Youth leaders & student activists worldwide call out the G20 and make clear demands ahead of its Leaders' Summit during two unprecedented youth-led events.
Since the outset of the pandemic, youth activists across the world have been working tirelessly to prevent a global child rights disaster occuring in the wake of COVID-19 through the Justice for Every Child campaign. They have been demanding that their decision-makers act to secure the rights of the most marginalised children in every forum available to them, from local grassroots mobilisations, social media action, national advocacy campaigns and high-level events such as the Fair Share for Children Virtual Summit and a United Nations General Assembly side event.
With the G20 positioning itself as a focal point for the world’s response to COVID-19, and with the majority of COVID-19 response financing announced by a handful of G20 Member States, the youth leaders of the Justice for Every Child campaign decided to mobilise their networks again ahead of the upcoming G20 Leaders' Summit on 21-22 November. While a formal Youth 20 (Y20) forum exists, this is not organised by representative youth-led organisations with a democratic mandate to amplify the demands of young people worldwide.
The Global Student Forum and the 100 Million campaign convened two major events at which young people worldwide issued a direct challenge to the G20:
"As world leaders taking responsibility for the global response to COVID, will you take responsibility for the world’s most vulnerable citizens?"
To ensure this mobilisation was truly globally representative, on Tuesday 3 November, over 100 youth leaders from 46 countries, representing national and regional student unions and grassroots activist networks, joined a Youth Leadership Caucus.
The G20 - with only one country of 55 in Africa, and no low income countries as members - leaves the voices of many of the world’s most marginalised children unheard, and their needs desperately unmet. In contrast, the Youth Leadership Caucus had over double the amount of countries represented, and alongside the participation of representative youth leaders from most of the G20 countries, the overwhelming majority of participants were from lower-income countries.
The youth-facilitated caucus took place online, in 4 languages, and across many time-zones to share how the unequal, unjust, and immoral global response to COVID-19 has impacted the poorest and most marginalised children and young people across the world. Following the session, participants continued to work together to turn their collective anger and commitment to justice into a shared set of demands to be issued to the G20.
On Friday 6th November, over 500 more activists joined the participants from the Youth Leadership Caucus for the Fair Share for Our Future Global Youth Summit on the G20. Over the course of 90 minutes, activists expressed their concerns regarding the worsening situation for the most marginalised children and young people as a result of the ongoing pandemic. One significant issue several activists raised was the continued closure of schools and lack of access to reliable virtual learning, which is proving to be a threat to the futures of the most vulnerable children.
Japhet Nthala, President of the Malawi National Students' Union, raised the issue of child marriage and pregnancies, which have increased in Malawi since schools closed in March. He told activists: "In one district, 7274 girls have fallen pregnant, between January and June 2020." MD Chotu, a former child labourer and youth activist in India has been on the road as part of the Mukti Caravan, a campaign on wheels, aiming to prevent child trafficking at its root. "Young children are being trafficked from poorer villages for cheap labour and exploitation. We're trying to create a safety net for children - especially those who are out of school due to lockdown." Youth campaigners working on the ground in India and other countries including Peru have already witnessed a correlation between children being out of school and child labour: where schools remain on lockdown and families are struggling to feed themselves, the number of children entering child labour is already on the rise.
As well as grassroots and student youth leaders, the event was joined by board member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union's Young Parliamentarians Forum, Cynthia Lopez Castro. As an elected Congress Member in Mexico - a G20 Member state - and a young activist herself, she is frustrated that more young people are not represented in political fora. "Despite half the world being under 30, only 2% of MPs are the same age. We must be better represented - let us be the generation of change and social transformation."
Antonia Wulff of Education International, the global teacher union federation, joined activists in solidarity. "For too long, others have claimed to speak on behalf of young people. But they've failed to reflect your demands. As teacher unions, we stand alongside you for a redistribution of power, of resources, in a fundamentally unequal world." Also speaking in solidarity was Nobel Peace Laureate and child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, who joined the youth activists' call for G20 leaders to immediately address the needs of vulnerable communities. "The pandemic has brought devastation on the most marginalised children. But more devastating is the behaviour of global leaders. There must be a fair share for children. Fair share should be a way of life - for society, and for the children who are being left out."
IMAGE: Clockwise from top-left: Mohammad Chotu, former child-labourer and community activist from India; Cynthia Lopez Castro, Member of Parliament in Mexico and in the board of the IPU Forum of Young Parliamentarians, Lyiahndra Phiri, community activist from Malawi; Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace Laureate from India
COVID-19 and the way in which governments respond will continue to push children and their families into greater poverty unless the attitudes of leaders changes, and those in the most need receive the most support. As raised by Iris Kimizoglu, Board Member of the National Association of Student Unions in Germany - a powerful G20 Member State: "As soon as we have vaccinations, we have to hand them to those who need them the most - and that's not western countries. We believe in solidarity, and in unity there is strength."
The event ended with Martina Darminan, President-Elect of the European Students' Union, and Samuel Sasu Adonteng of the All-African Students' Union, reading aloud the agreed demands of young people to the G20.
In the next seven days, youth activists part of these meetings and beyond will be contacting their governments, especially those in the G20 Member States, with the demands to call on them to use their global political and economic influence to deliver a just, moral and fair global response to COVID-19.