WASHINGTON: The head of the UN called on the world to protect children Thursday, saying their lives are being disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Antonio Guterres said the world is seeing an "alarming pattern" as the virus known as the Covid-19 spreads across the globe and poor and vulnerable societies are being the hardest hit.
"I am especially concerned about the well-being of the world’s children. Thankfully, children have so far been largely spared from the most severe symptoms of the disease. But their lives are being totally upended," he said while releasing a report on the risks children face. "I appeal to families everywhere, and leaders at all levels: protect our children.”
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The report details how the disease is putting children at risk in key areas including education, food, safety and health.
In education, the UN chief said almost all students are out of school because of the pandemic.
"Some schools are offering distance learning, but this is not available to all. Children in countries with slow and expensive Internet services are severely disadvantaged," he said.
As for food, Guterres said 310 million children rely on school for a regular source of daily nutrition.
"Even before Covid-19 the world faced unacceptable rates of childhood malnutrition and stunting," he added. That number is nearly half the world’s total.
He also warned that children lack safety because family stress levels are on the rise.
"Children are both victims and witnesses of domestic violence and abuse.
"There is also a danger that girls will drop out of school, leading to an increase in teenage pregnancies," said Guterres.
Lack of income during the pandemic will impact essential health and food expenditures with children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers being hardest-hit, he said.
"Polio vaccination campaigns have been suspended. Measles immunization campaigns have stopped in at least 23 countries," he said. "And as health services become overwhelmed, sick children are less able to access care."
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"We must act now on each of these threats to our children," he added.
Globally, more than 2.1 million people have contracted coronavirus, with the death toll exceeding 140,300, according to data compiled by the US’ Johns Hopkins University. More than 537,400 patients have recovered.