Covid-19 is devastating for all walks of life. Even if children have not been the frontline victims as other age groups, the pandemic, its socio-economic consequences and preventive measures have a serious impact on children and their wellbeing. A strong call to “protect our children” from becoming the biggest victims of the pandemic was voiced by the UN Secretary-General through the launch of a policy brief, outlining the harmful effects of the pandemic on children, including on equal access to education, threats to child survival and health, risks for child safety and children falling into poverty.
The EU, being a staunch supporter of the rights of the child and of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, responded to Antonio Guterres’ call and initiated together with its Latin American and Caribbean partners a joint supportive statement The statement endorsed by 171 countries constitutes a firm universal commitment to leave no child behind and safeguard their well-being during and after the pandemic.
On April 8, the EU launched a “Team Europe” package, which supports partner countries’ struggle against the COVID-19 with more than €20 billion. The support will mainly focus on the people most at risk, including children. In addition, existing EU-funded projects all over the world are being adapted to focus on the impact of the covid-19 taking the best interests of the child into account.
At the UN level, significant immediate measures have been taken to protect children during the pandemic. The Committee of the Rights of the Child’s guidelines is extremely helpful in order to guide actions with a child rights-based approach. Recommendations have been made by child rights NGOs, WHO, OHCHR and UNICEF. The latter underlined their recently developed guidance and resources for practitioners and front-line workers responding to COVID-19. Greta Thunberg together with UNICEF launched a child rights-driven campaign to support protection efforts against COVID-19.
Children are at the center of the EU human right policies
The protection of the rights of the child is a core commitment of the EU laid down in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. It is also reflected in its internal and external policies. Children have the potential to be the greatest agents of change and sustainable development in their communities and in their countries. They are the leaders of tomorrow. The EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024 adopted by the High Representative and the Commission as well as the revised EU guidelines on the protection and promotion of the right of the child are guiding the EU external action to promote, protect and fulfil all rights of all children.
More than 30 years of commitment to children’s rights
In 2019, we marked the 30th anniversary of the UN convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. The #RealChallenge Campaign a joint venture between the EU and UNICEF, has won the Gold Award for government-to-citizen communication at the World Media Festival. On top of this, the EU organised a number of activities to mark the anniversary, many of which focused on child participation such as the high-level panel on meaningful child participation during the European Development Days and the 12th annual European Forum of the rights of the Child
A learning crisis in COVID-19
In the COVID-19 era, children’s access to education has been severely interrupted, affecting more than 1.5 billion children and youth in 188 countries. With fears of neglecting children due to the digital divide and socio-economic impacts, but also fears that some children might never return to school, the EU has redirected funds to already ongoing projects on education. In Myanmar, through the EU funded project, approximately 3500 children from 27 Schools will receive essential preventive supplies and "quarantine kits".
Safety for children in COVID-19
During the pandemic, many children are exposed to various forms of violence, neglect and abuse, including at home. Additionally, the cases of digital abuse and harassment are increasing. Children’s hotlines all over the world are burning, and there is an increased need for extra hotlines. The EU has funded projects such as Balancing the Scales which has just launched a 24 hour helpline for women and children to access support. The EU-UN Spotlight Initiativeactive in 24 countries worldwide, has taken action to counter the increased cases of domestic violence and has boosted prevention through supporting shelters and helplines.
Including Children’s voice in the response and recovery
Children can be a part of solutions only if their voices are heard and amplified. In line with Article 12 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which reads that children have the right to participate in the decision-making processes that affect them, especially in times of crisis, many EU Member States leaders got engaged with children in public communications on Covid-19. For example The Flemish Children's Rights Commissioner has been working together with kids news-broadcasting, while Denmark and the Netherlands hold press conferences for children, with children asking questions.
The way forward
At times of crisis like the current pandemic, children are at exacerbated risk of losing their education, falling into poverty and being victims of domestic violence and online abuse. To build back better will require inter sectoral and multilevel efforts to incorporate child-rights based policies into the recovery measures, as we cannot afford to leave children behind in any way. Children must be at the heart of our efforts.
EU targeted response focusing on children