ASEAN and SAARC must put children’s rights at the heart of COVID-19 response

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As the world grapples to address the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, there is a growing need for a collective, coherent, and multi-stakeholder response to the pandemic. We welcome that the two intergovernmental regional bodies – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) – have declared their commitments to take regional-level measures to fight the pandemic and address its impacts.

The two bodies have also committed to the realization of child rights. In the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, children are recognized as a vulnerable group whose rights are “inalienable, integral, and indivisible part of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” ASEAN also established the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) to uphold child rights as prescribed by international human rights instruments and regional declarations. In South Asia, SAARC adopted the Convention on Regional Arrangements for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia and recognized the South Asia Initiative to End Violence against Children (SAIEVAC) as a Regional Apex Body.

We call on ASEAN, SAARC, and their respective Member States to ensure the application of a child rights-based approach in their decisions and actions on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, as it has been recommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

1. Address violence against children by allocating a portion of the COVID-19 national and regional response budgets to child protection systems and services

2. Share experiences, expertise, and good practices on children’s mental health, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and access to water, sanitation, and hygiene to reinforce public health regional cooperation

3. Include experts on child rights and women’s and girls’ rights in regional coordinating bodies tasked with planning, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating regional strategies to address the COVID-19 pandemic and future public health emergencies

4. Ensure food security and nutrition of children when responding to the financial impact of COVID-19 and improving the stability of the regional economy

5. Provide inclusive access to education as part of the COVID-19 regional response and recovery plan

6. Ensure that public information campaigns are adopted for children and that children are genuinely consulted in the pandemic response

7. Strengthen regional child rights efforts by including the perspectives of civil society and children during the COVID-19 crisis

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