By Charly Agwam, Bauchi
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned in a new report of significant and growing consequences for children as the COVID-19 pandemic lurches toward a second year, ahead of World Children’s Day on 20 November, Averting a Lost COVID Generation is the first UNICEF report to comprehensively outline the dire and growing consequences for children as the pandemic drags on.
In a press release made available to journalists today in Bauchi, UNICEF while commemorating World Children’s Day warned of a ‘lost generation’ as COVID-19 threatens to cause irreversible harm to children’s education, nutrition and well-being.
The international organization expressed worry that while symptoms among infected children remain mild, infections are rising and the longer-term impact on the education, nutrition and well-being of an entire generation of children and young people can be life-altering.
“Since the pandemic started, there has been a false belief that children are not affected by COVID-19,” said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria. “Nothing can be further from the truth, including in Nigeria. While children are less likely to have severe symptoms of illness, they can be infected and the biggest impact by far is the disruptions to key services and increasing poverty rates, which are both having a huge impact on Nigerian children’s education, health, nutrition and well-being. The future of an entire generation is at risk – globally and in Nigeria.”
The new UNICEF report finds that, as of 3 November, in 87 countries with age-disaggregated data, children and adolescents under 20 years of age accounted for 1 in 9 of COVID-19 infections, or 11 per cent of the 25.7 million infections reported by these countries. In Nigeria, children in the same age group accounted for 1 in 10 infections or 11.3 percent of total infections.
The report maintained that while children can transmit the virus to each other and to older age groups, there is strong evidence that, with basic safety measures in place, the net benefits of keeping schools open outweigh the costs of closing them, the report notes. Schools are not a main driver of community transmission, and children are more likely to get the virus outside of school settings.
“World Children’s Day is an important day to commemorate but also recommit ourselves to addressing the rights and needs of children in Nigeria,” said Peter Hawkins. “We are asking the government, partners and the private sector to listen to children and young people about Nigeria they want to see for themselves and their futures and prioritize their needs. As we look ahead to a post-COVID-19 world, children must come first.”
Proffering solutions to the issue, UNICEF suggested that governments and other stakeholders should ensure that all children learn – including by closing the digital divide, guarantee access to nutrition and health 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.
Other suggestions include: increase access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene and address environmental degradation and climate change, reverse the rise in child poverty and ensure an inclusive recovery for all, and redouble efforts to protect and support children and their families living through conflict, disaster and displacement.