Delegation of the European Union
to the United Nations - New York

Children and COVID-19: the EU response to “Protect our Children”

29/05/2020 - 19:55
News stories

Children wearing masks


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,[1] 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 Initiative, active 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


  •  In Sudan, an Education in Emergencies programme will re-programme EUR 20 000 for the enrolments campaigns to support prevention activities related to COVID-19


  •  In Lesotho, re-programming of EUR 40 000 for risk communication and for PPE (personal protective equipment) for frontline service providers


  • In Egypt, EIDHR funds have been re-directed to protect children living on the street in Cairo (COVID-19 related).


  • In Namibia, as part of an ongoing programme in support of education, with UNICEF as the implementing partner, contingency reserves of EUR 350 000 will be used to support children and their families, specifically those in communities that are hardest hit by the Covid-19 lockdown. The aim is to reach approximately 350 Early Childhood Centres with an estimated 15 000 children registered.


  • In Sri-Lanka, an ongoing project with War Child has recently re-oriented some of its activities to focus on children’s needs in vulnerable/marginalised communities during the COVID crisis (organisation of awareness-raising campaigns, promotion of hygiene, distribution of hygiene items, activities related to child protection, etc.).


  • In Togo, the EU-funded project on the improvement of juvenile justice implemented by UNICEF has re-oriented some funds to enable advocacy with the prison authorities of the "juvenile brigade" for the release of some minors in order to decongest the cells in this period of health crisis.  Currently, 19 minors have been released and discussions are under way for a 2nd wave of release. To support the social reintegration of released minors, UNICEF is also planning to reorient project activities for using the budget lines provided for workshops that can no longer be held in the current context of Covid 19.


  • The Spotlight Initiative is in 24 countries worldwide: action to decrease domestic violence, boost prevention and support survivors and organisations, e.g. support to shelters and helplines. More than EUR 14 million will be channelled through the existing UN Trust Funds (Women Peace and Humanitarian Fund and the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women for civil society) for core funding and actions.


  • EUR 10 million is directed for maintaining or reinforcing child protection mechanisms in Sub-Saharan Africa and to address violence against vulnerable children in the context of the pandemic, with a particular emphasis on child participation/consultation during the crisis. EU-funded Global Programmes on child protection, such as the ones implemented by UNICEF/UNFPA on ending child marriage and on the abandonment of FGM, are being readjusted to reduce the impact of the pandemic on the rights of children and girls.


  • Under the priority “Urgent, short-term emergency response to the health crisis and the resulting humanitarian needs”, the Communication lists the various key challenges to be addressed and how the EU contributes to this end. The total funding for this priority includes allocations from a number of different sources and funding instruments. Regarding DG ECHO, it includes: 1) 30 million EUR contribution to WHO’s Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan, and; 2) the adaptation, as far as possible, of ongoing and planned imminent humanitarian projects to factor in the COVID-19 situation and related needs, ensuring the continued provision of life-saving operations within humanitarian sectors. DG ECHO funds will not be redirected from previously identified humanitarian crises to COVID-19 needs. Where possible, ongoing EU humanitarian funded operations are being adapted to factor in COVID-19. Newly funded projects will, to the extent possible, also be adapted to take into account the pandemic. This includes current and future projects relevant for children. For instance, in 2019, it is estimated that the EU allocated approximately EUR 78 million EUR of its humanitarian aid budget to child protection activities and EUR 164 million to Education in Emergencies (of 2 which 65% of these projects have integrated protection elements).


  • Under the European Strategy for a Better Internet for Children, the EU funds the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) portal that is a pan-European hub with online resources gathered from the Safer Internet Centres all over the Europe. The resource gallery has more than 1 300 educational, creative and fun items in different European languages, for schools and families. During the COVID-19 pandemic the portal has a special focus on how confinement and the increased use of the internet and digital tools is affecting us. Topics include examples of positive use of technology, how and why we should stay alert to scams, and how industry stakeholders are working together to fight COVID-19 disinformation. The portal is also a gateway to national Safer Internet Centres with localised help and advice for parents and carers as well as more resources for kids. The March edition of the Better Internet for Kids bulletin, also available on the BIK portal, gives tips on online safety 3 and learning and how to discuss the pandemic with your kids.




  • In Tajikistan, the European Union and UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) deliver 13 tons of medical supplies to support the Ministry of Health and Social Protection and Tajikistans response to COVID-19
  • In Mali, the European Union and the Government of Denmark has supported UNICEF in shipping vital supplies to support UNICEF’s humanitarian work for children, as well as providing support to the Government of Mali in preventing and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in coordination with WHO and the wider UN system
  • In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the European Union and Belgium has supported UNICEF in shipping vital supplies, 63 metres of vital health supplies in order to assist the government with the COVID-19 response