Children are not the face of the corona virus pandemic but they risk being among its biggest victims. While we have to be thankful that our children have been mostly spared from the direct health effects of coronavirus – at least to date – this crisis is having a deep effect on their welfare. All children, of all ages, and in all barangays, municipalities, cities, provinces and regions in the entire country are being affected, in particular by the socio-economic effects and, in some cases, by mitigation measures that may inadvertently do more harm than good. This widespread pandemic for a lot of children, the impact will be lifelong because it can disrupt the environments in which they grow and develop. Disruptions to families, friendships and daily routines.
The COVID-19 can quickly change the scenery in which children live. Quarantine measures such as school closures and restrictions on movements disrupted children’s routine and social support. Children and families who are already vulnerable due to socio-economic exclusion or those who live in overcrowded settings are particularly at risk. Moreover, the harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally. It is expected to be most damaging for children in the poorest localities and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations.
According to the study of the United Nations, there are three main channels through which children are affected by this crisis: infection with the virus itself; the immediate socioeconomic impacts of measures to stop transmission of the virus and end the pandemic; and the potential longer-term effects of delayed implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
To understand impact on the world’s children, it is helpful to distinguish three channels through which their lives are being affected. The first channel is through infection with the virus. Thankfully, children have been largely spared from the severe symptomatic reactions more common among older people—at least to date. Numerous cases of hospitalizations and deaths of children who have succumbed to the virus
have been recorded, but these are exceptions and are likely related to prior conditions. Much more common has been for children to tragically lose a parent, family member, or caregiver to COVID-19. The psychosocial impacts of such loss on children should not be overlooked.
The second channel is through the socioeconomic effects of the virus and related measures to suppress transmission and control the pandemic. As health services become overwhelmed in caring for large numbers of infected patients requiring treatment, children and pregnant women are less able to access standard care. Children of frontline workers have also had to adapt to alternative childcare arrangements. Children living in areas of armed conflict, who already struggle extensively to access health services may be further excluded from attention and access to the severely stretched health systems. Physical distancing and lockdown measures, restrictions of movement and border closures, and surveillance strategies are all affecting children in myriad ways. Face-to-face child services – schooling, nutrition programs, maternal and newborn care, immunization services, sexual and reproductive health services, HIV treatment, alternative care facilities, community-based child protection programs, and case management for children requiring supplementary personalized care, including those living with disabilities, and abuse victims – have often been partially or completely suspended. The impact of the pandemic extends far beyond the sphere of physical health. The pandemic is having profound effects on children’s mental well-being, their social development, their safety, their privacy, their economic security, and beyond, as we explore in the following section. Children living in refugee settlements and those living in refugee settlements or other crowded conditions are especially vulnerable. While children are not the face of this pandemic, its broader impacts on children risk being catastrophic and amongst the most lasting consequences for societies as a whole.
The third channel is the risk that the virus and its response poses to the longer-term efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and ensure the realization of the rights of all children. Before this crisis, we lived in a world that failed to care adequately for children; where a child under age 15 dies every five seconds; where one in every five children is malnourished (stunted); over half (53%) of 10-year old children in low- and middle-income countries (as high as four in five children in poor countries) can’t read and understand simple stories; and one child in four under the age of 5 does not have their birth registered. The longer the current crisis, the more dramatic the impacts on these children, as economies struggle and government spending is restricted; and the more likely the increase in their numbers.
In active conflict situations, the pandemic or pandemic response may increase the push and pull factors for child recruitment, as well as sexual exploitation and abduction. What started as a public health emergency has snowballed into a formidable test for global development and for the prospects of today’s young generation.
This is an unprecedented crisis and it presents unprecedented risks to the rights and safety and development of the world’s children. Those risks can only be mitigated through unprecedented international solidarity for children and humanity. We have to work together to make progress on these three fronts—information, solidarity and action. We have a chance to not only defeat this pandemic, but to transform the way we nurture and invest in the young generation. But we have to act now, we have to act decisively, and at very large scale. This is not a gradual issue, it is a clarion call for the world’s children, the world’s future.
END/Patrick T Rillorta