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UNICEF’s New Online Series Convenes Leading Minds to Discuss Children & COVID-19

Experts tackle violence in the home and children online during COVID-19
18 May 2020

(18 May 2020) With an estimated 1.5 billion children out of school in 188 countries across the globe, the effects of COVID-19 will be devastating to economies, societies and households, and especially for children and young people. COVID-19 has unleashed a wave of international concern over risks to children, including access to education, risks and access to digital resources online, and increasing violence inside the home, among others.

 “While most children have been spared of the harshest health effects of the coronavirus, these are still early days … health risks are set to increase and the secondary effects of COVID-19 on children are already apparent: Loss of or limited schooling is one of the most evident; but there are others – Signs of increased domestic violence against women and children across the world, indications of accelerating mental health distress and trauma, fears of rising child labour and child marriage … and the crisis is already likely to sharpen existing inequalities…” said Gunilla Olsson, Director of UNICEF Innocenti, in her opening statement during the first Leading Minds Online webinar on May 6, 2020.

UNICEF Innocenti’s Leading Minds Conference has been recast this year as a bi-weekly series of high-level panel discussions featuring top global experts on the theme: Coronavirus and Children: What the experts say. Following the success of the first event in the series on children online during COVID-19, the next and second panel in the series, on 21 May 2020, 9:00 EST, will focus on violence in the home

“Without urgent and compelling action, the health and economic crisis risks transforming into a child’s rights crisis. This is why we’ve brought our Leading Minds Online – to convene world experts to explore how we can best enact the agenda for action and keep millions of girls and boys healthy, safe and learning,” Olsson added.

Violence in the Home: Protecting children and women from violence during a pandemic

On Thursday, May 21, 2020 at 15:00 CET/ 9 a.m. EST, UNICEF Innocenti will convene Leading Minds Online – Coronavirus & Children: What the Experts Say – Violence in the Home.  Recognizing that risk factors for violence, exploitation and abuse are on the rise for children living under restricted movement and significant loss of household income during the pandemic, the panel of leading experts on violence against women and children will convene to discuss current evidence, intersections of violence against women and violence against children, and lessons learned before, during and after COVID-19.

This week’s webinar will investigate why some of the measures taken to contain COVID-19 could be magnifying the risk factors for violence against children and women. We ask experts to weigh in on what can be done to prevent violence against children and women and support survivors now and post-COVID-19.

Panelists include:  

  • Shanaaz Mathews, Director, Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town, South Africa;
  • Dipak Naker, Co-Founder and Co-Director of Raising Voices, Uganda;
  • Cornelius Williams,  Associate Director and Global Chief of Child Protection, Programme Division, UNICEF,
  • Najat Maalla M’jid, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, Morocco, and,
  • Alessandra Guedes, UNICEF Innocenti’s Manager of Gender and Development Research
  • Emily Esplen, Adviser at DFID on Ending Violence Against Women and Girls, United Kingdom

[REGISTER HERE to participate in our live webinar MAY 21, 2020 at 9:00 EST]

Risks and opportunities for children online during COVID-19

COVID-19 has led to children communicating, learning and playing online more than ever. The first Leading Minds Online - Coronavirus and Children panel discussion, held on 6 May 2020, explored the opportunities and risks that have emerged as a result of the seismic shift in how millions of children are using the internet. While this offers many benefits, there are concerns about their exposure to risks, mental health, quality of online schooling and the digital divide.

“The benefits of being connected are clearer than ever, with millions of children under lockdown are relying on the internet for learning, for friendship and for play. Yet there are great concerns about greater exposure to online risks, youth mental health, the quality and consistency of online schooling, and a deep digital divide that persist among children and young people within and among countries,” Olsson said during the webinar.




The panel included:

  1. Dr Vikram Patel, Professor of Global Health at Harvard Medical School, U.S.; 
  2. Patrick Burton, Executive Director of the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention, South Africa; 
  3. Mizuko Ito, Director of the Connected Learning Lab at the University of California, U.S.; 
  4. Nighat Dad, Executive Director Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan; and
  5. Daniel Kardefelt Winther, UNICEF Innocenti’s lead researcher on child internet use.


This deep digital divide was an issue the panelists agreed needed to be addressed. With access to and use of ICT being uneven among children and teachers globally, the digital divide mirrors the same inequities prevalent in the offline world: poverty, lack of access to adequate infrastructure, discriminatory gender norms, and marginalization of the most vulnerable.

“Unless governments understand that access to ICT is a basic fundamental human right, we cannot bridge this digital divide,” said Dad, urging policy action to bridge the divide.

“It is a participation divide, not just a technology divide. The solution is to involve young people and showcase the work and agency they are already taking,” Ito added, stressing the importance of child participation, which was a resounding theme during the webinar.

“It is not just about infrastructure and cost. Our research at UNICEF Innocenti shows that parents constitute a critical barrier to access for children,” added Kardefelt-Winther.

In agreement, Patel added, “We need to work with parents to enforce equal status for boys and girls for all aspects of their lives, as well as digital access –  Nothing about us without us: We need to involve children and young people in the decisions that are made which affect their lives.”


[Download our one-page summary brief highlighting key takeways from the webinar]


Upcoming installments of the Coronavirus and Children: What the experts say series will focus on mental health; the societal impact of the pandemic; economic crisis & social protection; continued learning, water; sanitation and hygiene; & fragile settings.


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