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Over 100 youth activists from around the globe met virtually ahead of the Nov. 21 summit of some of the world’s wealthiest nations. They called on the leaders to restructure the global response to COVID-19 and ensure aid reaches the world’s most marginalised people.
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 19 2020 (IPS) - Heads of youth movements and student unions are challenging the world’s richest nations to correct an ‘incredibly unequal’ global response to COVID-19, by considering the plight of the world’s most vulnerable children and young people.
The youth leaders gathered for a global forum ahead of the 2020 G20 Summit, which Saudi Arabia is hosting virtually from Nov. 21 to 22. The online youth event, ‘A Fair Share for our Future’, was organised by the 100 Million Campaign, an initiative of Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, which empowers young people and tackles issues such as child labour, poverty, access to education and violence against children.
Satyarthi, a longtime child rights advocate, has been pleading with world leaders to be particularly attentive to the needs of children during the COVID-19 pandemic. In September, he urged governments to hold large corporations to account for child labour. Ahead of a G20 that promises to address the pandemic’s impact on developing countries, Satyarthi is calling on the nations which are spearheading the global response to be just in their treatment of the most at-risk communities.
“The richest governments have focused heavily on bailing out businesses and economies as part of the global COVID relief. While this must be done, it cannot be done at the expense of the world’s poorest and most marginalised children,” Satyarthi said. “Ensuring a Fair Share for Children by allocating 20 percent of the global COVID relief to the 20 percent most marginalised children and their families, along with the immediate release of $1 trillion (just a fraction of the global response), can save over 70 million lives. I call upon the G20 members to prioritise the most marginalised children this year and save losing an entire generation.”
According to the official agenda, G20 leaders will focus on three main areas; empowering people, safeguarding the planet and shaping new frontiers. Leandra Phiri, a youth activist from Malawi, urged young people to hold the leaders accountable to their promise of opportunities for all.
“Provide solutions and prepare the future generations not to face the things that we are facing right now. We are facing insecurities, imbalances and exclusions. On behalf of my fellow youth, if they won’t let us dream – we won’t let them sleep,” she said.
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Ankit Tripathi, an Indian international student in Canada, addressed the detrimental impact of COVID-19 on inherently vulnerable migrant populations. His comments follow a recent landmark joint global report by the International Organisation for Migration and the World Food Programme, which warned that COVID-19 and measures taken to contain its spread have disrupted human mobility patterns, the consequences of which could been seen for years to come. Tripathi said leaders must ensure migrant access to health and social services.
“Migrants are often the exception to many public services in countries. Living everyday lives that are the same or harder than others, yet access to public services is severely diminished. Some of the wealthiest nations in the world are competing to increase international student populations in their countries for both financial and social capital, but when it comes to providing support, we don’t even receive lip service let alone any real policy support,” he said.
Another area of concern for the youth involves domestic violence made worse by the economic blow of COVID-19 including unemployment. Johannah Reyes of Trinidad and Tobago’s feminist organisation WOMANTRA issued a passionate plea to leaders to protect women and children from abuse. She reminded the summit that women and youth are bearing the brunt of COVID-19 related job losses in the Americas and need help.
“This unemployment disparity means that there is a decrease in the capacity of women and young people to protect themselves from abuse and also decreases their ability to participate in political processes and organise,” she said. “My organisation WOMANTRA has documented 20 femicides for the year thus far in Trinidad and Tobago. This heart wrenching list includes Trinidadian women, Venezuelan migrant women and a child born with a disability,” Reyes said.
The young activists say the pandemic has severely derailed the education of at-risk children. In many parts of the world, COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in a transition to online instruction, but millions of students with no access to the required technology are falling behind. Brazilian student union leader Rozana Barroso said for many students in her country, as the digital divide widens, hunger increases.
“[Brazilian President Jair] Bolsonaro ignores the digital exclusion of young people who don’t have access to the internet,” she said. “It has now been 7 months since some students have been able to attend school. Democracy means having access to internet and the fight against hunger. Many students have also been suffering from more hunger because some of them were only able to have their daily meal at school.”
In Malawi, grassroots activists are worried about the toll that COVID-19 disruption in classroom instruction is taking on young girls, particularly in rural areas. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund and the U.N. Population Fund, the reality of life in pre-COVID Malawi included high rates of child marriage, teenage pregnancy and maternal mortality. The Malawi National Students Union has been tracking the numbers and the union’s president Japhet Nthala said they have been rising since COVID lockdowns.
“From the closure of school which happened on Mar. 28 this year up to around June we have witnessed rampant cases of teenage pregnancies and child marriages. In the eastern region of the country we have witnessed about 7,274 teenage pregnancies and this came into effect because of students being idle and schools being closed,” Nthala said.
The youth leaders say from hunger and abuse to unemployment and lack of access to health services, the problems faced by the world’s most marginalised continue to be exacerbated by COVID-19. They are demanding that world leaders deliver an equal, moral and fair internationalist response to COVID‐19, that national governments uphold the fundamental human rights of their citizens and that they give special protection for the most vulnerable children and young people during the pandemic.
They say the G20 leaders have assumed the reins of the COVID-response and now must also take the charge for responding to the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people.
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