Joshua Muraya recounts events at the UNICEF young reporters conference

The day of the African child is celebrated on the 16th of June every year. But this year celebrations have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic which paralyzed a lot of activities. But what happened at the Young Reporters media conference Webinar? Joshua puts it together. On June 12th I had an opportunity to take part in a young reporters’ media conference webinar with some of the UNICEF experts who answered various questions asked by a selected group of young reporters from across Africa about the impact of covid-19 on children’s health, education and protection of their rights during this tough time. One of the questions asked was about HIV and how access to A RVs for young people in rural areas can be improved. One of the experts said that young people in rural areas should be well informed through traditional media like radios and social media like Whats App. That way UNICEF can provide information on prevention and also extend these services through condom distribution during the ongoing relief food distribution exercise. The other concern was about schools closure and how children especially in rural areas are unable to access online lessons from home and what lessons are learnt from this pandemic situation to ensure children’s right to education are protected in future. The expert’s response was that building systems for future school closures that can be adapted quickly during similar situations. These include distance learning packages that can be accessed not just through internet but also on radio and television. The expert also pointed to the possibility of helping rural students catch up on what they missed during closure by recruiting volunteers who can go to these rural areas and teach these children. The other concern was about child protection since some parents now think there is no future for their children’s education and see marrying them off as the only option. The expert’s response was that there are services being provided to such children through for example community leaders talking to parents about the dangers of child marriage. The Covid-19 pandemic has also affected access to water and sanitation in many homes where many children are currently locked up with their parents, to ensure the safety measure of regular hand washing is adhered to. The expert’s view was that UNICEF has helped by storage of water in tanks since surface water isn’t clean water and providing hand washing facilities in public places and providing hand sanitizers and chlorine to health facilities. Misinformation also stood out as key issue during the discussion. The young were advised to always check for covid-19 updates from trusted sources like UNICEF and WHO to avoid fake news. The other concern was about continuity of UNICEF programs during and after the pandemic. The expert acknowledged that although there were disruptions in education and immunization and that the door-door immunization had not registered much success, the routine immunization at health centers had been successful. This, they said was a sign that the programs are still continuing. About the psychological impact of Covid-19 on children, the Unicef expert said that schools closures have affected children because they do not have a chance to interact with their peers and may feel isolated. Access to health care services has also become a challenge but UNICEF is supporting governments to identify and protect children in the most vulnerable households. The young reporters were also concerned about how social distancing would be enforced once schools reopen. UNICEF expert explained that guidelines and measures may vary from country to country and these include introducing learning in shifts and wearing of masks and decongesting dormitories among other social distancing measures. With growing fears that some children may drop out of school completely, UNICEF suggests that distance learning be introduced to ensure that teachers stay in touch with the children.

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