Vision for a post COVID-19 world for children

Young leader's blog for National Children's Day

Paridhi Puri
Children tookover the UNICEF Representative's office.
14 November 2020

It's an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed unbridled chaos and threatened the survival of existing systems that focused on child rights, healthcare, education and well being. Children’s futures are at risk, especially those who belong to marginalized communities in unequal societies. Among the children who make up more than half of the world’s refugees, the shocks perpetuated by COVID-19 are especially frightful. In such a dire state where the uncertainty surrounding our lives is daunting, we must re-imagine our vision for an equal, equitable and discrimination-free world.

On World Children’s Day 2020, it’s a mighty privilege and honour to reminiscence about the time I have spent as a youth leader. My engagements with UNICEF India have always been eye-opening, empowering and enlightening. From being part of a delegation that met and discussed child rights with the First Lady of France, Ms Brigitte Macron on her visit to India, to being a speaker at UNICEF Digital Carnival, to being a Student Representative at World Children's Day - I have been bequeathed with tons of opportunities to represent students who envision a more equal world.

On the occasion of World Children’s Day on 20 November 2017, it was a lifetime opportunity for me to represent the UNICEF India Representative Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, together with Avantika Chodha of the Indian School, as part of the Kids Takeover Initiative by United Nations, as part of making the youth heard in the esteemed offices of position around the globe.  We discussed issues plaguing our nation from the perspective of the youth. Youth engagement in matters of national priorities that are education, safety and healthcare was advocated by me and Avantika during our session with the UNICEF India chiefs. Broad discourses on nutritional deficiencies, education barriers and gender inequalities were voiced and following measures were suggested to overcome these issues through youth participation.

As part of the ongoing discussions, me and Avantika touched upon issues like women health and well-being, and elucidated how gender disparities are reinforced in poverty stricken communities due to social stigmas. The issue of high dropout rates amongst girls after elementary school was also emphasized, because it restricts women from having a proper education, which is fundamental for a holistic life. The efforts of me and Avantika culminated in the promise and hope of implementation of measures suggested by us, envisioning a better future for young girls. Such invigorating talks continued in the Parliamentary Children Committee, where Members of Parliament Mrs. Vandana Chavan, MR. Y.V Subba Reddy and Derek O Brien among others heard to the grievances from girls belonging to Karnataka, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra had.

In a similar vein, I was part of the celebrations at World Children’s Day 2018, where I hosted a panel discussion on Doordarshan, comprising of academicians, student leaders and advocates. The day culminated in a grand opportunity to interview UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador - Mr. Sachin Tendulkar, who spent time with us and discussed child rights and the path for adolescent well being.

UNICEF Representative Ms. Yasmin Ali Haque welcoming the new children's takeover representatives for the first World Children's Day Kids Take Over in 2017.
UNICEF Representative Ms. Yasmin Ali Haque welcoming the new Representatives of the day.

The pandemic has widened the inequalities that had continued to torment our world since ages - combined with an unequal distribution of resources, students now have to deal with digital divide and institutional barriers to education as well as healthcare. Going forward from here, an emphasis on the civic engagement of students, youth and children is crucial to overcome systemic barriers.

The mental health of children has been endangered, with increased instances of the whole spectrum of anxiety disorders, depression and mental health issues - all exacerbated by the sheer pressures of confinement, restrained social interaction, reduced outdoor activities and the helplessness of the pandemic induced world. The importance of streamlining support for children - especially those belonging to poor and marginalised communities, cannot be underscored. The creation of a pilot for school-based mental health justice for vulnerable youth is the need of the hour. The key tenants should focus on improving mental health literacy among stakeholders in the education system and investing in capacity-building that utilizes existing resources and school leadership to ensure sustainability.

The means of digital education is not available to many, which has restricted the spread of online modes of education. It's necessary that alternative methods of teaching, examination and training are incorporated in educational policies worldwide - ones that are inclusive by all means.

Our post-Covid-19 resurgence strategy should resemble a growth curve that ensures sustainable growth of all sectors coupled inclusive dialogue and decision-making. History is being written with significant speed and we are faced with choices and decisions that will define the futures of our planet.

Paridhi Puri is now an economics undergraduate at Jesus and Mary College, University of Delhi. She is a copyeditor at DU Beat, and is passionate about mental health, sustainable development goals and child rights.