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A recent pathbreaking global report found that COVID-19 related lost schooling will result in up to $17 trillion dollars of lower future lifetime earnings for today’s students, equivalent to roughly 14 percent of global GDP. These losses are disproportionately borne by regions like South Asia, where children have lost nearly three times the education of Western Europe. But the issues for children don’t stop there. The future of Asia’s next generation depends on our ability to mobilize a coordinated and comprehensive response.
When parents die, children are left behind
HIV was first discovered in 1981, and by 1990 had deprived over 900,000 children of at least one parent. By its third year, COVID-19 had deprived a minimum of 7.5 million children of a parent, and millions more of other primary or secondary caregivers in the home. At least 2.2 million of those children live in India, and many others across Asia. The rapidity of this spread is alarming. Worse, unlike most other chronic diseases, COVID-19 kills in days or weeks, leaving children or families little time to prepare for the significant economic, psychological, and social shocks to the household. A recent meta-analysis in the Lancet shows that orphanages and children’s homes are terrible options for affected children, and cost 6-10 times as much as care in a much more beneficial family setting.
When children are quarantined, abuse levels skyrocket
Pre-pandemic, the WHO estimated that 1 billion children experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence in the prior year. COVID-19 drastically compounded these levels of violence. After Hubei Province initiated one of the strictest COVID-19 lockdowns in China, domestic violence calls to the police increased four times. Indonesia experienced a 68% increase in violence against children. The WHO, UN agencies and major global NGOs issued a joint statement calling the global increases in violence against children a ‘hidden crisis’ requiring urgent action by governments and their partners.
When abuse skyrockets, so do other risks to children
There have been alarming increases in child marriage globally. Indonesia reported 33,000 approved child marriages in the first six months of 2020, far in excess of the 22,000 for all of 2019. The Philippines has made prevention of adolescent pregnancy a national priority, with 500 teenage girls giving birth daily. Millions of children are entering child labor as a result of the pandemic and increased poverty. The London School of Economics estimates that mental disorders among children – increasing under COVID-19 — are costing the global economy some $390 billion per year.
When children suffer, nations lose human capital
Countries do not only rely on fixed and financial assets to grow their economies. They require human capital, which is measured by the extent to which people realize their potential as productive members of society. Human capital critically depends on the quality of a child’s care during first years of life – by age 3, we develop most of the 100 trillion neural connections in our brain. Our physical, cognitive, emotional and social development through childhood shapes our potential as adults. Study after study shows abuse and neglect of children significantly undermines human capital, which in turn compromises the long-term future of communities and nations. COVID-19 is reversing decades of progress in poverty reduction and human capital development.
When human capital is at risk, we need to intervene
We have learned a lot from prior epidemics and emergencies. As children in Asia resume their education (however fitfully), the Global Reference Group on Children Affected by COVID-19 calls on us to promote three inter-connected strategies backed by global evidence on what works:
- Prevent future deaths of parents, caregivers, and community members through equitable and effective vaccine distribution;
- Prepare to intervene rapidly when children face the death of parents or caregivers from COVID-19, secure safe and nurturing family-based care for those children, and avoid placement in residential care settings like orphanages; and
- Protect children by developing a comprehensive social work infrastructure capable of addressing the complex needs children in adversity face, complemented by programs and services that prevent and respond to protective risks.
There are many organizations working to promote this important agenda. Please contact the author of this post through the AVPN Directory if you are interested in learning more.