Compiled from World Vision’s new report, “Children’s voices in times of COVID-19: Continued child activism in the face of personal challenges.”
In just a few short months, the COVID-19 pandemic became a global phenomenon, affecting over 200 countries and territories.
Children and young people are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 because of school closures and a loss of access to their social safety net. As lockdowns spread, hundreds of millions of students are not receiving school meals, and many parents are unable to provide food after losing their jobs and livelihoods. Impeded movement and disrupted communications have prevented children from contacting friends and relatives, wreaking confusion and anxiety. Already, reports suggest that isolation and confinement put children at increased risk of domestic violence and other forms of abuse, including child trafficking, child labor, and online child abuse.
But World Vision doesn’t see children and young people as helpless, hidden victims of this pandemic. They are not only recipients and beneficiaries of aid; they are also active social actors capable of interacting with others and shaping their environments!
During the months of March and April, we wanted to give some of the children we work with a chance to express their perspectives on COVID-19 and how it’s affecting their communities.
More than 100 children and young people participated in a series of interviews and focus group discussions, conducted remotely via social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Skype. Many were members of World Vision’s Young Leaders advocacy program, while others were active in child parliaments and clubs in World Vision program areas. The kids we spoke to were between the ages of 8 and 18 from 13 countries (Albania, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Mali, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Peru, Philippines, Romania, and Sierra Leone, and Syrian refugee children living in refugee camps near the Turkish-Syrian border).
Together, they explored their understanding of the pandemic and discussed how they would like to contribute to stopping the spread of COVID-19. In fact, some of the young people were already taking action in their communities!
Changing lives on a massive scale
Across all 13 countries, the interviewees pointed out three vital dimensions that directly changed their lives on a massive scale: school disruption, emotional distress due to social distancing, and increasing poverty.
“Coronavirus is a big complication for our daily learning because all our schools are closed. To continue learning, we can just read books and do some research on the internet. But having access to the internet is not possible for all children in Mali because many of them live in poor conditions and therefore they can’t study online.” — Salimata, age 15, Mali
“Students and teachers collaborate with each other online. But online classes are not as specific… as they are in school. Almost every student learns and understands better in school with the teacher’s explanation.”
— Drini, age 16, Albania
“Coronavirus is affecting us very seriously. First of all, stress. We get depressed because of staying home. It affects me, [and I am feeling] not so much joy. I feel like I can’t stay in the house. Maybe some [children] who stay in the rural areas can go out in the garden, but those from an urban area can only stay in their flats.” — Alexandru, age 13, Romania
“I do not like this situation. We wanted to announce the end of Ebola, but now coronavirus is already coming. We stay at home, we no longer study, we no longer go to church, and we are unable to participate in meetings. And, despite the fact that isolation will help protect us from the virus, this will bring starvation that can still kill us too.”
— Anita, age 16, DRC
“A big problem is the lack of water. For example, one of the most important recommendations is handwashing, but where we live, we don’t have water. Many houses get water only once a week; so, how are these people going to have good hygiene opportunities? They can’t! This will cause many infections.” — Lara, age 17, Brazil
“Every country is being locked down day by day. Every type of work is being stopped in my country. This situation is so much more difficult for those people who barely survive with basic needs.”
— Nafis, age 17, Bangladesh
Keeping safe but mobilizing against the spread of COVID-19
The children and young people were fully aware of current events surrounding the pandemic and were abiding by the regulations and quarantines imposed by their governments. However, they expressed a desire to find ways to help and support others, even though they knew they needed to find new ways to do so from their homes in order to comply with movement restrictions.
“I am volunteering in my community to battle the coronavirus pandemic and raise awareness about the risks the virus brings to the population. We want to ensure that the people are following the instructions and are using masks and gloves when needed. I feel this is an opportunity to help others.”
— Jomarie, age 17, Philippines
“Many people are confused by the misinformation or are listening to rumours. [We can] make them aware of information from the World Health Organization (WHO), IDECR, or other trusted sources and spread hotline numbers. If necessary, we can explain how to call the hotline. All this can be done by building a network of other teenagers. However, it should be done without public meetings. Work must be done [in a way] to ensure personal safety.” — Sanjidul, age 15, Bangladesh
Exploring what to do next
It was clear from discussions about the actions children and young people were already taking that it was important to them to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and that they were confident that they could influence their peers, families, and communities by using appropriate and safe communications.
“[We can raise awareness] by using our social networks to send educational and informative messages to the general population and all our friends who have phones or can use social networks. In this way, children can become aware of the risks and take measures to protect themselves and their families.”
— Christopher, age 8, Nicaragua
“Social media is a powerful tool for spreading awareness. Tech[nological] developments allow us as children to discuss ideas and information. We can create different materials like animated videos to further grab the audience’s attention. We should start a social media campaign. What’s more important is to keep spreading good, positive vibes through awareness.” — Suelv, age 15, Albania
“We can send messages followed by hashtags like #stayhome. These are more impactful if they come from children.”
— Catalin, age 13, Romania
“Raise awareness on stopping racism and ask people to not to be mad at people who have Asian features.” — Lishee, age 14, Mongolia
“Ask people to be conscious about the impact of food shortage. We should not buy too much food so someone in need can’t buy it then.”
— Arijan, age 14, Bosnia and Herzegovina
“We need to reach the authorities to ask them to support the most vulnerable families. People have a big need and many people live day by day, so we need to mobilize to support these poor families.” — Clara, age 14, Peru
How can WE help?
As COVID-19 spreads, World Vision offices and programs are working to highlight and respond to child protection needs and ensure that children and young people’s voices are heard!
Based on the children’s perspectives on COVID-19 outbreak, World Vision calls on governments, the United Nations, international community and civil society organizations to:
Urgently scale up global COVID-19 prevention and response measures for children and their families to strengthen health systems, maintain essential health service delivery, equip frontline health workers, engage and communicate effectively with communities including children, and provide critical child protection interventions and mental health and psychosocial support.
The inspirational words of these young advocates inspire us to keep taking action, even (and especially) during a pandemic!
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Top photo: Dola, 15, a young leader from Bangladesh, is at the United Nations in Geneva to share about her Child Forum work. (© 2019 World Vision/photo by Kate Shaw)