GENEVA - The UN children's fund is calling for an end to COVID-19 school closures which, it says, are harmful for children's well-being and future prospects.
Schools in the northern hemisphere are closed for summer holidays. Elsewhere in the world, schools remain closed because of the pandemic, depriving more than 600 million children of an education.
The UN Children's Fund reports nearly half the countries in Asia and Pacific have been closed for more than 200 days during the pandemic. Lengthy school closures also exist in Latin America and the Caribbean. And recent estimates show 40 percent of all school-aged children across eastern and southern Africa currently are not in school.
UNICEF spokesman James Elder says these school closures are adversely affecting children's physical and mental well-being.
"What this looks like, and we have learned this over the past year from the data is that education, safety, and friends and food are being replaced by anxiety, violence, and teenage pregnancy," said Elder. "Across the globe in all continents, we are seeing child helplines, a precursor to understanding kids who are reporting violence, seeing often triple digit increases."
Elder says remote learning is simply not an option for at least a third of the world's school children. He notes more than 80 million children across East Asia and the Pacific do not have access to distance learning during school closures.
In Eastern and Southern Africa, he says schools in Uganda were closed for 306 days because of the pandemic, topping a list of 20 countries with the highest number of days of school closures. South Sudan comes in a close second. He adds most people in these countries have no access to the Internet, thus excluding the possibility for remote learning.
"If that does not resonate to those in power, then the World Bank does have a report showing around--their estimate is about a $10 trillion loss in earnings for this current cohort of students over time," said Elder. "UNICEF firmly believes this cannot go on. There is clear evidence, as you all know, that primary and secondary schools are not among the main drivers of this transmission."
UNICEF is urging all governments to reopen schools as soon as possible and not wait for all teachers and students to be vaccinated. It says the losses experienced by children are too great for them to wait any longer to receive the education and learn the skills that can help them build a better future.