Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 22 October 2020

UN General Assembly

UNGA 2020: action needed to protect children from long-term effects of pandemic

77 per cent of children under age 18 – 1.8 billion worldwide – lived under household isolation because of social distancing measures

Chairman of the Arab Council for Childhood & Development Prince Abdulaziz Bin Talal Al Saud calls for more support to be provided to vulnerable children in the Middle East & around the world at the Concordia summit during the UN General Assembly. Concordia
Chairman of the Arab Council for Childhood & Development Prince Abdulaziz Bin Talal Al Saud calls for more support to be provided to vulnerable children in the Middle East & around the world at the Concordia summit during the UN General Assembly. Concordia

Strong and effective action is needed to slow the spread of Covid-19 and reduce the long-term social effects on children, particularly in the Middle East where they are more likely to be exposed to conflict, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Abdulaziz Bin Talal has said.

The Prince, who is chairman of the Arab Council for Childhood & Development, said the situation for children in Arab countries was more complex than other parts of the world, due to the number of people having to flee homes due to war.

Speaking at the Concordia Annual Summit during the UN General Assembly via video on Wednesday, Prince Abdulaziz said that children are always the first to be affected by a crisis, due to their lack of life experience.

“By all accounts the pandemic caused tragedy to all children both in the developed and developing world.”

He said 77 per cent of children under age 18 or 1.8 billion children worldwide lived under household isolation because of preventive measures for virus.

He warned if there wasn’t more action taken by the international community, children’s “wellbeing, freedom and development” could be significantly hindered for years to come.

The UN estimates that between 42 million and 66 million children may fall into poverty as a result of the pandemic.

“The social consequences of coronavirus are deeper, more lasting than any other effects,” the Prince said.

Such effects could lead to more exploitation, child labour and forced begging, he warned.

“The pandemic has also increased feelings of fear anxiety, frustration and panic attacks among children,” he said.

“In this international forum I call for a strong and effective action to slow the spread of Covid and reduce social and socioeconomic effects on children,” he added.

The Prince said that NGOs and governments needed to use the UN Sustainable Development Goals to make the world better for children in a post-Covid world.

Teachers and leaders needs to provide “innovating and alternative education tools” that can motivate children during the pandemic, the royal said.

On an earlier panel, an organisation was looking to support children during the pandemic using the medium of puppetry.

Ahlan Simsim — or “Welcome Sesame” in Arabic — is an Arabic version Sesame Street show that was launched by Sesame Workshop earlier this year.

It features old muppets — such as Cookie Monster (Kaa’ki), Grover (Gargur), Elmo — and a few new friends. One of the newbies, Basma, is a performer who loves to sing and dance, while her friend Jad expresses himself through art and can paint in mid-air with his grandfather's paintbrush.

Grover, Basma, Ma'zooza and Jad with Rami Delshad, who portrays Hadi in "Welcome Sesame," a new, locally produced Arabic TV program for the hundreds of thousands of children dealing with displacement in Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. (Sesame Workshop via AP)
Grover, Basma, Ma'zooza and Jad with Rami Delshad, who portrays Hadi in "Welcome Sesame," a new, locally produced Arabic TV program for the hundreds of thousands of children dealing with displacement in Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. (Sesame Workshop via AP)

Speaking at the conference on Wednesday, Sherrie Westin, president of social impact and philanthropy at Sesame Workshop, said her organisation was “rapidly adapting to continue to meet the urgent needs of young children across the Middle East”.

She said Sesame Workshop was using educational media, delivered virtually on a computer, television or on mobile, to help children deal with traumatic experiences of war amid the pandemic.

“We are giving Covid-specific messages on WhatsApp and encouraging playful learning – because we know play is one of best ways for children to learn,” Ms Westin said.

“The content is specifically designed to serve as a catalyst and a tool to promote adult and child engagement, which is the most effective ways to mitigate the effects of trauma on young children.

“Now is the time to step up for the world’s children to build more flexible inclusive systems that expand access to old children especially for generations to come.”

Updated: September 23, 2020 08:50 PM

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