UN agencies empowering children and young people in the face of COVID-19

Children and adolescents are less likely to get severe disease from COVID-19 according to the latest evidence, however severe cases and death can still occur. Despite the relatively low rates of serious illness, children and adolescents remain an important part of fighting the virus and saving lives, and it is critical that they are supported and empowered to take all recommended hygiene and physical distancing measures.

As part of UNESCO’s work in promoting better health and well-being for all children and young people, it has contributed to the development of a practical guide in a ‘questions and answers’ (Q&A) format on children and adolescents and COVID-19. This work was led by the World Health Organization, in collaboration with the Adolescents and Youth Constituency of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, UNESCO, UNFPA, and UNICEF.

The Q&A provide children and adolescents with accurate, non-judgmental information and advice around COVID-19, including how to help stop the spread of the virus, what to do if they develop symptoms of the disease, and how to best manage their health and well-being during the confinement period and after. It considers children and young people as critical actors in the response to COVID-19, not as passive beneficiaries.

The closure of schools and transition to home learning has been a source of stress for many adolescents and young people, resulting in anxiety and other mental health issues. Not all adolescents have access to the internet or other means to benefit from distance learning, and some have to care for younger siblings in the home while parents and caregivers go to work. Others are simply struggling to keep up with their education, and to stay motivated.

The Q&A encourages adolescents to draw on skills and strategies that have helped them to manage life challenges in the past, including keeping active and staying connected with friends and family. It also helps deal with any concerns about safety as schools prepare to reopen, urging adolescents to follow the guidelines and rules provided by the school.

“It is very normal for adolescents and youth to feel anxious about COVID-19 and the resulting confinement, as it is for all of us,” said Dr Anshu Banerjee, Director of the Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at the World Health Organization. “We hope that this Q&A empowers them with new information and ideas about how to cope during this stressful period, and how we can all work together to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Vibeke Jensen, Director of UNESCO’s Division for Peace and Sustainable Development, said:

“This Q&A is one small part of UNESCO’s longstanding commitment to engage and empower young people, and to promote safe, inclusive and health-promoting learning environments for all. We know that learning in an environment that is free from fear, harm and discrimination is essential to a good quality education, and to transitioning to adulthood in a safe and productive way.”

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