Recover. Rebound. Reimagine.
A stronger future for every child.
The world as we know it has changed.
Not for generations have we seen so many people impacted at the same time by the same thing: COVID-19.
Although COVID-19 unleashed itself at alarming speed around the world, it has not – and it will not – impact everyone equally. Already, we’ve witnessed the countless ways this insidious virus has laid bare the inequalities and insecurities among the most vulnerable in society. Unless urgent action is taken, it will be the oldest, the poorest, and the youngest who will bear the brunt of what is set to be a devastating COVID-19 recession.
We cannot let that happen. We will not let that happen.
As outlined in the UN Secretary General’s recent report, there are three main ways in which children are affected by this crisis.
- In the short-term, by direct infection with the virus itself – the recovery phase;
- In the mid-term, by the immediate socio-economic impacts of measures to stop transmission of the virus and end the pandemic, such as over-stretched health systems and closure of schools – the rebound phase;
- And in the long-term, by potential loss of critical development gains made to date and subsequent delays in reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 – the reimagine phase.
The Secretary General noted, that while “Children are not the face of this pandemic…they risk being among its biggest victims” – a sentiment also of concern to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. It has called for children’s rights to be at the heart of COVID-19 response measures.
With child rights similarly guiding our work, UNICEF East Asia Pacific’s blueprint for action will address these three critical areas with dedicated programmatic responses.
Most urgently, we must keep all children physically safe and mentally well, including the most disadvantaged – those living with disabilities, migrant children, and children of ethnic minorities. Practically, this means supporting those children whose underlying health issues make them vulnerable to the virus. Programmes, such as WASH -- water, sanitation and hygiene -- that prioritize handwashing are critical. It also means responding to their needs, including psychosocial care, if children have lost family members to the virus or otherwise have been impacted by the virus.
Knowing that health systems are currently stretched to capacity, we must find innovative ways to ‘make space’ for children’s health and wellbeing because many vital face-to-face services, such as immunization and nutrition programmes, are partially or fully suspended. While most schools remain shut, many children and adolescents struggle to learn at home – and some may never return to school. For children who don’t have access to online learning tools, the digital divide is widening, exacerbating inequalities. Ironically, those who can access digital learning and entertainment channels, are at heightened risk from online abuse and exploitation. This crisis will hit those who have the least, the hardest. Our rebound will focus on protecting the most vulnerable children, and keep children resilient.
For me this is where the biggest challenge – and the biggest opportunity – is. Without additional investment in children, we risk losing the hard-won development gains of recent years that have seen ever more children survive and thrive. Without that investment, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, and all their promise, will fade in front of us. That would be a tragedy for hundreds of millions of children. But the Sustainable Development Goals are more than a children’s agenda; they are our global agenda for our shared future.
Today’s children are the drivers of tomorrow’s economy. Currently, around 300 million children across East Asia and Pacific are out of school, living in full or partial lockdown. These boys and girls are the future engineers, farmers, entrepreneurs, scientists, factory workers, CEOs, doctors, nurses and teachers. The consumers. The people on whom we will rely in the next pandemic.
So, at this critical juncture, as governments reevaluate funding priorities and reallocate resources, UNICEF is urging decision-makers to think afresh and reimagine financing children’s development in bold, new ways.
In the coming weeks, as I and my UNICEF colleagues across the region, shape this blueprint for action, we’ll be reaching out to our partners. This is an opportunity for us all – governments, business, young people, civil society, UN agencies – to come together, like never before, to transform the way we nurture and invest in our youngest and most precious citizens.
Please join us. Let’s unite in our efforts to recover, rebound, and reimagine a stronger future for every child.
By Karin Hulshof, Regional Director, UNICEF East Asia & Pacific