Existing inequalities have been exacerbated as COVID-19 unfolds across the globe. What are the four key challenges facing children and adolescents during the crisis?

Replay

As the devastating impacts of COVID-19 unfold across the globe, existing inequalities have been exacerbated. Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to these impacts, creating an urgent need for collaboration and innovation to ensure the most disadvantaged are not left behind.

Henrietta Fore is Executive Director at UNICEF, the United Nations agency responsible for supporting children’s rights across the world. Belinda Tanoto is a Member of the Board of Trustees at the Tanoto Foundation, a UNICEF partner organisation in Indonesia. They spoke with J.P. Morgan Private Bank’s Head of The Philanthropy Centre for Asia, Jean Sung, about four key challenges facing children and adolescents during the crisis, and international efforts to combat them.

Health

COVID-19 has many “knock on” effects beyond its immediate impacts. One concern arising from the COVID-19 crisis is a global drop in vaccination rates. Parents are staying away from clinics for fear of catching the virus, and are missing critical vaccinations for infants and young children. As Henrietta Fore explains, the results could be deadly: “In many countries vaccination rates are around 40% to 60%. This means diseases such as measles and diphtheria will come roaring back, and we will lose millions of children to preventable diseases. It is heartbreaking to realize this is happening in our world.”

The pandemic has put enormous strain on community healthcare systems, says Belinda Tanoto. “Community clinics are suspended, frontline workers are interrupted, and people just can't get access to the essential services needed to help children thrive. It’s more important than ever that philanthropists and non-profits step up their activity.”

Education

With children around the world switching to online distance education under lockdown, socio-economic disadvantages have been compounded. The Tanoto Foundation has been supporting schools to transition to remote learning. “Technology won't help if children are learning the old way,” says Belinda Tanoto. “We're working with the ministry and the district governments to empower principals and teachers to take the lead, and have published a guide on blended learning and how to use technology for remote learning.”

As well as focusing on immediate education needs during the pandemic, UNICEF is undertaking an ambitious long-term development initiative: to connect every school in the world to the internet. Working with private sector partners and governments and using low earth orbit satellites, the program is being piloted in 16 countries across East Asia, South Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.

Its effects will be profound, says Fore. “If everyone is connected, where a child is born will not determine what their life will be. They can learn wherever they are, however remote the village, or however poor or rural the community. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Water

Children around the world die from easily preventable waterborne diseases every day because they don’t have access to clean water. UNICEF delivers large-scale water, sanitation and hygiene programs around the world, providing drinking water and sanitation facilities to improve health outcomes for children and adolescents and lower the risk of preventable disease.

Access to clean water has never been more critical than it is under COVID-19. “Right now, access to clean water will make all the difference for the people on the ground,” says Tanoto. Fore agrees. “Every time I turn on a tap to wash my hands, and I have a bar of soap, I realize how extraordinarily lucky I am. Most of the world does not have that.”

Mental health

While children and young people are less likely to suffer from the virus itself, they are highly vulnerable to its effects on mental health and family life. Life under lockdown and the economic fallout of the pandemic have placed enormous stress on families and seen family violence on the rise across the world. Isolated from their friends and support networks, many children are experiencing loneliness and depression. UNICEF is working with a range of partners to find ways to combat these pressures, with family hubs and early childhood development centres playing an important role in teaching families to support their children.

For young people on the brink of adulthood, COVID-19 has changed everything, says Fore. “They are very anxious about their futures. They may not have jobs as we have known jobs. They don't know how they're going to make a living. And they don't know what's going to happen to school. It's a very distressing, depressing time for young people, and it brings out a lot of frustration and anger.”

Proactive public and private sector collaboration will be key to supporting this generation to meet these challenges. UNICEF’s Generation Unlimited is a global multi-sector public private partnership established to meet the urgent need to expand education, training and employment opportunities for young people around the world.

“There are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 right now,” says Fore. “Every month, 10 million turn 18 and begin thinking about a job – we know that our world is not creating 10 million jobs a month. Our purpose is to provide all of these young people with a modern education and skills so they can make their way in the world and become productive members of society.”

To learn about how you can support the important work of UNICEF, please contact your J.P. Morgan team.