In just a few months, this pandemic has turned the lives of children all around the world upside down: their protection against the disease and its consequences is now causing great concern within the United Nations (UN).
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has issued a warning about the dangers faced by minors, who it considers “the hidden victims” of the outbreak.
As Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore noted, due to the danger of the spread of the new coronavirus, schools have closed in at least 120 countries and more than half of the world’s students are away from their classrooms. Moreover, many of the children’s parents and caregivers have lost their jobs and livelihoods. Fore stated: “We’re worried about their lack of access to water and hygiene services”.
And she added: “As you know, washing hands with soap is critical in the fight against COVID-19. And yet, 40 per cent of the world’s population – or 3 billion people – do not have a handwashing facility with water and soap at home.”
School closures not only limit access to learning, but also to school nutrition, health programmes, drinking water and accurate information.
“We know from experience that for vulnerable children, the longer they stay away from school the less likely they are to return,” she said.
Unicef is working with education ministries from around the world to identify alternative opportunities for learning, whether online or through radio and television programmes.
According to Unicef, in Latin America and the Caribbean, more than 154 million boys and girls are temporarily out of school due to the pandemic. Therefore, the organisation is promoting a regional campaign through its digital channels to provide families and educators across the region with free educational tools and entertainment, as well as advice and examples of good health and hygiene practices.
Unicef has allocated additional resources to speed up the work with governments and international partners in more than 145 low- and middle-income countries.
Unesco has already announced the launch of a Global Education Coalition, an initiative aimed at dealing with the severe impact on the sector of the coronavirus SARS-Cov-2 pandemic.
The other risks
The closure of school canteens due to the Covid-19 pandemic also poses a challenge for governments in Latin America and the Caribbean, with millions of children depending on the food distributed there, as is explained in reports by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).
These reports detail how school nutrition programmes currently benefit 85 million girls and boys in this region.
For almost 10 million of these minors, school canteens are one of main sources of safe food they receive a day.
In light of this situation, the FAO recommends distributing food and money to the most vulnerable families in Latin America and the Caribbean, in addition to tax exemption on essential foods for families with school-aged children.
On the other hand, for millions of children who are displaced or live in conflict situations, the consequences of this pandemic will be unlike any we have ever seen, Unicef’s Executive Director has said.
Together with their families, she observed, these children live in overcrowded conditions, often in active war zones, with limited or non-existent access to health care.
“A family of six, eight, ten or 12 can be living in one room. Self-isolation and handwashing with soap will not be easy in such environments.”
Moreover, experience from previous health emergencies shows that children are at heightened risk of exploitation, violence and abuse when schools are closed, jobs are lost, and movement is restricted. Indeed, one of Unicef’s main concerns is children and adolescents’ access to basic health services, including immunisation and treatment for childhood illnesses.
It is also important to keep on top of children’s mental health: the current global situation in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic increases anxiety and can cause changes in children’s behaviour. (PL)
(Translated by Rebecca Ndhlovu – Email: email@example.com) – Photos: Pixabay