Open letter: Leaders must protect children during COVID-19

14 APRIL 2020

Six leading child-focused NGOs have joined forces to demand concrete actions from governments to protect children during the COVID-19 crisis in this open letter to leaders.

Presidents, Prime Ministers, Governments, Mayors.

We recognise and respect that government leaders are taking unprecedented measures to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, which poses a grave threat to the lives of many millions. Urgent steps are absolutely necessary to overcome the disease and we understand that measures will vary in intensity from country to country as required.

COVID-19 is inflicting great pain and suffering throughout the world. We extend our deepest sympathies to those who have lost, or may lose, loved ones to this dreadful disease.

While adults are hardest impacted by COVID-19, as the world’s six leading child rights organisations, we urge authorities to also recognise that the pandemic is deeply affecting the environment in which children grow and develop, from early childhood to adolescence.

COVID-19 will affect the wellbeing and future of the world’s children

We know that the disease and efforts to stem it will affect the health, wellbeing and future of the world’s children. It is vital that governments design their responses in a way that protects children’s rights to survival and development, their physical and mental health, nutrition, protection, education, wellbeing and care, as well as their right to be informed and to be heard.

Children comprise a disproportionate percentage of the poorest and most vulnerable and are the population group that will suffer the greatest from the virus spreading into low-income countries with weaker healthcare systems. The millions living in crowded slums, informal settlements and refugee camps will be unable to practice social distancing or adequate sanitation and are especially at risk of infection. COVID-19 creates immediate threats to the income and food security of families and to children’s safe and appropriate care, should they be separated from or lose their caregivers.  

We are particularly concerned for the 420 million children affected by conflict, especially the 30 million girls and boys on the move. It is essential that confinement measures in response to COVID-19 do not curtail the delivery of the humanitarian assistance on which millions of these children rely for their survival.

Disrupted education will damage children’s prospects for life

Already 1.5 billion learners are out of school. Experience from other crises teaches us that many will never return, damaging their prospects for a lifetime. Without the protection afforded by educational systems, including access to school feeding programmes, millions of children, particularly girls, are at higher risk of violence, exploitation, neglect, malnutrition and online abuse. 

We are experiencing an unprecedented global public health crisis, which calls for an unprecedented response by all humanity.

As Meg Gardinier, Secretary General of ChildFund Alliance and CEO Chair of the Joining Forces Initiative has said, “In the desperate fight against coronavirus, we need to ensure that children are protected not only from COVID-19, but from the unintended consequences of the confinement procedures required to combat it.”

As the Joining Forces group of child rights organisations, we ask governments to put concrete steps in place to protect children during the COVID-19 crisis. These measures need to ensure access to nutritious food, appropriate supervision, healthcare, protection from violence, alternative education at home and reliable information on the crisis to help them cope with the psychological impact of the disease and the confinement measures adopted to contain it.  

We are experiencing an unprecedented global public health crisis, which calls for an unprecedented response by all humanity. The highest degree of international and regional cooperation, information sharing, and solidarity is required to truly protect all people in all parts of the globe.

Lastly, we note there have been exceptional restrictions imposed on personal freedoms to curb the spread of the virus. We urge that such restrictions be temporary and regularly reviewed in accordance with each country’s human rights commitments. They should be necessary and proportionate to the evaluated risk. With respect to children, all measures should remain in their best interests and ensure the protection and fulfilment of their rights.


Meg Gardinier, Secretary General, ChildFund Alliance
Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO Plan International
Inger Ashing, CEO, Save the Children International 
Steffen Braasch, Interim CEO, SOS Children’s Villages International 
Delphine Moralis, Secretary General, Terre des Hommes International Federation
Andrew Morley President and CEO, World Vision International

The CEOs of the Joining Forces alliance of the six largest child- focused international NGOs:  ChildFund Alliance, Plan International, Save the Children International, SOS Children’s Villages International, Terre des Hommes International Federation, and World Vision International.

This statement has been endorsed by: Child Rights Connect. Child Rights Connect is a strategic partner of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the largest global network of child rights organisations.