7 March 2021  Media Releases

Centring children in the COVID-19 response

New Zealand’s COVID-19 response highlights the need to centre children’s rights in all government planning, especially if we are to be prepared for future shocks and crises, Commissioner for Children Andrew Becroft says. 

A report from the Children’s Convention Monitoring Group*, published on Children’s’ Day, outlines what has worked for children in the COVID-19 response and recommends ways to better implement children’s rights in laws, policies and practices.

“We keep hearing that COVID-19 is going to make outcomes for children and young people worse, but that’s only if we choose to let it,” Commissioner Becroft says.

“COVID-19 should be the reason to do more for children. New Zealand now has an opportunity to apply the lessons learned over the past year, to redesign our systems to tackle the big issues facing children and young people both in times of crisis and not.

“One step that must be taken is for the Government to make child impact assessments mandatory, so all policy and legislation is designed around the rights and wellbeing of children.

“They have the biggest stake in any plans for the future, and their rights and interests should be baked into all policy or planning,” Commissioner Becroft says. 

Children’s rights in the COVID-19 response is the third thematic report in the Getting it Right series prepared by the Children’s Convention Monitoring Group*. After assessing agency responses since COVID-19 arrived in New Zealand a year ago, this latest report outlines ways to improve policy and practice to strengthen the implementation of children’s rights.

“It recommends that policy and decision makers deliberately consider what’s in the best interests of children, including tamariki and whānau Māori, and to find ways for them to participate and share their views,” says Assistant Māori Commissioner for Children Glenis Philip-Barbara.

“The report highlights the lessons learned about the pandemic response so far. In particular it draws on the experiences of coming together, including as Te Tiriti o Waitangi intended – shoulder to shoulder as equals with important contributions to make for the wellbeing of everyone,” Ms Philip-Barbara says.

The report makes other recommendations, including that agencies ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are delivered in accordance with children’s rights, and that emergency planning is undertaken in partnership with affected communities, including children and young people.

Andrea Jamison, Executive Director of the Children’s Rights Alliance Aotearoa says, by working together, it’s possible to create a society in which all children have what they need, live with dignity and belong.

“But it won’t happen by chance. We need to be more deliberate, stronger and clearer about how we factor children and their rights into our public policy and decision-making, including when we are responding to and recovering from emergencies,” Ms Jamison says.

Chief Executive for Save the Children NZ, Heidi Coetzee, says that in times of crisis a transparent and co-ordinated approach targeting the specific needs of children is vital.  

“From more than 100 years of working on the ground in crisis situations, we’ve learnt that without a dedicated child-centric response, children are missed. In situations like a pandemic, clear steps need to be taken, and funding allocated by Government, to ensure all children are cared for and their needs met,” Ms Coetzee says.

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero says the impact of COVID-19 has shone the light on many existing gaps for disabled young people, who already experience barriers to well-being.

“We must work together to remove these barriers as we respond to the challenges of responding to COVID-19, Ms Tesoriero says.

 Michelle Sharp, UNICEF NZ Chief Executive Officer adds: “We must include tamariki and rangatahi in our COVID-19 recovery and response to ensure we tackle inequality and reimagine better outcomes for every child.”

This report builds on previous Getting it Right reports, which have called on the Government to put the Children’s Convention into practice[1] and to listen to children and young people.[2]

The report can be found here: https://www.occ.org.nz/publications/reports/childrens-rights-in-covid19

*The CMG is convened by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and members include the Human Rights Commission, Children’s Rights Alliance Aotearoa, Save the Children NZ and UNICEF NZ.

[1] Building Blocks, The Children’s Convention Monitoring Group (2018) https://www.occ.org.nz/publications/reports/getting-it-right-building-blocks

[2] Are we Listening? The Children’s Convention Monitoring Group (2019) https://www.occ.org.nz/publications/reports/getting-it-right-are-we-listening