Mr Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary General, has appealed to families and leaders at all levels to protect and safeguard the well-being of children as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the globe.
He said they foresee an alarming pattern with the pandemic placing so many of the world’s children in jeopardy, hence the need for countries to act now.
This was contained in a press release issued in Accra and copied to the Ghana News Agency (GNA).
It said thankfully, children have so far been largely spared from the most severe symptoms of the disease, however, their lives are being totally upended.
The United Nations, in a report that highlights the risk children face regarding their current education status, said that almost all students are now out of school due to the pandemic.
It said even though some schools are offering distance learning, this is not available to all as children in countries with slow and expensive internet services are severely disadvantaged.
According to the UN, a staggering 310 million schoolchildren – nearly half of the world’s total – rely on school for a regular source of daily nutrition adding that even before COVID-19 the world faced unacceptable rates of childhood malnutrition and stunting.
It said with children out of school, their communities in lockdown and a global recession biting deeper, family stress levels are rising.
Children are both victims and witnesses of domestic violence and abuse. “With schools closed, an important early warning mechanism is missing. There is also a danger that girls will drop out of school, leading to an increase in teenage pregnancies.
And we must not ignore the growing risks children are facing as they spend more time online,” it stated.
It said this is important as it could leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming.
A lack of face-to-face contact with friends and partners may lead to heightened risk-taking such as sending sexualized images.
And increased and unstructured time online, the statement said, may expose children to potentially harmful and violent content as well as greater risk of cyberbullying.
It called on governments and parents to play effective roles in keeping children safe adding, “social media companies have a special responsibility to protect the vulnerable”.
The report said reduced household income would force poor families to cut back on essential health and food expenditures, particularly affecting children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.
It said currently polio vaccination campaigns have been suspended and measles immunization campaigns have stopped in at least 23 countries.
“And as health services become overwhelmed, sick children are less able to access care.
“With the global recession gathering pace, there could be hundreds of thousands additional child deaths in 2020.”
“These are just some of the findings of the report we are issuing today, its conclusion is clear,” it added.
We must act now on each of these threats to our children.
It said this is the time to act on each of the threats to children and urged that leaders do everything in their power to cushion the impact of the pandemic.
What started as a public health emergency has snowballed into a formidable test for the global promise to leave no one behind and urged governments and donors to prioritize education for all children.
It recommends they provide economic assistance, including cash transfers, to low-income families and minimize disruptions to social and healthcare services for children.
“We must also prioritize the most vulnerable – children in conflict situations; child refugees and displaced persons; children living with disabilities.”
“Finally, we must commit to building back better by using the recovery from COVID-19 to pursue a more sustainable and inclusive economy and society in line with the Sustainable Development Goals,” it said.