Amidst child rights crisis, experts call to ‘reimagine’ a sustainable, safer world for children

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Bharat Chauhan New Delhi, Ahead of the World Children’s Day on November 20, and in the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, child rights experts highlighted the need to understand the full impact and invest more time, resources and efforts to protect the world’s youngest citizens from impact and the crisis. The call was made during an online media panel discussion, organized by UNICEF in partnership with the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia (FCC), today.

The session titled “Impact of COVID-19 Crisis on the Lives of Children in India,” drew attention to children’s health, their protection and on the learning crisis, to reimagine a more sustainable, safer world for children post COVID.

While delivering her keynote address, Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF India Representative, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded as a child rights crisis. Through rising poverty and inequality, the pandemic has upended essential services that protect health, education and safety of children and young people. We need to adopt a whole of society child-centric approach as the costs of the pandemic on children are immediate and can persist for years, if not addressed.”

Referring to the health crisis, the UNICEF India Representative said, “We know that health systems are strained by the COVID -19 pandemic, however we must not allow our fight against one deadly disease to come at the expense of our fight against other preventable diseases. This means ensuring the continuity of immunization services to prevent all vaccine-preventable diseases, even as we address the growing COVID-19 pandemic.”

UNICEF also shared the results of Wave-2, a Community Based Monitoring (CBM) Mechanism on socio-economic impact of COVID pandemic on marginalized populations during the period August–September 2020.

Drawing attention to the impact of the digital divide has had on children, particularly when only a quarter of households (24 per cent) in India have access to the internet and there is a large rural-urban and gender divide , Dr Dhir Jhingran, Founder Director, Language and Learning Foundation said, “Beyond the internet accessibility, the poorest students in remote areas and girls do not have access to smartphones. Marginalized children are paying the heaviest price as millions of young people are not able to access remote learning during school shutdowns.”

He called for “reimagining” for reopening of schools. “Safe re-opening of schools presents an opportunity to ‘build back better’ – by investing in equitable, quality education and skills development to ensure a whole generation of children and young people is not left behind,” he said. “Safe re-opening also includes looking at the psychosocial wellbeing of children when they join back as well as assessing the learning / revision needs of children as they enter new grades,” he added.

Meanwhile, Enakshi Ganguly, Founder & Advisor, HAQ Centre for Child Rights, highlighted the spike in child marriage and child labour during the pandemic. “Children are at heightened risk of exploitation, violence and abuse, including online risks, when schools are closed, social services are interrupted, and movement is restricted,” she said.

Ms. Ganguly stressed on the need to strengthen child protection mechanisms at the local level for reporting of violence against children and making them accessible to all children, especially since schools and other educational institutions are not functional.”

In the ensuing discussion, the panellists said that for years to come, children and young people will be living with the longer term, secondary impacts of this pandemic on them and how the world chooses to respond to those will have a far-reaching impact on children’s lives.

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