ATHENS, Georgia — COVID-19 has left its mark on nearly every aspect of people’s lives, especially impacting children. An entire generation of children faces the impacts of these pandemic-induced restrictive circumstances — circumstances that could lead to severe consequences for the futures of the world’s children. In response to COVID-19’s effect on child poverty, Congresswoman Sara Jacobs (D-CA) introduced H. Res. 853 on December 14, 2021, which would pivot the conversation about pandemic recovery efforts to children’s needs. The bill acknowledges the integral role of the United States in the global COVID-19 pandemic recovery process.
The Effects on Children’s Poverty and Well-being
The economic crisis following COVID-19 increased the number of people and children enduring conditions of poverty. Vaccine distribution remains skewed toward wealthier countries, leaving populations in less developed countries at greater risk of the impacts of COVID-19. These concerns, when combined with the loss of family members and the restrictions of quarantines and social distancing, exacerbate the unfortunate situations of millions of children.
On December 9, 2021, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stated that 100 million more children fell into multidimensional poverty due to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. These consequences include restricted access to education, health care services, proper nutrition and other essentials. UNICEF’s report brings attention to COVID-19’s effect on child poverty by calling the pandemic the “biggest threat to progress for children” in the organization’s 75-year-long history.
The spread of COVID-19 led to widespread school closures that necessitated remote learning in order for children to continue their education. However, uneven access to the internet restricted students’ abilities to learn, a consequence most apparent in impoverished, rural communities. The World Bank released a press statement on October 29, 2021, predicting that the loss of schooling due to COVID-19 could increase “the share of 10-year olds who cannot read a basic text” to roughly 70% across less developed countries.
Policymakers and researchers cannot predict with absolute certainty how these challenges might affect future child poverty rates. But, it is certain that major consequences will remain long after the pandemic’s end unless the global community acts promptly. Because of these far-reaching consequences, any attempt to assist countries weathering the COVID-19 pandemic will not be complete without acknowledging children — the world’s future leaders, innovators and changemakers. H. Res. 853 aims to encourage the United States to place children at the center of global COVID-19 recovery efforts.
Organizations Helping the World’s Children
H. Res. 853 relies on pre-existing international efforts and places an emphasis on the U.S. providing support to several organizations that aim to improve the well-being of children globally, such as UNICEF, Education Cannot Wait and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).
The GPE is the world’s largest fund dedicated to building stronger, more inclusive education systems in 76 lower-income nations. The GPE ensures that children receive an education to provide all the knowledge and skills necessary “to thrive and contribute to building a more prosperous and sustainable world.” For 20 years, the partnership has set in motion several plans to build schools and provide funding for countries experiencing conflicts and violence.
Giga is a UNICEF-launched initiative with a similar goal. The initiative seeks to connect children to the internet and all the opportunities that come with internet access and technology. Since launching in 2019, the organization has responded to COVID-19’s effect on child poverty by decreasing the digital inequalities that the pandemic helped bring to light. According to Giga, digital exclusion is “marked by the lack of access to the wealth of information available online, fewer resources to learn and to grow and limited opportunities for the most vulnerable children and youth to fulfill their potential.”
These efforts help young students in situations where remote learning is impossible or unlikely, equipping children with the resources and tools to advance in life, and ultimately, rise out of child poverty. Collectively, these programs can boost the economic productivity of countries while giving children the chance to invest in their future through education and other valuable skills and resources necessary in the digital age.
The Importance of H. Res. 853
The content of H. Res. 853 emphasizes collaboration with and support of international organizations, including UNICEF and the GPE. Increased U.S. support could mitigate COVID-19’s effects on child poverty and help organizations reach more people by expanding access to basic education, modern learning services and necessary health protections. The resolution also urges the United States to raise international support for ongoing pandemic response attempts in sub-Saharan Africa and other areas where vaccination rates remain low. As of February 4, 2021, the proposal has garnered the support of just one co-sponsor, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). If the Committee on Foreign Relations gives the resolution the go-ahead, H. Res. 853 would be up for a vote in Congress.
Even ordinary citizens can help by contacting their representatives in the Committee on Foreign Relations to support this bill. After all, its passing would improve current humanitarian efforts and lay down a solid foundation for future generations.