Eighty-eight Nobel Laureates and World Leaders, as part of Laureates and Leaders for Children, an initiative of the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, has issued a statement calling for the world’s governments to unite and prioritize the world’s children during their lockdowns and in the aftermath. Text:
We, the Laureates and Leaders for Children, call upon the world’s Heads of Government to demonstrate wise leadership and to urgently care for the impoverished and the marginalised. Decisions made by our leaders, actions taken by us and the discourses that ensue in the next few weeks will be crucial. They are going to shape the future of polity, economy, culture and morality. Development priorities will be recalibrated, individual freedom, privacy and human rights will be redefined.
We must take this opportunity to transform traditional diplomacy and politics into compassionate politics. COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in our world. While this virus does not differentiate between nationalities, religions or cultures, it is most adversely impacting those who are already marginalised – the poor, women and girls, daily wage earners, migrant labourers, indigenous peoples, victims of trafficking and slavery, child labourers, people on the move (refugees, internally displaced and others), the homeless, differently abled people, among others.
The virus, restrictions placed on the majority of the world’s population, and the aftermath will have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable amongst us. The pandemic’s public health emergency is set to exacerbate the abuse and exploitation of children. Trapped in homes to escape the virus, children are at greater risk of sexual abuse (offline and online) and domestic violence. Online child pornography is already growing, while traffickers are planning to exploit families once lockdowns are lifted.
Beyond the impact of the public health crisis on marginalised communities, the economic impact is likely to trap more girls and boys in child labour. For example, school closures during the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa from 2014 to 2016, contributed to spikes in child labour, neglect, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancies.1 The 1997 Asian financial crisis and the 2009 global economic crisis have shown that more children are likely to be forced into child labour and trafficking, particularly in countries that have little or no social protection.
As restrictions are lifted in countries, children will be trafficked, forced out of school and into labour, bearing the burden of sustaining their families. In addition, the World Bank has found that, for every additional year of secondary school, the likelihood of marrying before age 18 decreases by five percentage points or more. With more than 90% of the world’s student population out of school due to school closures (as of 22 April 2020), child marriage rates are also anticipated to increase. Currently, nearly one in every five children worldwide lives on under $2 a day.
The World Bank announced on April 20th that it estimates COVID-19 will push 40 to 60 million people into extreme poverty in 2020. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has reported that tens of millions of informal workers have already become unemployed, with widespread problems with the food supply in poorer communities across the world. Governments need to do more to prevent devastating nutrition and health consequence for the 370 million children missing out on school meals amid school closures.
These compounding factors mean that marginalised children are already going hungry and could starve. Over the last several weeks, policy makers released more than US$5 trillion in emergency support for the companies and people in the richest countries. That funding is needed and is important, but we also need to see the governments of the world come together and announce a rescue package for the most marginalised children. If, for once, our world gave the most marginalised children and their families their fair share – 20% of the COVID-19 response for the poorest 20% of humanity – the results would be transformative.
One trillion dollars would fund all outstanding UN and charity COVID-19 appeals, cancel two years of all debt repayments from low-income countries, and fund two years of the global gap to meet the SDGs on health, water and sanitation, and education – a vital step, as quality education is the most powerful way to end exclusion and change the future for marginalised children. There would still be enough left to fund social protection safety nets which are crucial in the fight against child labour. More than ten million lives would be saved; a positive response by humanity to the tragedy of COVID-19. We urge that the necessary resources be made available through national governments and international and regional financial institutions.
We anticipate that the numbers of the most marginalised will grow. We must prevent the fallout of COVID-19 being borne by the world’s children. Poverty and hunger, child labour, child marriages, child slavery, child trafficking and children on the move will likely increase during and after COVID-19. We need to ensure that the most marginalised do not fall off the world’s radar. Post-COVID-19, we must strengthen institutional responses to such future catastrophes, and improve the existing child protection infrastructure. Cash transfers and ensuring food security for the marginalised, improving hygiene and sanitation, a robust healthcare system and promoting a free and equitable education system with free school meals will be critical.
While we acknowledge initial measures taken by the G20, as Laureates and Leaders for Children, fighting for the most vulnerable children in the world’s poorest countries, we call on leaders of the G20 to take additional action beyond their own borders for those who urgently need coordinated international aid. We also call on all G20 leaders to honour existing global health commitments, including quickly working together and with stakeholders to close the financing gap in the WHO Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan.
The WHO has played a vital role in supporting basic healthcare in less developed regions of the world. Regional institutions, such as the Organization of American States, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, the Economic Community of West African States, the Arab League and others must also step up in this space. All nations must unite in this effort to protect the most vulnerable and globalise compassion by taking this moment as an opportunity to innovate and develop new, transformative and sustainable solutions to eradicate child labour, trafficking and slavery, and ensure education for all. If we do not do this, we will lose a generation of children. If children are not safeguarded everywhere, then our global response to this crisis and beyond will have failed everywhere.
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