“Poverty is when you don’t have any money. Because of a lack of money, children and us young people don’t have a chance to develop. We may not have a good profession or a good foundation for life.”
This is how I describe the impact of poverty. Whether it’s the instant loss of income that so many parents face as a result of COVID-19 or the austerity measures that may follow, children and us young people are currently and will bear the brunt of this pandemic long after the virus itself has been eradicated.
Projections change daily, with some predictions that the recession that follows COVID-19 will be the worst global crisis since World War II. As a result more children will be living in poor households by the end of the year. This is on top of more young people already living in multidimensional poverty, meaning monetary poverty combined with poor health, lack of education and employment opportunities, inadequate living standards, or exposure to environmental hazards, disempowerment or the threat of violence and displacement.
The economic impacts of COVID-19 are without precedent in modern history. Unprecedented action to protect children and their families from the worst effects should be a fundamental yardstick for success. The threat to children is not limited to the near term. The recovery phase will take years, especially in low- and middle-income countries where there is limited capacity to mitigate the impact of the economic slowdown.
We urge all Governments to take decisive action to prevent child poverty from deepening and inequality from worsening within and across countries. They must rapidly extend cash transfer programmes to reach every child, invest in family-friendly policies, such as paid leave and accessible, affordable childcare, and expand access to healthcare and other services and also invest in youth employability programmes. In the medium and longer term, they will need to strengthen and expand shock responsive social protection systems to make children, communities and economies more resilient. Poverty upsets communities. It affects you and me. In addition to expansion of coverage, social protection responses must consider children’s specific needs and vulnerabilities, including those related to gender and disability.
I encourage other young people to take control of their situations and life by thinking from a long-term perspective, not just two, three or five years. But to be as flexible and thorough as possible. So that they learn how to deal with uncertainties.
When you live in a world that is uncertain, you have to think outside of the box and be prepared to adapt. Over time we will learn how to handle the stress and use it as a constructive force should any situation that is more compounded more than COVID-19 come.
Our lives are so connected, so my advice would be to help others wherever you can with whatever you have. This crisis has shown that you are not special, but part of something bigger than any one person.
Haissama is a recent University of Djibouti graduate who regularly shares opinion pieces in Djibouti’s daily paper La Nation. He comments on current affairs from socio-political and economic issues and their ripple effects on young people.