Image Credit - SARA NASEH (Iran), who was shortlisted in UNICEF’s #voicesofyouth illustration challenge for World Children’s Day 2020… “I illustrated children of different backgrounds that are all working together as a family, to help our planet become a safer place for everyone. Let this day be a reminder that we are responsible for the children of today and owe them a better and safer life for tomorrow."

This year, the theme of WORLD CHILDREN’S DAY is: ” Investing in our future means investing in our children”.

UNICEF and partners are calling on governments to adopt a Six Point Plan to Protect our Children:

●  Ensure all children learn, including by closing the digital divide.

●  Guarantee access to health and nutrition services, and make vaccines affordable and available to every child.

●  Support and protect the mental health of children and young people and bring an end to abuse, gender-based violence, and neglect in childhood.

●  Increase access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene and address environmental degradation and climate change. 

●  Reverse the rise in child poverty and ensure an inclusive recovery for all.

●  Redouble efforts to protect and support children and their families living through conflict, disaster and displacement.

UNICEF — In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, governments around the world have mobilized billions of dollars to save their economies. But there is another impending and devastating loss if we do not act: a lost generation of children.

Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals is slipping backwards, and children continue to pay the steepest price. Without coordinated, global action to prevent, mitigate and respond to the effects of the pandemic, the consequences for children now, and for the future of our shared humanity, will be severe.

This six-point plan proposes a set of practical and concrete actions to reunite the world around a common cause: the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

To do so, decision makers must start by listening to children and young people and including them in decision-making. It is they – especially girls; children facing poverty, exclusion, or violence; those with disabilities; children affected or displaced by humanitarian crisis; and children without parental care – who will live with the impact of this pandemic for decades to come. UNICEF calls for global action to:

1.    Ensure all children learn, including by closing the digital divide

Image Credit – @nooralshalabi, 23 years, (Jordan), who was shortlisted in UNICEF’s #voicesofyouth illustration challenge for World Children’s Day 2020… “Children love to experiment, dream, and explore new things. But, COVID-19 has put their dreams on hold and extinguished their enthusiasm. The illustration is reflecting a reimagined world in which dreams are reignited and children regain their sparkles again!”

At their peak, nationwide school closures disrupted the learning of 91 per cent of students worldwide. Marginalized children suffer the heaviest burden: Some 463 million young people were not able to access remote learning during school shutdowns. What’s more, previous shutdowns demonstrate that children who are out of school for extended periods, especially girls, are less likely to return.

UNICEF asks governments and our partners to:

●  Prioritize the reopening of schools: Take all measures possible to reopen schools safely and keep them open.

●  Increase education funding and ensure equal access to quality, violence-free education so every child learns. This will require a focus on the most marginalized children, including girls, children under attack and on the move, children with disabilities, and children living in rural communities or without access to the internet.

●  Close the digital divide by connecting all children and young people to the internet by 2030 and reaching 3.5 billion children and young people with safe, quality, accessible and equitable online learning.

●  Protect schools and places of learning from attack, and hold perpetrators of these attacks to account.

2.    Guarantee access to health and nutrition services and make vaccines affordable and available to every child

Image Credit – BINDERIYA SANDUIJAV (@binka.png), 25 years, (Mongolia), who was shortlisted in UNICEF’s #voicesofyouth illustration challenge for World Children’s Day 2020… “Reimagine a greener and more sustainable world. My name is Binderiya and I live in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I’m trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Therefore, I take little actions in my everyday life. A healthy nature and environment is the most precious thing to pass on to our next generation.”

A child survival crisis looms, with the children at greatest risk of hunger and disease now seeing their already-fragile health and food systems buckle under the strain of COVID-19. A fragmented and inequitable response to both treating and vaccinating against COVID-19 only risks prolonging the pandemic.

UNICEF asks governments and our partners to:

●  Urgently ensure the continuity of key health and nutrition services for children and young people – especially routine immunization, prioritizing the hardest to reach.

●  Unite to fight the spread of misinformation and build back confidence in routine immunization.

●  Collect gender-, age- and disability-disaggregated data on children and young people, including for those who have contracted COVID-19, and invest in research to better understand its impact on their health and well-being.

●  Ensure every child and young person has equal and affordable access – regardless of where they live – to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines as part of a comprehensive package of essential care.

●  Ensure any new funding expands access to other essential health services for children and young people, including by training and supporting health-care workers.

3.    Support and protect the mental health of children and young people and bring an end to abuse, gender-based violence, and neglect in childhood

Image Credit – ALUSINE KAMARA, 17 years, (Sierra Leone), who was shortlisted in UNICEF’s #voicesofyouth illustration challenge for World Children’s Day 2020… reimagined a world of happiness where every child is supported to reach their potential.

The world is waking up to the extent – and lasting impacts – of child abuse and neglect. But the COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated violence, exploitation, and abuse as children are cut off from key support services while simultaneously suffering the additional stress placed on families in turmoil. Girls are particularly vulnerable, with child marriage and adolescent pregnancy already on the rise.

UNICEF asks governments and our partners to:

●  Integrate sustainable child mental health and psychosocial support funding in all global humanitarian responses and commit to increased multi-year funding to better meet the protection needs of children in crisis.

