The COVID-19 crisis has a potentially far-reaching, long-term negative impact on women and children around the world. The impact is likely to be devastating especially for children, even though they appear to have less severe symptoms and lower mortality rates than other age groups. More than 1.5 billion students are out of school. Widespread job and income loss and economic insecurity among families are likely to increase rates of child labor, sexual exploitation and child marriage. Stresses on families, particularly those living under quarantines and lockdowns, are increasing the incidence of domestic violence.
Impact on Children:
- Falling into poverty:
- An estimated 42-66 million children could fall into extreme poverty as a result of the crisis this year, adding to the estimated 386 million children already in extreme poverty in 2019.
- Exacerbating the learning crisis:
- 188 countries have imposed countrywide school closures, affecting more than 1.5 billion children and youth.
- 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. More than two-thirds of countries have introduced a national distance learning platform, but among low-income countries the share is only 30 percent.
- Before this crisis, almost one third of the world’s young people were already digitally excluded.
- Threats to child survival and health:
- Economic hardship experienced by families as a result of the global economic downturn could result in hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths in 2020, reversing the last 2 to 3 years of progress in reducing infant mortality within a single year.
- And this alarming figure does not even take into account services disrupted due to the crisis – it only reflects the current relationship between economies and mortality, so is likely an under-estimate of the impact. Rising malnutririon is expected as 368.5 million children across 143 countries who normally rely on school meals for a reliable source of daily nutrition must now look to other sources.
- The risks to child mental health and well being are also considerable. Refugee and internally displaced children as well as those living in detention and situations of active conflict are especially vulnerable.
- Risks for child safety:
- Lockdowns and shelter in place measures come with heightened risk of children witnessing or suffering violence and abuse.
- Children in conflict settings, as well as those living in unsanitary and crowded conditions such as refugee and IDP settlements, are also at considerable risk. Children’s reliance on online platforms for distance learning has also increased their risk of exposure to inappropriate content and online predators
Impact on girls and women:
Disease outbreaks increase girls’ and young women’s duties caring for elderly and ill family members, as well as for siblings who are out of school. Girls, especially those from marginalised communities and with disabilities, may be particularly affected by the secondary impacts of the outbreak.
- Gender-based violence and coronavirus:
- Quarantine measures imposed as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic are putting girls and women at heightened risk of violence in the home and cutting them off from essential protection services and social networks.
- Economic stress on families due to the outbreak can put children, and in particular girls, at greater risk of exploitation, child labour and gender-based violence. Quarantine measures should be accompanied by support for affected households.
- Global lockdowns also lock down girls’ autonomy, reinforcing the attitudes and practices that regard girls as second class and hold them back. Rigorous protection and safeguarding of all children, and of girls and women from gender-based violence must be emphasised and prioritised in all policies, information, guidance at all stages of the response.
- Health services:
- Evidence from past epidemics indicates healthcare resources are often diverted from routine health services. This further reduces the already limited access of many girls and young women to sexual and reproductive health services, as well as maternal, new-born and child health services.
- Challenges in accessing sexual and reproductive health information services – including contraception, safe abortion and HIV medications- will exacerbate the risks to girls’ and women’s health and lives.
- Economic well-being:
- Economic challenges during the outbreak pose a serious threat to young women’s work and business activity and expose them to increased risk of exploitation or abuse.
- Girls and young women facing severe economic shocks are more likely to take on high-risk work for their economic survival.
- Responses to the outbreak must protect and support young women’s economic empowerment.
This is an unprecedented crisis and it presents unprecedented risks to the rights and safety and development of the children and women. Those risks can only be mitigated through unprecedented international solidarity. The need is to work together to make progress on these three fronts—information, solidarity and action. It is chance to not only defeat this pandemic, but to transform the way we nurture and invest in the young generation and women. But we have to act now, we have to act decisively, and at very large scale. This is not a gradual issue, it is a clarion call for the world’s children, the world’s future.