aahmed2_LUIS ROBAYOAFP via Getty Images_emptyclassroom Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images

Saving Generation COVID

During the COVID-19 crisis, lockdowns and other social-distancing rules have forced schools worldwide to shut their doors, locking out a peak of 1.6 billion children. Unless the international community acts now, the consequences for this generation – especially its poorest members – will be severe and long-lasting.

ADDIS ABABA/LONDON – The oft-repeated idea that COVID-19 is “the great equalizer” is a myth. There is no equality of suffering or equality of sacrifice during a pandemic that is disproportionately hurting the poorest and most vulnerable.

And while the health emergency has disproportionately harmed the elderly poor, the unprecedented education crisis caused by the pandemic is now hurting the poorest children hardest and creating a generation that will lose out on learning. Lockdowns and other social-distancing rules have forced schools all over the world to shut their doors, affecting a peak of nearly 1.6 billion children. But while wealthier children have had access to alternatives, such as online learning, the poorest do not. The world’s least-advantaged children – for whom education offers the only escape route from poverty – have thus fallen further behind, placing the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all by 2030 even further out of reach.

Even before the pandemic, the world was falling short of this goal. Globally, nearly 260 million children were out of school, and 400 million dropped out after the age of 11. In some regions, such as rural Sub-Saharan Africa, few girls were completing secondary school, not least because of widespread child marriage. Nearly 50 countries have no laws banning child marriage, and many more fail to enforce their bans. As a result, about 12 million school-age girls are forcibly married off each year.

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