The Rights of the Child Commission, when it presented its annual report to the National Assembly, said it’s “distressed” over some of its findings, which include neglect, abuse and incest among migrant children.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, globally, staggering numbers of migrant children are experiencing different types of abuse. Governments around the world have mobilised billions of dollars to save their economies, but, the UN agency responsible for the protection of children’s rights around the world- UNICEF – has warned that there is another impending and devastating loss if we do not act – a lost generation of children.
According to UNICEF, progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals is “slipping backwards”, and children continue to pay the steepest price. The agency warned that without coordinated, global action to prevent, mitigate and respond to the effects of the pandemic, “the consequences for children now, and for the future of our shared humanity, will be severe”.
On this basis, UNICEF has proposed a six-point plan which laid out in detail a set of practical and concrete actions to reunite the world around a common cause, in order to meet the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. The organization has urged decision makers to start by listening to children and young people, and including them in decision-making, since “it is they – especially girls, children facing poverty, exclusion, or violence, those with disabilities, children affected or displaced by humanitarian crisis, and children without parental care – who will live with the impact of this pandemic for decades to come”.
Among the measures in six-point plan is for Governments to take steps to ensure that all children learn, including by closing the digital divide. According to UNICEF, at their peak, nationwide school closures disrupted the learning of 91 per cent of students worldwide. Some 463 million young people were not able to access remote learning during school shutdowns. As if that were not enough, the organization warned that previous shutdowns demonstrate that children who are out of school for extended periods, especially girls, are less likely to return.
Governments are called upon to prioritise the reopening of schools in a safe manner, increase education funding, and ensure equal access to quality, violence-free education, so every child learns. Countries are also urged to guarantee access to health and nutrition services, and make vaccines affordable and available to every child.
Additionally, the UNICEF has called for countries to support and protect the mental health of children and young people, and bring an end to abuse, gender-based violence, and neglect in childhood. According to UNICEF, the world is waking up to the extent – and lasting impacts – of child abuse and neglect. But the COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated violence, exploitation and abuse, as children are cut off from key support services while simultaneously suffering the additional stress placed on families in turmoil.
Countries are also urged to increase access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene, and address environmental degradation and climate change. As correctly pointed out by UNICEF, unreliable access to safe water due to changes in climate limits people’s ability to practise life-saving hygiene measures like handwashing.
The necessary investments are needed in climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in homes, schools, hospitals and public spaces to make communities better prepared for future pandemics and other shocks.
Further, according to UNICEF, the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 threatens to hit children the hardest, with the number of children living below their national poverty lines expected to soar by 140 million by the end of the year. Economic crises are often followed by cuts to Government spending, including on programmes for children. According to UNICEF, if the world repeats this pattern in the wake of COVID-19, poverty and deprivation among children will continue to rise, even after the immediate crisis has waned. An inclusive recovery plan is imperative to prevent countless more children from reaching levels of poverty unseen for many years.”
Countries are also being urged to redouble efforts to protect and support children and their families living through conflict, disaster and displacement. According to UNICEF, even before the pandemic, 2020 was set to see more people than ever in need of humanitarian assistance. COVID-19 has compounded the vulnerabilities of migrant, displaced, and refugee children, as well as those living in crisis-affected countries. And whether the result of active conflict or new pandemic restrictions, it is becoming harder to reach the most vulnerable children with essential and life-saving services.
The call is being made for Governments to increase and maintain funding for emergencies, to prevent multiple, catastrophic and protracted crises, and to save children’s lives, alleviate their suffering and preserve their dignity. It is worthwhile for countries, including Guyana, to seriously consider the six-point plan being proposed by UNICEF, in order to ensure the welfare of children are given priority.