Covid-19: UNICEF calls for urgent action to safeguard futures of 600 mn South Asian children

(Source: @UNICEF)

New Delhi (NVI): Millions of children in South Asia, a region that contains a quarter of the world’s population, are threatened by disastrous immediate and long-term consequences due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the UNICEF says in a new report, while calling for urgent action to address the situation.

According to the report, the futures of 600 million South Asian children have been threatened by the pandemic. UNICEF has been reiterating in its reports that Covid-19 has been unravelling decades of health, education and other advances for children in especially developing countries and the same goes for South Asia.

The governments must take urgent action to prevent millions of families from slipping back into poverty, according to the UNICEF report titled ‘Lives Upended’.

“The side-effects of the pandemic across South Asia, including the lockdown and other measures, have been damaging for children in numerous ways,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia.

“But the longer-term impact of the economic crisis on children will be on a different scale entirely. Without urgent action now, COVID-19 could destroy the hopes and futures of an entire generation,” she said.

According to the report, immunization, nutrition and other vital health services have been severely disrupted, potentially threatening the lives of up to 459,000 children and mothers over the next six months.

Apart from that, a UNICEF survey in Sri Lanka showed that 30 per cent of families have reduced their food consumption, indicating that food insecurity is growing due to the pandemic situation. In Bangladesh, some of the poorest families are unable to afford three meals a day.

Besides, schools closures have pushed more than 430 million children into remote learning which has only partially filled the gap; many households – especially in rural areas – have no electricity, let alone internet access.

At the same time, there are concerns that some disadvantaged students may join the nearly 32 million children who were already out of school before COVID-19 struck.

Phone helplines are reporting a surge in calls from children suffering violence and abuse during confinement at home. Some children are struggling with depression, even resulting in attempts at suicide, according to the report.

The report also notes that life-saving vaccination campaigns against measles, polio and other diseases must resume, as should work to help the estimated 7.7 million children who suffer from severe wasting — more than half the global total. Schools should reopen as soon as possible provided adequate handwashing and other physical distancing precautions are in place, it said.

In recent years, rising levels of prosperity produced significant health, education and other advances for children in South Asia. Improvements in infant and maternal mortality were matched by declines in the number of out-of-school children and in child marriages.

However, the economic shock triggered by COVID-19 is hitting families across the region hard. Large-scale job losses and wage cuts have coincided with the loss of remittances from overseas workers and from tourism, as per the report.

According to UNICEF projections, as many as 120 million more children could be pushed into poverty and food insecurity, joining some 240 million children already classified as poor.

To mitigate the impact on poorer families, the report says that governments should immediately direct more resources towards social protection schemes, including emergency universal child benefits and school feeding programmes.

“Putting such measures in place now will help the countries of South Asia transition faster from the humanitarian crisis caused by COVID-19 to a resilient and sustainable development model, with long term benefits for child wellbeing, the economy, and social cohesion,” said Gough.

-RJV/ARK