UNICEF works for children and adolescents in 22 countries and territories1 in Europe and Central Asia Region (ECAR) and is also present in Italy, supporting refugee and migrant populations. During this reporting period:
Many countries that had taken steps to relax containment and gradually regularise social and economic life have experienced a surge in new COVID-19 cases (e.g., Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kosovo*, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, North Macedonia, Tajikistan). This has been attributed to different causes, for example, overstretched response capacity of health systems, lack of PPE, and increased non-compliance among the general population with prevention protocols. Country responses have varied, from re-imposed curfews and citizen policing, to the re-framing of COVID-19 prevention messages.
On 10 June, the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) approved a draft comprehensive action plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) among its member states, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. The plan provides for mutual exchange of information from surveillance bodies, joint research and recommendations for developing coordinated responses to outbreaks of infectious diseases in accordance with international health regulations.
Turkmenistan has, to date, no laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 case. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs unveiled the country’s Preparedness and Response Plan on Acute Infectious Disease (COVID-19), and information on developing a socioeconomic response plan, which includes an upcoming WHO technical mission.
Since the previous reporting period, there has been a steady decline in the number of children (40.1 million to 37.5 million) affected by school closures in Albania, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Greece, Kazakhstan, Montenegro, and Uzbekistan. Despite this, needs to strengthen remote learning, particularly for children most vulnerable, remain, and UNICEF is supporting over 21.8 million children in preschools and schools to continue education through distance learning using internet-based technology, TV broadcasts and social media channels. Countries are also taking action or making plans for safe return of students to classrooms. UNICEF at regional level has provided technical support to countries, while in country UNICEF is working with WHO and other expert agencies to provide national-level guidance, establish operational standards, and address supply and other gaps.
UNICEF programmes across the region are reaching over 192 million people with COVID-19 prevention and safety messages through online platforms and social media. Some 283,000 households have been reached with social assistance measures supported through government-led social protection programmes.
1 June is celebrated by many countries in the region as World Children’s Day, and the impact of COVID-19 on children’s lives emerged as an overarching theme in advocacy events. Kosovo* focused on ensuring visibility of children with disabilities in achieving the SDGs and their right to education, protection and care, in pandemic and other crises. Kyrgyzstan hosted a Children’s Summit, chaired by the Vice Prime Minister which gave children and adolescents a platform to describe the challenges they faced during the lockdown. In Ukraine, UNICEF’s Country Representative and the President met to address child poverty and child protection – key vulnerabilities that will have a longer-term impact resulting from the COVID-19 crisis.
The impact of COVID-19 on children was at the centre of other high-profile advocacy events. In Bulgaria, UNICEF met with the 23 member states of the European Network for Ombudsperson (ENOC) for children to exchange challenges and from the different countries. Follow up action at country level was agreed in several areas, including distance learning, domestic violence and cyber bullying, mental health, economic hardship and extreme poverty, limited or no outside play, communication rights between children and divorced parents, and refugee children. In Montenegro, the Ombudsperson Institution organized an event on the prohibition of all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse of children in line with the Council of Europe Lanzarote Convention and launched a new brochure which aims to empower children, from an early age, to recognize sexual abuse.