Governments must protect children amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has been indiscriminately spreading to all locations and age groups across the world, urged the head of the UN.
"#COVID19 has upended the lives of children worldwide. With many children in jeopardy, I appeal to leaders at all levels to do everything in their power to cushion the impact of the pandemic - and protect our children," Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Twitter early Friday.
In a separate statement on Thursday, the UN chief acknowledged that although largely "spared from the most severe symptoms of the disease," children are likely to suffer greatly from its negative impact on economies worldwide.
Telling how the "poorest and most vulnerable members of society are being hardest hit, both by the pandemic and the response," he shared findings of a UN report this week focusing on major risks faced by children in underprivileged societies due to the virus.
The report says the world's children face four major challenges amid the deadly pandemic: education, food, safety, and health.
Guterres said almost all students are now out of school, but distance learning is available in some countries, but not all. "Children in countries with slow and expensive Internet services are severely disadvantaged," he warned.
He went on to say that access to food has always been a perennial challenge but it certainly poses much more risk at a time when a "staggering 310 million schoolchildren – nearly half of the world’s total – rely on school for a regular source of daily nutrition."
Guterres stressed the importance of children's safety and protecting them from domestic violence as pervasive lockdowns are extending and economic woes hit communities harder each day.
"With schools closed, an important early warning mechanism is missing. There is also a danger that girls will drop out of school, leading to an increase in teenage pregnancies," he added.
UN chief also drew attention to "growing risks children are facing from online violence, abuse and exploitation."
He urged social media companies to exercise a "special responsibility" to protect children.
On the health challenge, Guterres said there could be "hundreds of thousands additional child deaths in 2020" with polio vaccination and measles immunization campaigns suspended in dozens of countries.
"And as health services become overwhelmed, sick children are less able to access care," he added, urging world governments to focus on UN Sustainable Development Goals once the virus crisis is over.
After originating in Wuhan, China last December, COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has spread to at least 185 countries and regions across the world, with its epicenter shifting to Europe and the United States.
The pandemic has killed over 156,000 people and infected some 2.17 million, while more than 554,000 have recovered from the disease, according to figures compiled by the U.S.’ Johns Hopkins University.