COVID-19 is biggest threat to child progress in UNICEF’s 75-year history

The COVID-19 pandemic is drastically hindering progress on key childhood challenges like poverty, health and access to education, says the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, spelling the biggest global crisis for children since it was founded 75 years ago. 

In a new report, the UN Children’s Fund says the widespread impact of the pandemic is continuing to deepen, in turn increasing poverty, widening inequalities and threatening the basic rights of children like never before.

Preventing a lost decade: Urgent action to reverse the devastating impact of COVID-19 on children and young people has been published just ahead of UNICEF’s landmark anniversary on 11 December.

Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director, said: “While the number of children who are hungry, out of school, abused, living in poverty or forced into marriage is going up, the number of children with access to healthcare, vaccines, sufficient food and essential services is going down. In a year in which we should be looking forward, we are going backward.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest threat to progress for children in our 75-year history,” she added.

100 million more children in poverty

A ‘staggering’ 100 million more children have been pushed into poverty, says the charity, as a result of the pandemic, which is a 10 per cent increase since 2019. This equates to nearly two children every second since mid-March of last year, when the pandemic was declared.

Even in a best-case scenario, says UNICEF, recovery to pre-pandemic levels will take up to eight years.

Around 60 million children are now living in ‘monetary poor’ households, while over 23 million have missed out on essential vaccines, the most in over a decade. Before the pandemic took hold, roughly one billion children worldwide suffered at least one severe deprivation, such as lack of access to education, health, housing, nutrition, or sanitation and water. Unequal recovery is pushing the number higher.

The report details other areas where backsliding occurred, such as in education. At the peak of the pandemic, more than 1.6 billion students were shut out of school due to lockdowns.  Schools were closed worldwide for almost 80 per cent of in-person instruction time during the first year of the crisis.

Child labour on the rise

Worldwide, more than 13 per cent of adolescents aged 10 to 19 are affected by deteriorating mental health.  UNICEF reported that by October 2020, critical mental health services in 93 per cent of countries were disrupted or halted due to coronavirus spread.

Eighty per cent of all humanitarian needs are driven by conflict, the agency added, and nearly half the world’s children, some one billion, live in countries that are at an extremely high-risk’ from the impacts of climate change.

More than seven decades since its establishment, UNICEF continues to work for a better future for all children.

Henrietta Fore continued: “We are at a crossroads. We work with governments, donors and other organisations to begin charting our collective path for the next 75 years, we must keep children first in line for investment and last in line for cuts.”

In the face of the ongoing pandemic, growing conflicts, and the worsening climate emergency, UNICEF continues to call for investment in social protection, as well as inclusive and resilient recovery. Action is needed to end the pandemic and reverse the rollbacks in child education and nutrition, the agency said, including through leveraging its role in vaccine distribution.

Click here for the report.

Author: Simon Weedy

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