“Too many children and young people, rich and poor alike, in all four corners of the world are experiencing mental ill health as we have never seen before. This is the silent emergency of our times. It has no borders and requires urgent attention”. Henrietta H Fore
One area of child development that is most affected by the pandemic is child and youth mental health and well-being, the umbrella term used to describe psychosocial and emotional wellbeing. Although the term ‘youth mental health’ by itself does not have either a negative or positive connotation, it is used in reference to mental disorders among children and adolescents such as psychosis, anxiety, depression and eating disorders. Concern for youth mental health was rising before the pandemic, with global prevalence rates of common disorders already very high. Although comprehensive data on mental health since COVID-19 struck is hard to come by, emerging data and studies suggest that the pandemic is exacerbating many common mental disorders.
Human Rights Watch, 2020
International human rights law guarantees everyone the right to the highest attainable standard of health and obligates governments to take steps to prevent threats to public health and to provide medical care to those who need it. Human rights law also recognizes that in the context of serious public health threats and public emergencies threatening the life of the nation, restrictions on some rights can be justified when they have a legal basis, are strictly necessary, based on scientific evidence and neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application, of limited duration, respectful of human dignity, subject to review, and proportionate to achieve the objective.
The scale and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic clearly rises to the level of a public health threat that could justify restrictions on certain rights, such as those that result from the imposition of quarantine or isolation limiting freedom of movement. At the same time, careful attention to human rights such as non-discrimination and human rights principles such as transparency and respect for human dignity can foster an effective response amidst the turmoil and disruption that inevitably results in times of crisis and limit the harms that can come from the imposition of overly broad measures that do not meet the above criteria.
This document provides an overview of human rights concerns posed by the coronavirus outbreak, drawing on examples of government responses to date, and recommends ways governments and other actors can respect human rights in their response.