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Covid-19 after-effects threaten vulnerable children

Indian Nobel peace laureate leads an initiative to press world leaders to tackle child abuse

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Covid-19 after-effects threaten vulnerable children

According to the World Health Organization, up to one billion children aged 2-17 experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence or neglect in 2019. (Photo: UCA News)

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A group of 88 laureates and children’s rights advocates have urged world leaders to prioritize children who are more vulnerable in the Covid-19 era.

Indian Nobel peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi’s foundation Laureates and Leaders for Children has also asked for a US$1 trillion financial package to protect children.

“The Catholic Church has always a special place and concern for the youth and children and Pope Francis always insists on taking extra care of children, so an initiative like this is a highly appreciable step,” Father Chetan Machado, secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India’s Commission for Youth, told UCA News.

He said the initiative is timely because the activists are in a good position to push world leaders to prioritize children.

“There is a possibility that during and after the Covid-19 effect many elders will lose their jobs, some organizations may collapse and job opportunities may dry up, forcing many children to help their elders,” the priest said.

Satyarthi, who has been fighting child labor, slavery and trafficking, issued a statement on May 18 with other laureates highlighting the challenges faced by children and advocates.

"We all collectively must act now or else we may lose our children and an entire generation. We demand that the most marginalized and vulnerable children are not forgotten during this grave crisis and beyond,” the statement said.

The statement said that children who are trapped in houses to escape the virus are at greater risk of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

But when lockdown restrictions are lifted, it is possible that children will be trafficked, forced out of school and into labor, bearing the burden of sustaining their families, the statement said.

Child abuse, hunger, poverty and slavery may increase, the laureates said. They called for child protection infrastructure to be strengthened. Education, cash transfers, food security, hygiene, sanitation and healthcare system are also critical for children, the statement said.

The statement, which was signed by Nobel laureates like the Dalai Lama and former state leaders from New Zealand, Ecuador and Bulgaria, said that with Covid-19 exposing the pre-existing inequalities, the aftermath would have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable.

Beyond the public health emergency, the economic impact will push more children into child labor, the statement said.

They said their proposed financial package would fund all outstanding UN and charity Covid-19 appeals and cancel two years of debt repayments from low-income countries.

The fund could be used to help countries meet UN Sustainable Development Goals on health, water, sanitation and education, the statement said.

They also called on G20 nations to take action beyond their own borders for those who urgently need coordinated international aid.

According to the World Health Organization, up to one billion children aged 2-17 experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence or neglect in 2019 globally.

It says nearly 50 million children across the globe have migrated across or within borders or been forcibly displaced.

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