Let’s talk about the pandemic’s effect on our world’s children

We worried about our elderly, but Covid-19 leaves a lasting impact on our young.

Today is International Children’s Day.

Not to be confused with World Children’s Day, celebrated later in the year, it’s a day widely celebrated in Asia, including in all the countries where OneSky works.

From China, including Hong Kong, to Vietnam and Mongolia – on this special day, we look at how the children and communities we serve are faring, particularly in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

China has now vaccinated 500 million people and herd immunity is in sight for 2021. Meanwhile, Mongolia and Vietnam have minimized fatalities with closed borders but now face renewed outbreaks, shutdowns, and challenges in rolling out vaccines.

In Hong Kong, where the OneSky Global Centre opened a year ago amid the pandemic, authorities are struggling to persuade the population to be vaccinated. Some 80% remain at-risk.

For the past year, the world has concentrated on shielding those most vulnerable to COVID-19, including its elderly. However, although children are a lower virus risk, they are most likely to encounter hardship while suffering missed opportunities for learning and development.

As UNICEF put it: “While children are not the face of the pandemic, they are among the hardest hit.”

A lack of safe childcare for the very young was already being referred to as a global crisis prior to the pandemic. It has been estimated that over 35 million children globally are left without adult supervision because parents need to work.

Then, when COVID-19 arrived, movement restrictions were put in place that affected 99% of the world’s children. Their parents could not commute to work and they could not travel to school. While this might seem positive to those of us who can work from home, it is not the case for families surviving day to day.

In China, OneSky works in low-income rural villages assisting children left behind by parents working in far away factories. There, the Lunar New Year timing of the pandemic’s arrival meant parents were either trapped in villages and unable to return to work, or couldn’t get home.

Many children faced the heartbreaking possibility of missing their once-a-year chance to see Mom and Dad.

As 2020 progressed, the number of migrant workers in China declined by 5.17 million. But any positive effect, in terms of increased time with families, was liable to be undone by a simultaneous increase in economic hardship.

OneSky village mentor making a home visit

At our Early Learning Center in Da Nang, Vietnam, OneSky cares for the young children of migrant factory workers. Here, however, a lengthy lockdown forced many parents to send children back to the countryside to live with relatives so they could continue to work.

During lockdown, OneSky staff supported parents and children through mobile and online educational activities. But, for many young children across Vietnam, suddenly their care was in upheaval and their development, almost certainly, affected.

OneSky Early Learning Center teachers

In January this year, the New York Times wrote of Hong Kong:

“More than 200,000 of the city’s poorest residents live in units where the average living space per person is 48 square feet – less than one-third the size of the New York City parking space. Some spaces are so tiny and restrictive that they are called cages or coffin homes.”

The report documented the fear that such conditions could mean COVID-19 would move rapidly through communities. Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case to date, however the pandemic continues to make the most vulnerable in Hong Kong suffer.

Children need space to socialize, play, and indulge their imaginations. Locked down kids in the subdivided apartments of districts like Sham Shui Po became a symbol of disproportionate hardship caused by COVID-19 on the young and vulnerable.

OneSky learned of one child who suffered a delay in learning to walk because the space in the family apartment was so small there was nowhere to walk during lockdown.

OneSky’s Global Centre in Hong Kong

UNICEF reported that at least 40 million children worldwide have missed out on early childhood education in the past year and that figure referred only to the pre-school year.

East Asia and the Pacific alone had an estimated 2.8 million migrant children ahead of the pandemic in 2019. Alongside missed opportunities for early child development, these families are liable to have suffered lost employment, increased debt, and seen diminished funds sent home to families. And so, the poverty cycle continues.

While hardships are endured, the issue of childcare – access to affordable, quality care for all children – is now increasingly discussed and acknowledged as critical to bridging the economic and gender divides.

Access to childcare enables women, the primary childcare providers, the option to work. Increasing work place inclusion for women, increases the household income, enhances financial security and advances the ability for parents to educate their children.

For marginalized young children, access to quality care provides greater development opportunities that will pay dividends for decades ahead.

OneSky’s vision is a world where all children, no matter what circumstances they were born into, have an equal start in life. Quality, affordable childcare offers that opportunity. And so, we continue our mission to work with governments and communities to train early childhood caregivers to provide loving care to children living low resourced settings.

To date, OneSky has trained more than 60,000 caregivers impacting more than 225,000 children.

As lives begin to return to normal in some parts of the world, we should remember those who continue to struggle in less developed countries. Many will need help long after the pandemic is over. Especially the children. Today, on International Children’s Day, let us remember that they are our future.

If we can improve their opportunities, they will improve our world.