The health crisis must not turn into child rights crisis

Op. Ed. By dr. Rownak Khan, UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina Representative

Rownak Khan
Dr. Rownak Khan: Postoje dobre politike za zaštitu djece, problem je implementacija
18 November 2020

The World Summit for Children in 1990, brought global leaders together to pledge for a better future for children. The commitments of the leaders resulted in saving millions of children’s lives around the globe due to vaccination programme, simple solutions such as oral rehydration therapy for diarrhoea, provision of clean water and breastfeeding. Similarly, millions more children, especially girls, have attended and completed schools in this period. In 2020, thirty years after the summit, a crisis is looming on the horizon that may set back all the progress achieved for children so far.

Globally, the COVID 19 pandemic is claiming lives and livelihoods as health systems are facing the greatest challenges, education is disrupted, and families struggle to cope with it. 

A recent analysis shows that the number of children living in multidimensional poverty has soared to approximately 1.2 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic; this is a 15 per cent increase in the number of children living in deprivation in low- and middle-income countries. Additionally, data shows that the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 will be felt hardest by the most marginalized children.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, we have witnessed a heavy impact of the pandemic on children, their education, safety, their well-being including mental health, all of which are likely to affect their future and consequently human capital in this country.  

As the situation continues to unfold that disrupts essential preventive and curative health services, including immunization services for children, this could also provoke outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.  Children could lose their lives due to other curable illnesses as the health system is over-stretched and we must prevent this to happen.

In tandem, we must do more to ensure that all children have equal access to quality learning. Governments must prioritize to keep schools open and safe for students, teachers and parents.  This needs to go hand in hand with improving online learning options ensuring equal opportunities for marginalized children.

As parents worldwide struggle to maintain their livelihoods, governments must scale up social protection measures through programmes and policies that provide life-saving cash benefits, health care, nutrition and education for families.

UNICEF calls for immediate joint action of all authorities, political parties, non-government organisations, service providers, media, the international community, private sector and citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina to prevent this crisis from becoming the crisis of child rights. Governments must prioritize health, education, violence prevention and response services for children. We must also support children who may be temporarily separated from their parents due to illness and at the same time, refugee and migrants’ children must not be forgotten during the COVID-19 response.

As for UNICEF, we are working with communities, governments and partners to curb the spread of COVID-19 and minimize its social and economic impacts on children and their families and we call on our partners to join our cause. Let’s continue building a better, safer, healthier and more peaceful environment and re-imagine the future of every child.