Over 100 young people join Too Little, Not Too Late: Youth Activists Call on G20 for a Fair Share Now!
In advance of the 2021 G20 Summit being held in Rome, Italy, youth activists hosted this online ecent to express why the G20 must act urgently to curtail the child and youth rights disaster currently threatening the futures of millions of children all over the world.
In 2020, youth and student-led organisations predicted that the world would witness unacceptable increases in child labour, child poverty, and child hunger if governments did not provide a fair share of COVID-19 financial relief to the most marginalised children and their families. Over 100 representative youth leaders from 46 countries called on G20 countries to deliver a ‘Fair Share for Our Future’.
Although the G20's Debt Servicing Suspension Initiative provided some relief to poorer countries, and several G20 members have announced increased bilateral aid, the response of the world’s richest countries to COVID-19 has ultimately proved to be too little to protect the rights of the world’s most vulnerable children and young people. 150 million more of us entered multidimensional poverty in 2020, 46 million of us could become child labourers between 2020 and the end of 2022, and the 34.6 million of us who have been displaced have been put at greater risk of child labour and trafficking, child marriage, and violence.
But we believe it is not too late for the G20 to take action. These unprecedented increases in the worst injustices against children and young people are happening at the same time as global wealth has reached an all time high. G20 countries can still reverse this tide of inequality and deliver a fair share of resources and support.
Too Little, Not Too Late heard from youth activists, survivor-advocates and student leaders who have been working tirelessly to protect the rights of the most vulnerable both before and during the pandemic.
Opening the event, survivor-advocate Ebot Witney Tarh from Survivors' Network Cameroon set the scene: "Vulnerable children are moving into poverty and child labour at an unprecedented rate... The ongoing crisis in English-speaking regions of Cameroon has led to the displacement of more than 2000 young people, who are being trafficked, forced to work. This number has increased as a result of the pandemic." Reiterating just how serious the rise in child labour has been, Aimable Iradukunda of the Burundi National Students' Union and lead for the Fair Share to End Child Labour campaign in Burundi stated: "child labour & trafficking have accelerated in Africa - we are now home to the most child labourers in the world."
Child labour is not the only injustice that has been on the rise - both before and during the pandemic. Almost 400 million children worldwide are currently out of school: the majority were out of school before the pandemic, but over 100 million children are still locked out of their classrooms due to ongoing school closures. Uganda's school children have been out of school for 77 weeks - the longest school lockdown of any country in the world. Nakaibale Lynda Eunice, from Raising Teenagers Uganda and the Ugandan lead for the Girls Back to School campaign expressed her frustration succinctly: "Financing education means little when all there is to eat is words. We demand tangible solutions. We ask G20 leaders to put their money where their words are. They need to help low-income countries achieve tax revenues - domestic financing for education is not available because of debt burdens. Children are being sidelined."
Some of the children and young people most sidelined during the pandemic are those who have been forcibly displaced, whether internally or across international borders, as well as children living in situations of protracted crisis - where political instability and fragilty is a constant threat to day-to-day life. In many displacement settings, asylum processes and resettlement schemes were frozen, income and rations were depleted due to reduced humanitarian funding, and access to public services such as education was poor in contexts of displacement and protracted crises well before the pandemic. Ibrahim Ishaku Balami, Executive Director of FRAD Foundation in Nigeria, a member of the Education Cannot Wait youth- and student-led subgroup, has firsthand experience of the injustice of displacement and protracted crises. "Growing up in Borno State, the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency, I have been in pain watching how much displacement & great violation of rights children face... G20 & other global leaders must ask themselves: have we done enough to support low-income countries, & countries suffering from protracted crisis like Nigeria, Afghanistan?"
Standing in solidarity with speakers from across sub-Saharan Africa, youth activists from G20 Member States spoke passionately to demand action from their leaders. Medhnaa Saran, a youth activist with 100 Million US and founder of the Touch of Life Foundation, called on world leaders to implement strong social programmes. "Social protection can stop child labour from growing. I'm urging the G20 to do more social protection work in their own countries and for donor nations to give foreign assistance. A change needs to be made."Also from the US but representing young people in Education Cannot Wait, Henry Wright expressed his anger about how G20 and other wealthy governments have long neglected marginalised young people - not only overseas, but also at home: "When is it too late? When is it too late for the Syrian and Palestinian children languishing in camps? When is it too late for the teenagers trapped in the favelas in Brazil? For the homeless teenagers on the streets of New York? I hope that we don't find out." Matthias Konrad, representing the German Students' Association FZS, pointed out that "Many of the G20 have profited from centuries of colonisation & exploitation, & have been responsible for destabilised political states - yet have watched & done nothing..." As well as campaigning against the closure of civic space and the criminalisation of student activists, FZS has long been fighting for decent asylum for refugees and for the rights of children and young people on the move. Matthias continued: "The G20 has built a fortress: pushing back asylum seekers at the borders. The right to education & the right to asylum are human rights: we call on the G20 to strengthen democratic movements, respect himan rights, and open their borders to anyone who seeks asylum."
Irfaan Mangera, Youth Activism Program Manager for the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation in South Africa - the only African member state of the G20 - demonstrated the stark reality for young Africans: "Africa still bears a legacy of high rates of poverty & inequality, where those who have means can buy their way to education & leave others behind. We cannot allow, in 2021, exclusion of young people because they cannot afford education." Irfaan also made a plea to both governments and to youth movements: "As young people across the world we can build our movement of solidarity. This begins by recognising that humanity is collective."
Consolidating the demands of young people, 32 youth-led organisations have signed a letter to G20 Member States demanding social protection, debt cancellation, increased aid for lower-income countries, and increased financial and political support for forcibly displaced children and their families. This open letter is being sent to G20 Member States across social media during the G20 Summit 30-31 October.