Late last year, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released a new report, “Preventing A Lost Decade: Urgent Action” to reverse the devastating impact of COVID-19 on children and young people. While it’s easy for reports released in December to get lost in the year-end rush, this report needs everyone’s attention. UNICEF has called COVID-19 the greatest challenge for children in its 75-year history; and the situation is exacerbated by conflict, disasters and climate change.
The facts tell a sobering story about the impact of the pandemic on children.
In less than two years, 100 million more children have fallen into poverty, a 10% increase since 2019.
In 2020, more than 23 million children did not receive essential vaccines.
50 million children suffer from wasting, the deadliest form of malnutrition, and that figure could rise to 9 million by 2022
At its peak in March 2020, 1.6 billion children were at risk of school closures.
Behind each of these numbers are real stories: young children were left behind as preschools closed and food queues grew. School-aged children, especially those with the most to gain, had limited access to remote learning. The teenagers suffered from social isolation and a lack of mental health support, as well as growing demands for early marriage. The parents did their best to keep everything going; yet too often without the financial and social resources they needed. And the unpredictability of everyday life brought stress that seemed almost impossible to bear.
Fortunately, many communities around the world have stepped up: volunteers have delivered food, distributed protective equipment and set up new hygiene facilities, and teachers have worked to connect children to resources at home. home. We have all been inspired by stories of people working for change, from healthcare workers to childcare providers, from young to old.
Yet the challenges facing children were alarming even before COVID-19 became a household word. Around one billion children, or almost half of the world’s children, live in countries that are “extremely high risk” from the impacts of climate change and more and more children are forcibly displaced, too often because of conflicts that could and should have been avoided.
Clearly, those in positions of power must make investing in children, families and communities a priority this year and in the years to come. This is especially true for US foreign aid. Building on previous work, in June 2019 the United States launched Advancing Protection and Care for Children in Adversity: A United States Government Strategy for International Assistance (2019-23). This important document outlines a strategy for investing in the world’s most vulnerable children. In 2020, Congress passed the Global Child Thrive Act, providing additional direction for the US government to invest in early childhood development. These are two important steps; now we all need to make sure they get the attention and resources this movement deserves.
The UNICEF report outlines an urgent agenda for children, including recommendations to invest in social protection, health and education, and to build resilience to better prevent, respond to and protect children. children. Government, business, civil society and the public must work together. But as in all crises, every individual action makes a difference. We can’t wait for someone else to come up with a solution. Each of us must ask ourselves: What can I do to help a neighbour, work in my community, raise awareness, give another voice, help others to emancipate themselves? What else can we do to integrate these issues into all fields of study: from health to education, from diplomacy to economic development, from environmental studies to urban planning and design?
In their powerful new book, The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times, Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams with Gail Hudson tackled an important question: how do you stay hopeful when everything seems hopeless? What is so uplifting about this story is that it makes a clear connection between hope and action. It seems to be telling us that, while important, it is not just the resilience of nature or the human intellect that counts, but also our minds and our belief in the possibilities and the power to act. I can’t think of a better year to start.
Lombardi is an international early childhood development expert and Senior Fellow at the Collaborative on Global Children’s Issues, Georgetown University.
By: Joan Lombardi