By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Sep 9 2020 (IPS) – While COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire world, Nobel Laureates and world leaders have today expressed concern that ongoing crisis is far from being an equaliser. The pandemic has revealed that the most vulnerable and marginalised populations, including and especially children, remain largely unprotected against the virus and its impacts.
Kailash Satyarthi, 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate, opened the plenary of the Fair Share of Children Summit, an extraordinary virtual gathering of Nobel Laureates and world leaders, with a sobering statistic. Currently, he said only 0.013 percent of the COVID-19 response had been allocated to the most vulnerable. “How can we justify this?” he asked.The global virtual conference, hosted by Laureates and Leaders for Children, which was founded by Satyarthi, takes place from Sept. 9-10, and has brought together Nobel laureates, including the Dalai Lama, Tawakkol Karman, Professor Jody Williams, and leading international figures and heads of United Nations agencies.
The summit seeks to galvanise global action to ensure that the world’s children are not left behind and that in the absence of targeting children in international responses to the pandemic, existing responses will have failed.
Speaking today, former President of Ireland Mary Robinson stated the most marginalised children and their families must receive their fair share of COVID-19 responses, which translates to 20 percent for the poorest 20 percent of humanity.
A former child labourer and child rights activist who also works with Bachpan Bachao Andolan:Save The Childhood Movement, Kinsu Kumar, brought home the reality of the millions of children exploited or at risk of being exploited as COVID-19 wreaks havoc to existing socio-economic structures.
Kumar, who lives in Jaipur, India, worked at the age of six at a car wash to provide for his family.
“It saddens me that instead of children being a priority during this pandemic, they (children) have instead been side-lined. My morale is crushed by the slow response to the needs of millions of children across the world. How many more children have to be abused, exploited or lost for government to take action?” he asked, admitting he was angry about the situation.
Nobel Laureate, the Dalai Lama, said that unfortunately, the poor and needy are so side-lined that they have turned to seek divine intervention as the only means of assistance.
Gordon Brown, U.N. Special Envoy for Global Education and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, explained just how important it is for the world to come together to fight for the world’s children.
This is especially considering emerging data indicating that as many as 30 million children will not return to school post-COVID and emphasised that education is still the best cover for children from all forms of abuse and exploitation.
Speaking about standing with children as they face COVID-19, he said that all efforts must be made to ensure that children stay in school.
“Hope dies when young people cannot prepare, plan or dream of future because they cannot get an education,” said Brown.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation, spoke of the need to address the most pressing problems facing children during the pandemic. For instance, he indicated that child mortality is now on the rise as the pandemic has curtailed access to health services, and further added that up to 10,000 children across the world could die every month due to increased hunger.
Henrietta Fore, executive director of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), warned that a lot of work lies ahead as “even before the pandemic hit, the world was already off track in meetings SDGs. The pandemic has exposed the fault lines of the pandemic in every country.”
“But the pandemic is also showing us solutions which includes providing online infrastructure to ensure that children learn online and working with vital partners such as the private sector to develop innovative solutions,” she explained.
Speakers at the summit further indicated that as COVID-19 escalates, numerous pre-existing inequalities faced by the vulnerable and marginalised populations and especially children in the poorest parts of the world, will be worsened by disparities of the world’s responses.
Nobel laureates have particularly raised the alarm that despite trillions being announced for the wealthiest parts of the world, only a fraction has been allocated to those whose lives are most at stake from the multidimensional impacts of the pandemic.
A most pressing problem emerging due to the ongoing crisis is food insecurity and fears are rife that additional millions of children will be plunged into hunger.
According to UNICEF, undernutrition accounts for almost half of all deaths of children under the age of five. This context underscores the need for governments to take urgent action to prevent devastating nutrition and health outcomes for the 370 million children missing out on school meals amid school closure.
Through a session dubbed “Food Insecurity During COVID-19: Ending Child Hunger and Stopping the Virus for Good” more world leaders and Nobel Laureates, including Ayoade Oluwafemi Fadoju and Prof. Muhammad Yunus, highlighted how strained health and social protection systems, and fractured responses by countries are escalating child hunger.
As the pandemic unfolds, the impact of the virus on global agricultural and food markets is becoming increasingly evident.
Session moderator Lorena Castillo Garcia, the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS special ambassador and global spokesperson for Zero Discrimination, emphasised the need to tailor responses to the crisis.
Garcia explained that current food insecurities are not necessarily driven by pre-existing food security threats such as erratic weather patterns, conflict, natural disasters and the locust invasion across East Africa but by COVID-19 driven disruptions to food production and supply.
Overall, people’s ability to purchase food has also been affected by current economic recession, and millions of children and their families could be plunged into poverty and extreme poverty.
Disruptions to the supply of agricultural inputs like fertilisers, seeds and a shortage of labour due to restricted movements as a responsive measure to curb the spread of the virus are likely to further reduce production incoming crop seasons. This, child rights experts say, spells doom for world children and more so, the vulnerable and marginalised.
“Nigeria has the second-highest number of child malnutrition in the world. More than 2.5 million children in Nigeria suffer from severe malnutrition. Undernutrition prevails among children in Africa. This is a disaster. We have to make every effort that hunger does not become deadlier than COVID-19 itself,” said Oluwafemi Fadoju.
Graca Machel, a member of The Elders, an independent group of global leaders, agrees.
“We are facing the horror of rising hunger. Globally, a child dies every three seconds due to hunger. In Africa, no country is untouched by hunger. These statistics shed light on the magnitude of child hunger. This is the sin of the collective failure of our times. Today, about 67,000 children are at risk of dying of hunger in sub-Saharan Africa alone before the end of this year,” she said today.
“Let us bring proven solutions to scale so that no child is left behind. It is in our power to ensure that no child goes to bed hungry. No child should die of hunger when there is enough food to feed us all. We have an opportunity now to fix a system that was already broken for millions of children. This pandemic is an opportunity to re-evaluate how we treat our children,” she advised.
As it is, pre-COVID-19 estimates by the World Bank show that more than 690 million people were affected by hunger and that these figures are up by 10 million people from the previous year.
Children will be most affected as other statistics by the World Bank show that nearly one in every five children worldwide lives on less than two dollars a day. As a result of COVID-19, an estimated 6.5 million children under five worldwide are at risk of suffering stunted growth.
Summit speakers emphasised that post-COVID reconstruction efforts must build better by addressing inequalities facing the world’s most vulnerable children today. In the short term, it will involve identifying where the new hotspots of food insecurity are. This will help expand social protection programs to ensure that children and young people are adequately targeted.
Overall, summit speakers have emphasised that a failure to unite, innovate and develop new, transformative and sustainable solutions could lead to the loss of an entire generation of children.
By Miriam Gathigah