Members of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) have been urged to advocate for the protection of children whose vulnerability is further increased by the exceptional circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. School closures, overstretched health care systems, heightened food insecurity and risks of exploitation, are all examples of ways through which children have been affected by the ongoing health crisis.
Evidence shows the extent to which the global economic crisis caused by Covid-19 has had an unprecedent impact on the fiscal position of all governments, with a high risk of decreasing budget for the most vulnerable, including children. In the light of this, the Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST) recently convened a virtual dialogue with the Pan-African Parliament on ‘Fair financing and tax justice for children, in the light of COVID – 19.’ The webinar sought to discuss how equitable resource allocation, spending and effective taxation can help to address the effects of Covid-19 on children.
In his opening remarks, Hon. Chief Fortune CHARUMBIRA, Vice President of the PAP, recognizing that Parliaments have a critical role to play in ensuring equitable distribution of resources to guarantee that children are cushioned from extreme poverty, pointed it out that growing economic vulnerability for children experiencing extreme poverty further exposes them to more abuse, forced child labour, child marriage and child trafficking. He called for a strong mobilization of governments, bilateral/multilateral donors, civil society and private sector to ensure children are duly protected.
“The PAP is in the forefront to call upon governments to mobilise and distribute resources that promote the survival and learning of children. The harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally. These effects are expected to be most damaging for children in the poorest countries, and in the poorest neighbourhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations. The pandemic will push more households into monetary poverty. This is where fair taxation is critical as it ensures fair allocation to programs focusing on our youth,” says Hon. Charumbira.
Mr. Artwell GONESE, Senior Economist Consultant for SAPST said thatby ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), all states, regardless of their economic status, have the obligation to take concrete and necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to realize children’s rights. He further reminded the meeting that domestic revenue, especially from tax, will continue to be the most significant and sustainable source of revenue for governments to finance public spending on children.
“Legislative and oversight role can ensure adequate resource allocation and efficient utilisation of resources towards the promotion of children’s rights. As representatives of the people, Parliamentarians are the appropriate actors to ensure that budgets optimally match a nation’s needs with available resources. Parliaments must use their budget approval powers to see that the poorest and most excluded children receive essential services for their survival, learning and protection,” said Mr. Gonese.
UNICEF ESA reported that 1.2 billion students in 150 countries have been affected by school closures leading to confusion, anxiety and frustration for millions of children. In Eastern and Southern Africa, for instance, real education spending in 2020 is projected to go down by 7% on average due to massive decline in domestic revenues caused by Covid-19.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is as much a health emergency as it is a socio-economic crisis, with far reaching impacts on the well-being of children. The impact on education is evident through the rise of teen pregnancies, growing inequality in learning and projected rise in dropout rates, among others. When reviewing and approving budgets and reallocations, legislators should ensure that critical education, health and other social services to children are safeguarded,” said Bob MUCHABAIWA, Public Finance Specialist.
Africa CDC’s Dr Raji TAJUDEEN told the webinar that the pandemic has disrupted routine health services with millions of infants at risk of missing out on receiving life-saving vaccines. An additional 124,000 children could be infected with HIV if prevention services are disrupted for six months. He also pointed that Covid-19 has impacted food security and it is expected that 36 million children may go hungry in 2020.
“All children, of all ages, are being affected by the socio-economic impacts resulting from the Covid-19 mitigation measures. The pandemic has also revealed the cracks in our health systems and has reminded us of the need for new strategies to improve healthcare provision during pandemics and beyond. We therefore look to Parliamentarians to lead in this area.”
Additionally, the virtual meeting received a presentation from Save the Children International on the practical and immediate actions to mitigate the challenges faced by children amid Covid-19. The leading humanitarian aid organization for children lobbied members of the PAP for their intervention in ensuring a roll-out or expansion of social assistance to families, preferably through the use of universal grants which offer a simple and proven tool for shielding children from extreme poverty. Save the Children also called for specific protections for vulnerable children, including migrants, internally displaced children, children deprived of family care and those deprived of liberty, children living in conflict affected areas and in countries with weak legal, educational, health and protection systems, who are all at greater risk of becoming victims of abuse and violence.
Finally, as part of the webinar, child representatives identified by the Eastern Africa Child Rights Network (EACRN) and Child Rights Network for South Africa (CRNSA) were afforded the opportunity to engage directly with members of the legislative arm of the African Union. The Children, selected from different part of the African continent, unanimously told African Parliamentarians that there is need to involve children in the solution, through consultation, dialogue, dissemination of child-friendly and accessible information about Covid-19 as well as resources to help them cope with their current situation. “Do not leave us behind as part of your response to Covid-19,” concluded the child representatives.