Reimagining the future
G7 Summit

Reimagining the future

The pandemic has presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionise the systems that shape young people’s lives, providing them with the tools that will help them realise their potential

COVID-19 has exposed the deep inequities facing children. The pandemic has affected virtually everyone on the planet, but not equally. Children in marginalised groups, conflict settings, natural disasters and poverty are bearing the brunt of its effects.

Yet there is reason for hope – if we act. In February, as UNICEF kicked off its 75th year, I laid out my hopes for a post-COVID-19 future. I outlined five opportunities we must seize together to reimagine a better world for children.

Vaccines for all. The rapid development of multiple COVID-19 vaccines is a historical feat that should be celebrated. But the disadvantaged are being left behind. There is simply not enough vaccine supply to meet demand and the supply available is concentrated in too few hands. We need speed and simplicity to remove barriers to vaccine procurement and distribution, whether by drone, motorcycle or horseback. And we need to build trust by fighting misinformation and raising awareness about the value and effectiveness of all vaccines.

Revolutionise learning. During the peak of school closures last year, 30% of the world’s schoolchildren were unable to access remote learning. Only just over half of households in most countries have internet access. We face a once-in-a-generation opportunity to connect every child and school to the internet and provide digital tools to help them develop the skills to realise their potential – through and beyond COVID-19. UNICEF’s Reimagine Education is revolutionising learning and skills development through digital learning, internet connectivity, devices, affordable data and the engagement of young people. With private-sector partners and governments, by the end of 2021, we aim to reach 500 million children and youth, and 3.5 billion by 2030.

Invest in mental health. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Yet less than 1% of health budgets in low-income countries goes towards it. Some countries are showing how we can shift from the stigma of mental health to counselling and support. In Bangladesh, Georgia and India, free phone helplines provide vital care for children. In Kazakhstan, which has among the highest adolescent suicide rates, UNICEF launched a platform for online counselling for adolescents and training for mental health specialists facing anxiety and stress caused by COVID-19. But we need to do more. Seeking help for mental health should be normalised. Countries need to provide the investment it deserves and dramatically expand mental health services and support for young people.

End discrimination. In too many countries, your ethnicity, your colour, your religion or your wealth determines your opportunity and too many children are left behind. Globally, the number of children living in monetarily poor households increased by 142 million by the end of 2020. Social protections such as cash transfers can be crucial tools to help families stay afloat and also fight inequality broadly – providing support to send children to school and health facilities, to buy nutritious food and to reduce child labour. UNICEF is working with governments in 115 countries to support expanded social protection programmes. Past crises have proved there is a strong investment case for prioritising social sectors, even during economic recession. As governments work to protect their people from the aftershocks of COVID-19, they must protect investments in all social services for children from cuts, and ensure they use their resources efficiently to maintain service delivery.

Address the climate crisis. COVID-19 has taught us that planetary problems require planetary solutions. Failure to address climate change head on will only exacerbate inequality. Whether it’s providing clean water to the 40% of the global population that lacks access, reducing pollution, engaging youth as agents of change or creating resilient learning through green schools, climate- and disaster-smart health services, these solutions have ripple effects, with benefits to health and the economy while building resilience to future disasters.

When UNICEF was created 75 years ago after World War II, the scale of the problems facing children was immense. But as a global community, we reimagined what was possible by building new health and welfare systems, defeating diseases, and creating new forums for both global coordination and action.

We can do it again. Global leaders can build on the G7 Cornwall Summit to reaffirm our dedication to children and young people through concrete action. We need to rally behind practical and concrete steps to invest in our children – to finance health and education, build stronger systems and services, and ensure that budget cuts and economic downturns do not harm them.

Doing so will not only help children now. It will build our collective resilience in the face of future crises.