Calling for children’s voices to be heard in pandemic response

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt life for people across the world, the UK Government recently ended their daily Coronavirus briefings, which were televised during the first three months of ‘lockdown’.

During this period, members of the public were invited to submit questions, which were answered by cabinet members and their advisers on live TV. We were astonished to find that the question-submission rules specifically prohibited questions from children, blatantly ignoring their rights. An attempt by someone under the age of 18 to submit a question resulted in an error message: “sorry you cannot submit a question. You cannot ask a question in the coronavirus (COVID-19) press conference because you’re not old enough”. This stance completely devalues the expertise that children have to bring and silences their voices.

Although the clinical course of COVID-19 appears to be much milder in children compared with adults, the other consequences of the pandemic are arguably equally, if not more, damaging to children. It is therefore essential the impact the coronavirus crisis is having on the lives of children and young people is understood. Family members have tragically died. Children have missed out on in-school education. Social contact between children living in different homes has been decimated. Concerns have arisen about higher levels of abuse.

That any adult could pose questions (to be responded to, at least to a degree), but questions from someone on the day before their 18th birthday were not even considered, is ludicrous and indefensible.

In an article published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, SicKids chair, Professor Andrew Rowland, and Director of Nursing, Dianne Cook, called for children’s voices to be unlocked and heard by the UK Government. Access the article here.

Andrew said:

“If not because it is their right to be heard; if not because it is the right thing to do; then because the future of society depends on engaged, experienced and enthusiastic children becoming engaged, experienced and enthusiastic adults, it is time for children to have their own COVID-19 questions answered by the UK government. That requires a change in policy so that the prohibition of questions from anyone under the age of 18 years is urgently removed.”

Dianne said:

“We call upon child health professionals to add to our demand for change to further promote children’s rights during this pandemic now the inequity of the ruling that children cannot be heard has been laid bare. Not allowing children to participate, express their opinions, and be heard on matters that affect them is wrong and is a breach of their human rights. ”

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