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Coronavirus threatens to cause irreversible harm to children’s education, nutrition and well-being, UNICEF reports
UNICEF warned in a new report of significant and growing consequences for children as the COVID-19 pandemic lurches toward a second year. The global children’s agency calls for urgent action from the UK and other governments to ensure children are prioritised in pandemic recovery plans.
Released ahead of World Children Day (20 November), the report, Averting a Lost Generation: A Six Point Plan to Respond, Recover, and Reimagine a Post-Pandemic World for Every Child outlines the dire and growing consequences of the pandemic for children. It shows that, as of 3 November, in 87 countries with age-disaggregated data, children and adolescents under 20 years of age accounted for 1 in 9 of COVID-19 infections, or 11 per cent of the 25.7 million infections reported by these countries.
While symptoms among infected children remain mild, infections are rising and the longer-term impact on the education, nutrition and well-being of an entire generation of children and young people could be devastating.
Joanna Rea, Director of Advocacy UNICEF UK says:
“This report lays bare the devastating consequences of the pandemic on children – both directly and indirectly – and shows the urgent need to protect them now and safeguard their future.”
However, while children can transmit the virus, there is strong evidence that, with basic safety measures in place, the net benefits of keeping schools open outweigh the costs of closing them. The report also notes that schools are not a main driver of community transmission, and children are more likely to get the virus outside of school settings.
“Despite being susceptible to Coronavirus, UNICEF believe that children are safer in school. The findings of the report emphasise what we have always known – schools play a pivotal role in supporting children’s mental health, safety, education, and welfare all of which must be safeguarded.
“In the UK, the enormous impact on children of the first lockdown is only starting to emerge with reports of extensive learning loss, stalled growth and development, child hunger, an increase in abuse, and growing concerns about deteriorating mental health and wellbeing of children and young people,” Rea continued.
Globally, as well as the direct health impact on children, COVID-related disruptions to critical health and social services for children pose the most serious threat to children, the report says. Using new data from UNICEF surveys across 140 countries, it notes that:
- Around one-third of the countries analysed witnessed a drop of at least 10 per cent in coverage for health services such as routine vaccinations, outpatient care for childhood infectious diseases, and maternal health services. Fear of infection is a prominent reason.
- There is a 40 per cent decline in the coverage of nutrition services for women and children across 135 countries. As of October 2020, 265 million children were still missing out on school meals globally. More than 250 million children under 5 could miss the life-protecting benefits of vitamin A supplementation programmes.
- 65 countries reported a decrease in home visits by social workers in September 2020, compared to the same time last year.
More alarming data from the report include:
- As of November 2020, 572 million students are affected across 30 country-wide school closures – 33 per cent of the enrolled students worldwide.
- An estimated 2 million additional child deaths and 200,000 additional stillbirths could occur over a 12-month period with severe interruptions to services and rising malnutrition.
- An additional 6 to 7 million children under the age of 5 will suffer from wasting or acute malnutrition in 2020, a 14 per cent rise that will translate into more than 10,000 additional child deaths per month – mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
- Globally, the number of children living in multidimensional poverty – without access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation or water – is estimated to have soared by 15 per cent, or an additional 150 million children by mid-2020.
To respond to this crisis, UNICEF is calling on the UK Government to commit to global and UK action for children, including:
- Put child rights at the heart of its’ foreign and development policy and maintain its global leadership role on the world stage by ensuring every child survives, thrives and meets their full potential. This includes delivering on its commitment to end preventable child deaths and standing up for girls’ education globally.
- Address the issues affecting children in the UK by putting children at the heart of our recovery and creating a cross-departmental plan for children, prioritising resources across the system for maximum impact for children. Specifically, they should be:
- Consulting with and listening to children and young people’s views and concerns when making decisions that affect their lives.
- Empowering teachers to prioritise the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children, ensuring schools have adequate financial resources and guidance to provide mental health support.
- Ensuring all children can access education online by identifying which children cannot currently access the internet and online learning facilities, why this is the case, and putting in place effective measures that puts an end to the digital divide undermining these children’s futures.
“There’s too much at stake for children – Coronavirus presents the biggest threat to their rights in a lifetime. These alarming findings show we cannot afford for them to be an afterthought in decisions which affect their lives, wellbeing and futures.
“The health and education services children rely on must be safeguarded and protected from the current and future shocks. It’s crucial that the UK Government places children at the heart of its response to and recovery from this pandemic and urge other countries to do the same,” Rea added.
This World Children’s Day, Unicef UK is taking action to stop the coronavirus pandemic from becoming a lasting crisis for children. Visit https://www.unicef.org.uk/generationcovid/ to find out more.
Download photos, b-roll and the embargoed report here.
The report is availble at:: https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/six-point-plan-protect-children
For the UNICEF survey on disruptions to child services due to COVID-19 across 148 countries from 17 August to 17 September, click here.
The data used for the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection among children and adolescents under age 20 is the re-analyzed country-level data from Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) (https://osf.io/mpwjq/).
UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK.
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