●  Prioritize the prevention of and response to gender-based violence in global humanitarian action, increasing funding for gender-specific interventions.

●  Invest in gender-sensitive mental health and psychosocial support for children, young people and their caregivers:

●  Provide parenting support to all those who need it and strengthen child helplines and other child-focused reporting mechanisms. 

●  Designate formal and informal social service workers and services – including for gender-based violence, child protection, and sexual and reproductive health services – as essential.

●  Invest in gender-sensitive mental health and psychosocial support services for children, adolescents and their caregivers, including through schools, social services and communities.

4.    Increase access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene and address environmental degradation and climate change

Image Credit – BEGIMAI, 14 years, (Kyrgyzstan), who was shortlisted in UNICEF’s #voicesofyouth illustration challenge for World Children’s Day 2020… “In the world that I drew, everyone is strong and friendly. Holding hands means equality.”

COVID-19 may not have been directly caused by climate change, but there are strong linkages pointing to environmental degradation as a common underlying risk factor. Unreliable access to safe water due to changes in climate also limits people’s ability to practise life-saving hygiene measures like handwashing. Our vulnerability to this pandemic has only underscored the risk of not taking immediate action to protect against environmental degradation and climate change.

UNICEF asks governments and our partners to:

●  Guarantee universal access to clean water and handwashing for children and families through national policies, private sector cooperation, community engagement and behaviour-change initiatives.

●  Invest in climate-resilient water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services in homes, schools, hospitals and public spaces to make communities better prepared for future pandemics and other shocks.

●  Integrate child rights into key national climate change and adaptation strategies, policies and planning documents, including the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), as well as COVID-19 response and recovery plans and budgets.

●  Continue to pursue, implement and monitor climate and environmentally focused targets outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

●  Teach children and young people about climate change, the environment and responsible and sustainable consumption and production.

5.    Reverse the rise in child poverty and ensure an inclusive recovery for all

Image Credit – ENYA, 14 years, (Mexico), who was shortlisted in UNICEF’s #voicesofyouth illustration challenge for World Children’s Day 2020… “My dream for a better world is that all animals and all beings can live without pollution, with water and healthy food. I wish with all my heart that everyone in the world accept that we are all equal, I want all LGBTQ+ community feel proud of who they are, I want all black people know that they’re so beautiful and equal and all the women know that they’re so powerful. I hope all the people in the world, start being kind and love each other and working together, because we all live in the same planet, in the same earth, in the same home… I wish all the countries start helping and supporting and being in peace.”

The economic crisis caused by COVID-19 threatens to hit children the hardest, with the number of children living below their national poverty lines expected to soar by 140 million by the end of the year. Economic crises are often followed by cuts to government spending, including on programmes for children. If the world repeats this pattern in the wake of COVID-19, poverty and deprivation among children will continue to rise, even after the immediate crisis has waned. An inclusive recovery plan is imperative to prevent countless more children from reaching levels of poverty unseen for many years.

UNICEF asks governments to:

●  Marshal global resources to ensure an inclusive, gender-sensitive recovery, and support national fiscal responses that prioritize children and their families:

●  Maintain or increase overseas aid commitments, identifying context-specific new financing options and direct funding to those countries most affected and least able to take on new lending.

●  Act on debt relief, including extending current debt service suspension to middle-income countries. Ensure coordinated action covering all creditors to restructure and, where necessary, reduce debt.

●  Include investment in key services for children and young people as part of domestic stimulus packages and ring-fence existing spending on the most vulnerable children.

●  Expand resilient social protection programmes for the most vulnerable children and their families, including cash transfers for every child and child-friendly services like affordable, quality childcare.

6.    Redouble efforts to protect and support children and their families living through conflict, disaster and displacement

Image Credit – VIBHA SURYA (paperbugs_17), 23 years, (India), who was shortlisted in UNICEF’s #voicesofyouth illustration challenge for World Children’s Day 2020… “This work represents ‘Swiping’ to a sustainable and green future. From a young age I was taught how small changes can make big differences. I have always believed in simple eco-friendly alternatives for plastic and other non-degradable items, that can make our world breathe easily. If we all can change a few simple things in our life, there is hope for a brighter, greener and sustainable future.”

Even before the pandemic, 2020 was set to see more people than ever in need of humanitarian assistance. COVID-19 has compounded the vulnerabilities of migrant, displaced, and refugee children, as well as those living in crisis-affected countries. And whether the result of active conflict or new pandemic restrictions, it is becoming harder to reach the most vulnerable children with essential and life-saving services. COVID-19 must not become an excuse to divert attention from these children.

UNICEF asks governments to:

●  Increase and maintain funding for emergencies to prevent multiple, catastrophic and protracted crises and to save children’s lives, alleviate their suffering and preserve their dignity. In all humanitarian responses, prioritize child rights and child protection, in line with the Core Commitments for Children.

●  Ensure immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access.

●  End attacks on children and on civilian infrastructure critical for their survival, such as water, sanitation, and health-care facilities and personnel. Hold the perpetrators of these attacks to account.

●  Include internally displaced, refugee and migrant children in national systems, policies and plans – starting with COVID-19 recovery and response efforts.

●  Fight the virus, not each other. Implement and uphold the United Nations Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire.