembly 2020, speech by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:
'The COVID-19 pandemic has devastating short-, medium- and long-term consequences for children and their rights. It threatens to set back the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals, which go to the heart of children’s rights, their well-being and their development.
UNICEF has reported that unless there is urgent action to protect families from the economic impacts of the pandemic, the number of children living below national poverty lines in low- and middle-income countries could increase by 15 per cent in 2020, reaching 672 million.
The World Food Programme estimates that the number of young children suffering acute malnutrition could increase by 10 million this year –a 20 per cent increase in global rates.
The pandemic has also disrupted the right to education. Last month, around 1.6 billion children were reportedly unable to physically attend schools. Many States have instituted a shift to online distance learning – but with almost one-third of the world's young people unable to access the Internet, this heightens the risk of many children falling behind.
The closure of schools, together with the broader socio-economic impact of the epidemic, also increases children's exposure to the threat of domestic violence, child labour, child marriage, and female genital mutilation.
COVID-19 also poses a significant threat to children’s rights to survival and development, and to the highest attainable standard of health. Access to key services have been disrupted, including health-care and vaccinations, as well as key services for children with disabilities.
The effects of the pandemic on early childhood development also place very young children at risk of devastating physical, socioemotional, and cognitive consequences over their lifetimes.
Child deaths could also increase due to financial hardship and the global economic downturn resulting from the pandemic. There are also some children who lack regular access to nutritious food during lockdown or because of financial hardship related to COVID-19. For example, 368.5 million children in 143 countries normally rely on school meals for daily nutritious meals.
Children in communities that are especially vulnerable to the pandemic have already been badly impacted. They include members of indigenous peoples and marginalised racial or religious minorities; migrants; people in conflict zones; and people in poverty, who may be living in sub-standard and over-crowded housing conditions.
This very grim picture – which I have only sketched out – clearly demonstrates how COVID intersects with social and economic inequalities, and discrimination, to create grave impacts on children today. It will also affect their future.
In an extensive ILO survey, around half of young students report a likely delay in the completion of their current studies, while 10 per cent expect to be unable to complete them at all – and on a standardized scale of mental well-being, more than half have become vulnerable to anxiety or depression since the start of the pandemic.
The case for rebuilding much more resilient societies could not be more clear. States need to take immediate action to better protect children now, and in the coming months and years. We need to build back better, in order to be better prepared for future crises.
Last month's appeal by the Secretary-General on protecting the rights of children during and after COVID-19, called for the expansion of social protection programmes to reach the most vulnerable children, and efforts to ensure continuity and equitable access to child-centred services, from schooling, nutrition programmes, immunization and other maternal and newborn care to community-based child protection programmes. It encouraged practical support to parents and caregivers, including communicating with children, managing the mental health of all family members, and tools to help support learning.
My Office is working with other UN partners to advance a child rights-based and multi-sectoral response to the pandemic, both by the UN and by Member States. We need to see more disaggregated and transparent information, and greater solidarity – with strengthened support to developing countries, in particular to social and child protection systems.
We need to promote social policies that do a better job of reducing inequalities, and assist authorities to develop planning for better social and child protection services in the future.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has also issued an important statement on the impact of COVID-19 on children, calling on States to protect the rights of children by prioritizing child protection, health care, water, sanitation and birth registration services; releasing children from all forms of detention, whenever possible.
The pandemic and accompanying recession have an impact on the availability of resources. But we cannot afford to de-prioritise children's rights. In all decisions concerning children, the focus must remain the best interests of the child.
Health-care for children; their education; and advancing their economic and social rights are essential in themselves – but they are also drivers for more sustainable, more successful societies.
States' responses to COVID-19 need to adopt an effective, child rights-based approach that emphasises those in most vulnerable situations, while advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Civil society has a key role to play here. We need the full engagement of civil society to identify gaps in child protection; to advocate better solutions on the ground; and to help support children and protect and promote their rights.
We also need to listen to children. They should be informed, in "child-friendly" language; and they should be involved in discussions concerning policies regarding COVID-19. Child participation is also a critical element of building back better. This means consulting children, listening to them, and incorporating their views into responses. Civil society has a crucial role to play in supporting children through these processes.
It is also important that the lessons learned on protecting children’s rights in this pandemic are applied to other crises, including the climate crisis. This is a topic which is of critical concern to children and young people, and an area in which child and youth advocates have lead the way in recent years'.
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COVID-19 crisis threatens democracy
by International IDEA
International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance
25 June 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic threatens more than the lives and the livelihoods of people throughout the world. It is also a political crisis that threatens the future of liberal democracy.
Authoritarian regimes, not surprisingly, are using the crisis to silence critics and tighten their political grip. But even some democratically elected governments are fighting the pandemic by amassing emergency powers that restrict human rights and enhance state surveillance without regard to legal constraints, parliamentary oversight, or timeframes for the restoration of constitutional order.
Parliaments are being sidelined, journalists are being arrested and harassed, minorities are being scapegoated, and the most vulnerable sectors of the population face alarming new dangers as the economic lockdowns ravage the very fabric of societies everywhere.
Repression will not help to control the pandemic. Silencing free speech, jailing peaceful dissenters, suppressing legislative oversight, and indefinitely canceling elections all do nothing to protect public health.
On the contrary, these assaults on freedom, transparency, and democracy will make it more difficult for societies to respond quickly and effectively to the crisis through both government and civic action.
It is not a coincidence that the current pandemic began in a country where the free flow of information is stifled and where the government punished those warning about the dangers of the virus—warnings that were seen as spreading rumors harmful to the prestige of the state. When voices of responsible citizens are suppressed, the results can be deadly, not for just one country but for the entire world.
Democracy is not just a cherished ideal. It is the system of government best suited to addressing a crisis of the magnitude and complexity of COVID-19. In contrast to the self-serving claims of authoritarian propaganda, credible and free flows of information, fact-based debate about policy options, the voluntary self-organization of civil society, and open engagement between government and society are all vital assets in combating the pandemic. And they are all key elements of liberal democracy.
It is only through democracy that societies can build the social trust that enables them to persevere in a crisis, maintain national resilience in the face of hardship, heal deep societal divisions through inclusive participation and dialogue, and retain confidence that sacrifice will be shared and the rights of all citizens respected.
It is only through democracy that independent civil society, including women and young people, can be empowered to partner with public institutions, to assist in the delivery of services, to help citizens stay informed and engaged, and to bolster social morale and a sense of common purpose.
It is only though democracy that free media can play their role of informing people so that they can make sound personal and family decisions, scrutinize government and public institutions, and counter disinformation that seeks to tear societies apart.
It is only through democracy that society can strike a sustainable balance between competing needs and priorities – between combatting the spread of the virus and protecting economic security; and between implementing an effective response to the crisis and protecting people’s civil and political rights in accordance with constitutional norms and guarantees.
It is only in democracies that the rule of law can protect individual liberties from state intrusion and constraint well beyond what is necessary to contain a pandemic.
It is only in democracies that systems of public accountability can monitor and circumscribe emergency government powers, and terminate them when they are no longer needed. It is only in democracies that government data on the scope and health-impact of the pandemic can be believed.
Democracy does not guarantee competent leadership and effective governance. While democracies predominate among the countries that have acted most effectively to contain the virus, other democracies have functioned poorly in responding to the pandemic and have paid a very high price in human life and economic security. Democracies that perform poorly further weaken society and create openings for authoritarians.
But the greatest strength of democracy is its capacity for self-correction. The COVID-19 crisis is an alarming wake-up call, an urgent warning that the freedoms we cherish are at risk and that we must not take them for granted. Through democracy, citizens and their elected leaders can learn and grow. Never has it been more important for them to do that.
The current pandemic represents a formidable global challenge to democracy. Authoritarians around the world see the COVID-19 crisis as a new political battleground in their fight to stigmatize democracy as feeble and reverse its dramatic gains of the past few decades.
Democracy is under threat, and people who care about it must summon the will, the discipline, and the solidarity to defend it. At stake are the freedom, health, and dignity of people everywhere.
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