UN calls for greater protection for children affected by the COVID-19 crisis in Kazakhstan

22 April 2020
Covid_impact
UNICEF

Nur-Sultan – According to a new UN report, the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, together with measures to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus, could potentially be catastrophic for millions of children worldwide.  The UN is calling for urgent action to support the world’s children amid the universal crisis. In Kazakhstan, the crisis is putting children’s wellbeing at risk in key areas that include education, safety and health. The UN system in Kazakhstan is working to provide timely support in this regard, focusing on the most vulnerable groups.

Thankfully, children have so far been largely spared from the most severe symptoms of the disease. But their lives are being totally upended. I appeal to families everywhere, and leaders at all levels: protect our children,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Nearly 190 countries have imposed school closures, affecting 1.5 billion children and young people. 60% of all children worldwide are living in countries that have implemented full or partial lockdowns. In Kazakhstan, over 4.5 million children attend distance learning, while 300,000 children don’t have technical facilities for e-learning, and about 3,000 small rural multi-graded schools provide group learning. Despite the government’s positive efforts in providing sign language interpretation during TV classes for students, children with disability and special learning needs remain excluded from full participation. 

According to UNICEF, with more children relying on technology for learning and socializing, the risk of online abuse and exploitation is rising. In Kazakhstan, 50% of girls are subjected to violent methods of discipline in the family, including 21% subjected to physical punishment, and 45% experience psychological aggression and violence (source). During the lockdown, the level of domestic violence could increase even more. Many children will likely face increasing threats to their safety and wellbeing – including mistreatment, violence, exploitation, harmful content in the Internet.

The risks to child and adolescent mental health and wellbeing are also considerable. During quarantine, children of all ages are struggling with difficult emotions, such as anxiety, loneliness and disappointment due to school closures and separation from friends and relatives.

Globally, families out of work, or otherwise experiencing reduced incomes, are forced to cut back on essential health and food expenditures, which particularly affects children, women and breastfeeding mothers. Additionally, 23 countries have suspended measles immunization campaigns. Kazakhstan has suspended most of its routine immunization programmes. Unless handled very cautiously, suspensions of routine immunisation may lead to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in future, which would be a serious set-back for children.

Child nutrition is another vital concern. Even before the pandemic, childhood malnutrition and stunting were at unacceptable levels globally, while obesity rates are increasing. In Kazakhstan, almost 20% of children aged 6 to 9 years suffer from overweight or obesity. At the same time only 37,8% children are exclusively breastfed.

“We are likely to see increases in poverty amongst children as a result of COVID-19 and its economic impact. It is critical to step up social protection measures and we fully support the Government of Kazakhstan in providing cash assistance to the poorest families affected by the pandemic”, said Arthur van Diesen, UNICEF Representative in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan has made good efforts towards flattening the curve and suppressing the COVID-19 outbreak. The Government of Kazakhstan takes steps to counter the unintended effects on children by expanding social assistance to families, rolling out distant learning, and prioritizing the continuity of services such as maternal and newborn care.

“The UN urges the Government of Kazakhstan to take further steps  to ensure specific protective measures for the most vulnerable children, such as migrants, refugees, children with disabilities, and those living in remote rural areas,” said Norimasa Shimomura, UN Resident Coordinator for Kazakhstan. “The UN stands ready to support Kazakhstan in investing in its youngest generation and protect and safeguard their well-being”.

The UN in Kazakhstan is supporting the Government in Kazakhstan in various ways. Parents and caregivers have been provided with practical support on how to talk about the pandemic with children, how to manage their own mental health and the mental health of their children, and tools to help support their children’s learning.

UNICEF, jointly with the National Mental Health Centre under the Ministry of Health, initiated online psychological support sessions. Jointly with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, UNICEF has been reaching the most vulnerable – children affected by migration, children in residential care, and the most vulnerable families in different regions - with leaflets and posters on practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  UNICEF’s #LearningAtHome campaign with influencers has potentially reached about 3.5 mln people through social media on importance of positive parenting . To disseminate life-saving information on COVID19 prevention in Kazakh and Russian, UNICEF mobilized several hundreds online volunteers in all regions and leverage the partnerships with business, for example, COVID-19 videos are broadcast in 350 Kazpost branches throughout the country.

The UN agencies adapted into Kazakh a fairy-tale which aims to help children understand and come to terms with COVID-19, launched campaign to fight stigma and discrimination. UNFPA launched a campaign to promote engaged fatherhood, series of videos for people with disabilities about COVID-19, leaflet about gender-based violence in Kazakh and Russian languages. UNESCO developed a handbook for journalists on countering fake news in Kazakh and Russian languages, launched the youth-led workshop on conflict-resolution skills and online sports campaign #BeActive, provides support on effective education planning during home learning for children and parents. UNOPS has been requested to support distance education through the procurement and delivery of laptops.

For additional information please contact: Press and Communication Officer of the UN in Kazakhstan Ms Elnara Bainazarova: +7 701 9400086, e-mail: elnara.bainazarova@one.un.org, Press and Communication Officer of the UNICEF in Kazakhstan Ms Assel Saduova: +7 777 8810547; asaduova@unicef.org

Media Contacts

Assel Saduova
Communication Associate
UNICEF Kazakhstan
Tel: +7 (7172) 32-28-78 (144)

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