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Act Now: Experiences and recommendations of girls and boys in West Africa during COVID-19

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COVID-19 is currently wreaking havoc on countries around the world. The devastating health consequences of the virus are only the tip of the iceberg. The pandemic’s indirect impacts, such as loss of livelihoods, school closures and restrictions on travel and socialising have far-reaching effects on children and young people’s health, safety, education and well-being. During this period, many children and young people are spending more time at home, with family and online. In this context, children and young people are at risk of hunger, isolation, witnessing and/or experiencing violence at home and in their communities, child labour, early marriage, and, in some cases, online risks. This consultation explores children and young people’s views and experiences related to COVID-19 and its indirect impacts.

This consultation was conducted from May to June 2020 using a qualitative approach. Listening to children is at the heart of World Vision’s child-centred approach and our commitment to amplifying the voices of children and young people on the world stage. The consultation included individual interviews with 160 children and young people (80 girls and 80 boys) between the ages of 9 and 18 from eight countries across West Africa: Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone. The interviews took place in-person with physical distancing and over the phone. This consultation followed the minimum standards for consulting with children and young people developed by the Inter-agency Working Group on Children’s Participation.

The report is organised around the three themes emerging from the data: (1) the impacts of COVID-19 on children and young people, including if or how they faced an increased risk of violence at home, in their communities or online during this period; (2) their resilient responses to these impacts personally, in their families and communities; and (3) the support that children and young people need to be safe, healthy and help to fight the further spread of the virus.

The majority of participants, 76% (122 out of 160), shared examples of violence at home and in their communities, child labour, early marriage and online risks. However, it is clear from this consultation that children and young people are not merely victims of the current crisis. Despite the many challenges they face, children and young people shared stories of resiliency and hope, of following best practices to stop the spread of COVID-19, of navigating complex home environments, and of helping their communities. Nearly all of the children and young people interviewed, 94% (151 out of 160), shared examples of following one or more preventative measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

While the challenges children and young people face during this time are immense, this consultation highlights countless examples of their resiliency and activism in the face of a complex crisis; however, children and young people cannot confront these alone. World Vision thus calls on governments, United Nations (UN) agencies, donors, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector to take a collaborative approach to support children and young people around the world.