Children at risk of being the biggest pandemic victims – Henry-Lee
CHILDREN ARE not the face of the coronavirus pandemic, but they risk being among its biggest victims, as children’s lives are being changed in profound ways. All children, of all ages, and in all countries, are being affected, in particular by the socio-economic impacts and, in some cases, by mitigation measures that may inadvertently do more harm than good.
Moreover, the harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally. They are expected to be most damaging for children in the poorest countries, and in the poorest neighbourhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations.
According to Professor Aldrie Henry-Lee, University Director, SALISES at The University of the West Indies, Mona, as families lose their sources of income due to COVID-19 and the global economy has been plunged into a recession, more households are falling into monetary poverty.
For the poorest families, including those who do not have access to social protection, the situation is dire. According to Henry-Lee, the global socio-economic crisis caused by the pandemic could push 142 million more children into monetary poor households in developing countries, according to projections as of November 2020. The total number of children living in poor households globally could reach just over 725 million in the absence of any mitigating policies.
“Before COVID-19, there were manifest childhood inequalities and too many cases of child endangerment in the Caribbean. The pandemic has intensified these inequalities. It is expected that several thousands of children will not recover from their lost childhoods, and many will not fulfil their full potential,” Henry-Lee said.
According to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), in a presentation by Henry-Lee, the potential losses that may accrue in learning for today’s young generation, and for the development of their human capital, are hard to fathom.
Schools for more than 168 million children globally have been closed for almost an entire year due to COVID-19 lockdowns, as of March 2020. Furthermore, around 214 million children globally, or one in seven, have missed more than three-quarters of their in-person learning.
“Children should be protected from harm and injury and all form of abuse to realise their full potential. The pandemic and the associated policy responses of confinement and social distancing touch on almost every part of children’s worlds. COVID-19 directly affects formal care arrangements, education and leisure services offered by early childhood services, schools and other organisations are interrupted,” Henry-Lee said.
According to Henry-Lee, the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and social consequences will hurt some children more than others.
“In particular, COVID-19 exacerbates the risks of children experiencing maltreatment, violence at home, and poor nutrition, while lockdown measures reduce opportunities for children to participate in extracurricular activities, to come in contact with supportive adults at school and in the community, and to access the justice system and child protection services,” Henry-Lee said.
“To a varying extent, these issues intersect with income poverty and poor housing, with the common denominator being that children in poorer families are more exposed,” she added.
Henry-Lee was presenting a professorial lecture on ‘Recovering Childhood and Building Child Agency in the Caribbean’. The COVID-19 crisis, she said, will make children vulnerable who were not vulnerable before.