How can the World Bank play an active role in addressing the child protection gap?

The global child rights community has spoken out about the need to fill the financing gap to enhance child protection in the wake of COVID-19. We shine a light on the issue and offer rationale for and a few practical ways the World Bank can incorporate some of the latest recommendations through its lending instruments.

Over half a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is realizing that the status of the world’s children hangs in the balance. Children are exposed to increased risks and harm due to the economic, developmental, and psychosocial implications of COVID-19. Additionally, child protection systems already under strain before the pandemic are increasingly unable to respond appropriately. 

Today, on World Children’s Day, we shine a light on the status of child protection around the world and urge the World Bank to prioritize a response to the worsening trends civil society and governments alike are reporting on the status of children. The Bank should use its role as a leader in development finance to help protect some of the world’s most marginalized children through a concerted and coordinated response to COVID-19 that prioritizes child protection. 

In addition to global figures on estimated uptakes in violence against children, two global studies on the impacts of COVID-19 on children found that the percentage of children who reported violence in the home more than doubled, from 8 percent to 17 percent, and that children are feeling less safe since the start of COVID-19. Global institutions, including the World Bank, should listen and respond accordingly.

In October, The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action published a new report entitled “Still Unprotected: Humanitarian Funding for Child Protection” highlighting the humanitarian financing realities on global child protection amidst COVID-19 response. Globally, COVID-19 response has led to an increase in funding towards child protection systems in Humanitarian Response Plans (HRPs), in some cases by three-fold. This reflects an increased recognition and prioritization of resources towards children who are especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. That being said, funding requirements are not on track to meet the needs for 2020 and beyond due to the scale of the child protection concerns. In fact, almost all HRPs are only 50 percent funded, reflecting the reality that half of the funding gap is still missing.

Recognizing the important role financing will play in response and recovery, the World Bank announced a commitment to disperse $160 billion over 15 months to COVID-19 response projects by June 2021. Yet as of October, only $21 billion has been released and the CGD estimates that the World Bank will fall short of its pledge by $25 billion in June 2021. According to some economists, the World Bank has already failed to protect the world's poorest countries through a meaningful response to COVID-19. It is also unclear how much of this funding is going towards protecting children from the short, medium, and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Civil society has raised significant concerns around the issue of child protection in the World Bank’s COVID-19 response. Recently, Bank leadership has appeared to recognize the significant risks to children, and the particular impacts on out-of-school children. CSOs and Bank staff also discussed the issue during the Civil Society Policy Forum around the Annual Meetings in September 2020. As a global financing institution aimed at supporting development for the world’s poorest, the World Bank has a key role to play in supporting developing countries in creating a scaled up and coordinated program for addressing child protection. 

The World Bank should join global efforts to take a more active role in protecting children, take up the recommendations made by global child protection experts, and commit to additional financing for child protection. It can do so by prioritizing programs that specifically address the needs of children and child protection systems in its lending, particularly in the wave of social protection projects making up a portion of the COVID-19 response. This would help the World Bank better leverage project impacts to strengthen child protection systems and build resilience. 

A coordinated and strengthened approach to child protection system strengthening includes building child protection into project design and monitoring; working with Bank staff, borrowing countries, implementing agencies, and local communities to more effectively protect children through trainings and other supports to build capacity on child protection issues at all levels. Practically speaking, the World Bank should include children as project beneficiaries in social protection projects and disaggregate data on COVID-19 response projects by age, gender, disability status, and geography to assess and respond to the specific needs of and project impacts on children.

On a day that recognizes the importance of children’s rights, we need to go beyond shining a spotlight on the challenges facing them. Rather, the World Bank must step up to help change the trajectory of the COVID-19 story for the world’s most marginalized children. 

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