The head of the UN children’s fund UNICEF warned on Friday that 250 million children around the world living in the “waking nightmare” of conflict desperately need warring parties to stop fighting as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads.
In her appeal, UNICEF Executive-Director Henrietta Fore urged belligerents to consider that they would not be able to fight the disease while still fighting each other.
“To the children living through these waking nightmares, a ceasefire could mean the difference between life and death…while the fighting continues, so too does COVID-19’s silent march on vulnerable children and populations caught in the middle,” she said.
A global ceasefire would protect children from being killed, maimed or forced from their homes by conflict. It would stop the attacks on vital infrastructure like health centres and water and sanitation systems.
“It would open space for vulnerable populations to access essential services like healthcare; services that are key to stopping a pandemic. It would create opportunities to engage with parties to conflicts for the safe release of children from armed forces and groups.”
Lull in fighting in 11 countries
Ms. Fore’s call comes nearly a month after UN chief António Guterres appealed for a global ceasefire, which has resulted in a temporary lull in hostilities in 11 countries.
Violent conflict continues nonetheless in parts of Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Syria, Ukraine, Yemen and elsewhere.
Recession will likely cause hundreds of thousands of child deaths
The development coincides with the publication of UN research suggesting that the global recession caused by COVID-19 could cause hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths this year.
Responding to the findings – which would reverse gains in reducing infant mortality – Mr. Guterres called for urgent action to protect youngsters’ wellbeing.
Even before the pandemic, childhood malnutrition and stunting were at unacceptable levels, he said.
Now, with classrooms closed almost everywhere, nearly 310 million children who rely on school meals are missing out on this daily dose of nutrition.
School closures remove ‘early warning mechanism’
“Children are both victims and witnesses of domestic violence and abuse. With schools closed, an important early warning mechanism is missing,” the UN chief explained.
“Reduced household income will force poor families to cut back on essential health and food expenditures, particularly affecting children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers.”
In addition to the suspension of polio vaccination campaigns, measles immunization has also been halted in at least 23 countries, the UN Secretary-General continued.
“And as health services become overwhelmed, sick children are less able to access care. With the global recession gathering pace, there could be hundreds of thousands additional child deaths in 2020.”
Recommendations to Governments to counter the negative effects on children of lockdown measures include increasing assistance to families, securing food supplies from local markets and prioritizing schooling, nutrition programmes, and maternal and infant care.
Child labour ‘robs children of their future’, scourge must end
Although child labour has decreased significantly over the last decade, one-in-ten children are still caught up in harmful work, the UN’s labour agency said on Friday, kicking off a year-long bid to eradicate the practice.
Breaking down the stats
While the number has dropped from 246 million in 2000 to 152 million in 2016, ILO noted uneven progress across regions.
It pointed to some 72 million children working in Africa, which account for almost half of the world’s total. This is followed by Asia and the Pacific, home to 62 million child labourers.
ILO highlighted that 70 per cent of these children work in agriculture – mainly in subsistence and commercial farming and livestock herding – and almost half in occupations or situations considered hazardous to their health and lives.
The COVID factor
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has considerably exacerbated the situation by rendering everyone more vulnerable to exploitation, compounding poverty within defenseless populations and jeopardizing hard-fought gains in the fight against child labour.
Furthermore, school closures have pushed millions more children into the labour market, so they can contribute to the family income.
“With COVID-19 threatening to reverse years of progress, we need to deliver on promises now more than ever”, said the ILO chief.
A year of action
On a positive note, ILO said that joint and decisive action can reverse this trend.
In collaboration with the Alliance 8.7 global partnership, ILO launched the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour to encourage legislative and practical actions to eradicate child labour worldwide.
Target 8.7 calls for immediate measures to end forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking while also eliminating the worst forms of child labour, including use of child soldiers, and by 2025 ending child labour in all its forms.
The 12-month campaign will also prepare the ground for the fifth Global Conference on Child Labour (VGC) in 2022, which will welcome additional commitments towards ending child labour in all its forms by 2025, and forced labour, human trafficking and modern slavery by 2030.
“This International Year is an opportunity for governments to step up and achieve Target 8.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals by taking concrete actions to eliminate child labour for good”.
Pandemic curbs trend towards ever-increasing migration
Travel restrictions and other curbs to movement put in place in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, have put a significant dent in migration figures, but the overall trend shows 100 million more people living outside their countries of origin in 2020, compared to the year 2000, a new UN report revealed on Friday.
‘Migration is part of today’s world’
International Migration 2020 Highlights, published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), shows that the pandemic may have slowed migration flows by around two million people last year, cutting the annual growth expected since mid-2019 by around 27 per cent.
Since the year 2000, however, there has been a major increase in migration. That year some 173 million people lived outside of their countries of origin. Twenty years later, that figure had risen to 281 million.
In a statement, Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said “The report affirms that migration is a part of today’s globalized world and shows how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the livelihoods of millions of migrants and their families, and undermined progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Less money sent home
The economic crisis that following in the wake of the pandemic has had a major impact on remittances, the money migrants send home to their countries of origin. The World Bank projects that remittances sent back to low- and middle-income countries may see a $78 billion dip, around 14 per cent of the total amount.
