May 11, 2021
In Episode 6 of Series 6, Todd is joined by Professor Aoife Nolan, to discuss the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the human rights of children. Aoife is Professor of International Human Rights Law and Co-Director of the Human Rights Law Centre in the School of Law at the University of Nottingham. She is also Vice-President of the Council of Europe European Committee of Social Rights and has worked with a range of civil rights organisations.
Todd begins by asking Aoife to outline the impact of the pandemic on the human rights of children. She points to the wide-ranging global impact of the pandemic and associated lockdowns, in terms of the health and survival of children and identifies a range of issues including, education, food access, mental health, increased levels of child abuse, the impact of poor housing, loss of social contact and increased risk of online harm. All of these directly affect children’s rights.
Aoife explains that the pandemic has had a hugely unequal impact on children from different backgrounds and living in different situations. She adds that this has entrenched existing inequalities. Unaddressed, she concludes, this will have an impact on the future life-course of some children.
Todd moves on to focus on the actions of governments during the pandemic and the extent to which they were compatible with the rights of children.
Aoife points to the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognises that restrictions on human rights may be necessary in times of crisis but also the limitations on the exercising of those powers.
Todd wonders whether in the light of criticism from anti-lockdown groups, governments have responded to the crisis in an appropriate way. Aoife makes the following points:
Aoife gives an example of how the pandemic has been used to weaken various statutes related to the protection of children in social care. She explains how changes have been made in relation to the duty of Local Authorities towards education health and social care. She notes that these changes have been reversed as a result of pressure on the government. She says there are concerns that Covid-19 was being used as a cover for mass de-regulation of social care.
She mentions that the UK’s Department of Education was found to have acted unlawfully in scrapping a range of rights for children in care. A child rights impact assessment carried out by the department, which signed off the measure showed a lack of understanding of child rights. She points out that this move was later reversed.
Todd moves the discussion to the USA, which has not ratified the UN convention on human rights. He points to differences in approach between the Trump administration and the Biden administration and asks Aoife to comment on the progress towards getting children back into school.
Aoife points out that approaches to education are very much state driven, and although not an expert on matters relating to US education points out that:
Aiofe reviews the situation in South Africa around school closures and re-opening, and says the net effect has been to amplify inequalities within the country:
As a result, re-opening took place against in non-Covid safe schools with implications for health, provision of school meals, and education.
They move on to discuss the terrible situation with Covid-19 cases and deaths in India and what Aoife thinks about the impact on children’s rights. She suggests that, beyond concerns related to Covid infections, the health crisis and associated lockdowns have interfered with the normal processes of vaccinations and health interventions, as well as in education.
Asked about the response of the Council of Europe, of which she is a member, Aoife reports that the Council has identified worrying trends in respect of:
Todd asks about the work of activists and advocacy groups in mitigating the impacts of the pandemic. Aoife says she has been impressed by the large amount of energetic work, and advocacy by both regional and international groups including:
20.23 – 23.10
Todd’s asks about priorities for the post-Covid era.
Todd asks Aoife to reflect on the importance of the voices of children themselves. She believes children have been excluded from the decision-making process. Their voices and views have been ignored by governments and that this is contrary to Human Rights Law. There is an urgent need for this situation to be redressed.
However, the issue of children’s rights is part of a wider concern for Human Rights she concludes. There is a need for “inter-generational solidarity.” This requires children’s rights groups to work alongside disabled groups, older people, women’s groups and others to bring about change.
Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Children United Nations 2020
COVID-19 Statement United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, April 2020
Statement on COVID-19 and Social Rights European Committee of Social Rights, April 2021
A Child Rights Crisis A. Nolan, LRB Blog, May 2020
Of Limitations and Retrogression: Assessing COVID-19’s Impact on Children’s ESC Rights A. Nolan & J. Bueno de Mesquita, May 2020
Equal Education & Others v Minister of Basic Education & Others 2020 ZAGPPHC 306 (17 July 2020)