Children in a Post-COVID World
Five opportunities for children we must seize now
Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director
Annual Letter, 2021
An open letter on why I believe we can reimagine a better post-COVID world for every child.
COVID-19 is the first truly global crisis we have seen in our lifetime. No matter where we live, the pandemic affects every person – children most of all. Millions are missing out on basic health services, education and protection simply because they were born into poverty or because of their ethnicity, religion or race. COVID-19 has widened this inequality gap and the social, economic and health impacts of the pandemic will reverberate for years to come, threatening child rights.
But this is not the time to be intimidated or paralyzed by these challenges. As we kick off UNICEF’s 75th anniversary, we are reminded that this organization was created in the midst of another historic crisis in the aftermath of World War II. Back then, it would have been easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of the problems facing children in a war-ravaged world. But we reimagined what was possible. We built new health and welfare systems around the world. We defeated smallpox. We built the United Nations.
History is calling upon us once again. In previous major global crises, from world wars to pandemics, leaders have come together to negotiate deals and pacts, agreeing to build new ways to restore peace, recover and rebuild, and to cooperate.
We need to rally the world behind a practical and concrete plan to protect our children – a promise from our generation to the next to invest in health and education, build more resilient systems and services that can reach all children, and ensure that budget cuts and economic downturns do not harm them.
While we must be clear-eyed about the scale of the challenges facing the world’s children, we can also advance in partnership and solidarity by building on our past, with ambition and confidence in our future.
This is not about a return to the way things were. For hundreds of millions of children around the world, ‘normal’ was never good enough to begin with.
Here are five opportunities for the world’s children revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and five lessons on how we can reimagine a better future for them, as reflected in the voices of young people:
1: For vaccines to work, we must build trust
2: Bridging the digital divide can help bring quality education for all
3: COVID-19 has unlocked attention on global youth mental health
4: COVID-19 does not discriminate, but our societies do
5: Climate change is the other planetary crisis that won’t wait
…A final word…
In a public letter I wrote in 2019, I laid out my worries and hopes for the future of children and young people. Little did I know that a year on, a global pandemic would demonstrate, in dramatic fashion, how well-founded these worries would be.
The bad news: As the crisis continues and the economic fallout deepens, we still have difficult days before us. The economic storm is decimating government budgets and reversing decades of development and progress. If we fail to act decisively and quickly, the effects could be felt for generations.
But here’s the good news: We can reverse this trend by harnessing this moment as an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild and reimagine the systems upon which children and young people rely.
So this is a call to action for children, young people and leaders in every sphere of our societies – politicians on the global stage, faith leaders, government policymakers, star athletes, media owners, advocates and each and every one of us.
The international community must support an inclusive recovery that prioritizes investments for children and child rights. On a wide range of issues, from internet safety and privacy, to digital learning, to providing clean water, the private sector must do more to reach and protect children with innovation. And citizens must continue to hold those in power to account and stand up to discrimination and inequality.
This year, as UNICEF celebrates 75 years of reimagining the future for every child, let’s gather behind children and young people with a new spirit of urgency, as we create opportunities, ignite their dreams, and support them across every part of their lives.
COVID-19 will not be the last crisis faced by humanity. So let’s work side by side as partners and friends to emerge from this pandemic stronger than before.