This will negatively affect the livelihoods of millions of migrants and their families, especially in those countries with a big diaspora. India, for example, has the largest diaspora in the world: 18 million people born in India live outside the country. Other nations with significant diasporas include Mexico, the Russian Federation (11 million each), China (10 million) and Syria (eight million).
US and Germany top destinations
Unsurprisingly, high income countries are the most coveted destinations for migrants. The US takes the top spot with 51 million migrants hosted in 2020.
Germany hosted the second largest number of migrants worldwide, at around 16 million, followed by Saudi Arabia (13 million), the Russian Federation (12 million) and the United Kingdom (nine million).
Many migrants do not travel far, however. Nearly half of them remain in the region from which they originated. For example, in Europe 70 per cent of migrants come from another European country. Similarly, some 63 per cent of migrants in sub-Saharan Africa come from a country in the same region.
Most refugees in lower income countries
Contrary to some perceptions, the vast majority of refugees, around 80 per cent, are hosted in low- and middle-income countries, and constitute some 12 per cent of all international migrants.
The number of refugees is rising faster than voluntary migration: the number of people forced to leave home due to conflict, crises, persecution, violence or human rights violations has doubled from 17 to 34 million since the beginning of the 21st Century.
In recognition of the need to better manage migration, the General Assembly has adopted several landmark agreements, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. DESA says that around 60 countries have begun to adopt measures to ensure safe, orderly and regular migration.
UN officials fear US terrorist designation will hasten famine in Yemen
Senior UN officials have expressed concern over the potential impact of the decision by the United States to designate Yemen’s Ansar Allah, more commonly known as the Houthi movement, a terrorist group, the Security Council heard on Thursday.
Briefing the online meeting, UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths said Yemen was going through dark times following a deadly attack last month on its newly-formed Cabinet, and with millions facing potential famine, but emphasized that peace is still possible.
Mr. Griffiths condemned the 30 December attack at the airport in Aden, which targeted the Government officials who had just arrived from Saudi Arabia. Dozens of civilians, aid workers and a journalist were also killed.
“The attack cast a dark shadow over what should have been a moment of hope in the efforts to achieve peace in Yemen. The formation of the Cabinet and its return to Aden was a major milestone for the Riyadh Agreement and for the stability of state institutions, the economy, and the peace process”, he said.
“The Government has launched an investigation into the Aden attack and has made its conclusions public earlier today that Ansar Allah was behind the attack.”
‘Chilling effect’ on peace efforts
For more than five years, Yemen has been mired in conflict between the internationally-recognized Government, which is backed by a Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi rebels.
On Sunday, the United States announced it will designate the group a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under domestic law. Mr. Griffiths expressed serious concern over this prospect.
“We fear in my mission that there will be inevitably a chilling effect on my efforts to bring the parties together. We all hope to have absolute clarity on far-reaching exemptions to be able to carry out our duties”, he said.
Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Some 16 million people will go hungry this year, and 50,000 are already essentially starving to death, amid a shortfall in aid. Preventing a massive famine is the most urgent priority, the UN Humanitarian Affairs chief and Emergency Coordinator told ambassadors.
Yemenis stockpiling food
Mark Lowcock called for the FTO designation to be reversed, which Mr. Griffiths also supported, outlining its potential impact on aid relief in a country that overwhelmingly relies on food imports.
He explained that humanitarian agencies provide food vouchers or cash to needy Yemenis so they can shop at markets.
“Aid agencies cannot, they simply cannot, replace the commercial import system,” he stressed. “What this means is that what the commercial importers do is the single biggest determinant of life and death in Yemen.”
Mr. Lowcock reported that Yemenis are already rushing to markets to stockpile food, while commercial traders fear the designation will affect their operations.
“Some suppliers, banks, insurers and shippers are ringing up their Yemeni partners and saying they now plan to walk away from Yemen altogether”, he said. “They say the risks are too high. They fear being accidentally or otherwise caught up in US regulatory action which would put them out of business or into jail.”
Although the US plans to introduce licences so that some aid and imports can continue, the relief chief said further details will not be available until 19 January, the day the designation takes force.
Reverse designation, or face catastrophe
The head of the World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, gave a blunt assessment of the prospects, putting aside his prepared remarks to speak “heart-to-heart”.
“We are struggling now without the designation. With the designation, it’s going to be catastrophic. It literally is going to be a death sentence to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent people in Yemen,” he said.
Mr. Beasley, an American, also removed his “UN hat” for a moment, to speak about his engagement with Washington, which allocated $3.75 billion to WFP last year.
“I’m very grateful for that”, he said. “But this designation, it needs to be re-assessed, it needs to be re-evaluated, and, quite frankly, it needs to be reversed.”
Mr. Beasley added that Yemen is among several countries facing famine, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these crises.
The WFP chief called for Gulf States “to pick up the humanitarian financial tab for this problem in Yemen”, and urged the Council and world leaders to apply pressure on the warring parties to end their fighting.
“I can assure you that Mark Lowcock and I will be before you pretty soon talking about other countries,” he said. “And if we can’t solve this one – this is man-made completely – shame on us.”
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