The Catalan Ombudsman calls on the best interest of children and adolescents in all measures taken to manage the health crisis of COVID-19


The institution issues recommendations to all administrations that highlight specific care for children, especially the most vulnerable

It does not question the measures taken so far, based on scientific and technical knowledge, and with the urgency required to respond to the health crisis, without immediate precedents

It calls for the authorities to communicate and explain to the children and adolescents the decisions taken, in the most accessible ways, in a language that is understandable and adapted to different ages and needs

It requests that lockdown measures be adjusted in a prudent but specific manner so that children and adolescents can carry out some activity or physical exercise outdoors, while maintaining the distances of security and according to age and the needs of the child

Measures of work flexibility and teleworking should not hinder the right of children to receive appropriate care from caregivers and should not constitute double discrimination for women

The Catalan Ombudsman has issued a resolution so that the rights of children and adolescents are highlighted in the management of this crisis, without immediate precedents, and that, to the extent possible, their specific needs be addressed, while prevailing also the best interest of the child.

In this regard, the Ombudsman wishes to mention, as good practices, the examples of the Prime Ministers of Canada and Norway, who have given press conferences to children and adolescents in their countries and have collected contributions. The Ombudsman also considered the broadcast of the Catalan Infok program very positive, in which some children asked questions to the prime minister of the Government of Catalonia regarding the crisis.

On the other hand, and despite the eminence of a health crisis in health, little has been said about the right of children and adolescents to health, beyond their role as transmitters of the disease for the rest of the population.

Most of the published information regarding the effects of the disease on children and adolescents indicates that they are not widely affected by it or that it is not particularly virulent among children and adolescents, even among infants. In fact, the figures published by the Spanish Ministry of Health's Alerts and Health Emergencies Coordination Centre on March 22, 2020, show that only one infant died from 10 to 19 years, although there were 34 children from 0 to 9 years old, one of them to the ICU, and 15 adolescents from 10 to 19 years old hospitalized by COVID-19.

However, the WHO also qualifies children as a risk population. The health of children and adolescents must be protected as a priority care group, focusing on the most vulnerable and preserving the differentiated and habitual care of the paediatric population.

Recommendations and paediatric advice for addressing impacts on the emotional health and comprehensive development of children and adolescents during lockdown should be widely disseminated through the media.

The Catalan Ombudsman considers that specific needs of movement and outdoor contact of children and adolescents, depending on their personal circumstances and age, must be assessed when predicting possible exceptions if the lockdown is extended in time, and in that sense it calls for the appropriate administrations to assess them.

With regard to the right to equitable education, the Catalan Department of Education's commitment to ensuring continuity of learning in conditions of inclusion and without discrimination for socio-economic reasons is highly valued.

However, it is very important that the student's accompaniment and follow-up are ensured, beyond problems related to formal learning due to technological reasons, lack of adaptation of tools or socio-cultural limitations, especially students in situations of risk of drop out of school, suffering all kinds of violence and situations of unprotection.

In this sense, the Catalan Ombudsman emphasizes the role of the school, as well as of the unregulated and leisure activities, as an institution of social cohesion, protection and coexistence, and the need for this task to be continued even further, more measured in the lockdown situation, in conjunction with social and health services.

As a particularly vulnerable group, and given that, due to security and protection in the wake of the crisis, some specialized services have been closed, the Catalan Ombudsman demands that the assistance and accompaniment of children and adolescents with disabilities’ be guaranteed. 

With regard to institutionalized children and adolescents, both in centres of the protection system and in juvenile centres, due to their increased risk of contagion in everyday life, precautions and clear protocols for the protection of staff and children and adolescents should be implemented.

The Catalan Ombudsman welcomes the efforts made by the Catalan Department of Education to reduce the digital gap between families and schools. However, and understanding that this effort will endure over time after the crisis, it raises the need to study the risks of using digital tools that are not our own when it comes to ensuring security in use and data protection, and the suitability of having a digital tool system of its own, accessible and adapted to everyone.

Specific measures of emotional and psychological accompaniment for children and adolescents also need to be envisaged, which, given the lockdown circumstances and emotional damage previously experienced, may present a higher risk of emotional health and stability issues.

All of these important public health and safety measures should be sought to interfere with as little as possible in the day-to-day activities of children and adolescents who are already in care centres instead of family homes.

The Catalan Ombudsman wants to emphasize the need to socially assess the task of caring for children and adolescents, at a time when the institutional and professional networks that cover part of this function have stopped providing this service.

In particular, it wants to ensure that measures of work flexibilization and teleworking do not invisible the right of children to receive appropriate care by caregivers, and also that these measures do not constitute a double discrimination for women, mainly due to the gender bias already present in the assumption of domestic and care tasks, but also for certain family settings, single-parent families, separated, with some type of disability, parents who have the disease, etc.

Public administrations, taking advantage of the circumstances and collective social awareness existing in the fight to control the spread of the disease, must also make an effort on social and economic responsibility in the care of dependent people and children, so that it becomes visible and valued through time and monetization.

Finally, there are groups of children and adolescents who deserve special attention right now. These are children and adolescents who are already suffering a violation of their rights, such as impoverished and precarious children, victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, migrants without family referrals, former fostered teenagers who have no stable resource, victims of trafficking, among many other situations that require urgent social intervention.

For this reason, the Catalan Ombudsman wants to highlight that the current health crisis is also a situation of social emergency and, in this regard, the social services provided for this purpose, with an extraordinary social fund and with the appropriate measures of security, should continue to cope with the situations of risk already detected and making it possible to detect suffering situations that may be invisible in confined homes across Catalonia.

The Ombudsman forwarded these recommendations, aimed at preserving the rights of children, to the departments of Labour, Social Affairs and Families, Health, Education and Justice of the Government of Catalonia, and also to the authorities responsible in the Spanish Government.