NEW YORK, December 9, 2021 – COVID-19 has affected children on an unprecedented scale, making it the worst children’s crisis UNICEF has seen in 75 years of history, the United Nations children’s agency said in a report released today.
The report Preventing a Lost Decade: Urgent Action to Reverse the Devastating Impact of COVID-19 on Children and Youth highlights the different ways COVID-19 challenges decades of progress on key childhood challenges such as poverty, health, access to education, nutrition, child protection and mental well-being. He warns that, nearly two years after the start of the pandemic, the widespread impact of COVID-19 continues to worsen, increasing poverty, entrenching inequalities and threatening children’s rights to levels never seen before.
“Throughout our history, UNICEF has helped create healthier and safer environments for children around the world, with great results for millions of people,” said UNICEF Executive Director , Henrietta Fore. “These gains are now under threat. The COVID-19 pandemic has been the greatest threat to the progress of children in our 75-year history. As the number of children who are hungry, out of school, abused, living in poverty or forced into marriage increases, the number of children with access to health care, vaccines, sufficient food and essential services declines. In a year when we should be looking to the future, we are stepping back.
The report says an estimated 100 million more children are now living in multidimensional poverty as a result of the pandemic, a 10% increase since 2019. This corresponds to around 1.8 children per second since mid-March 2020 Further, the report warns of a long way to regain lost ground – even in the best of circumstances, it will take seven to eight years to recover and return to pre-COVID child poverty levels.
Citing other evidence of a step backwards, the report says about 60 million more children are now living in financially poor households than before the pandemic. In addition, in 2020, more than 23 million children did not receive essential vaccines, an increase of almost 4 million from 2019 and the highest number in 11 years.
Even before the pandemic, an estimated 1 billion children worldwide suffered from at least one severe deprivation, without access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation or water . That number is now rising as the uneven recovery worsens the growing gaps between rich and poor children, with the most marginalized and vulnerable the most affected. The report notes:
- At its peak, more than 1.6 billion students were outside of school due to nationwide closures. Schools around the world were closed for nearly 80% of in-person instruction in the first year of the crisis.
- Mental Health diseases affect more than 13% of adolescents aged 10 to 19 worldwide. By October 2020, the pandemic had disrupted or interrupted essential mental health services in 93% of the world’s countries.
- Up to an additional 10 million child marriages may occur before the end of the decade due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The number of children in child labor has grown to 160 million worldwide, an increase of 8.4 million children over the past four years. 9 million more children are at risk of being forced into child labor by the end of 2022 due to the increase in poverty caused by the pandemic.
- At the height of the pandemic, 1.8 billion children lived in the 104 countries where violence prevention and response services were seriously disturbed.
- 50 million children suffer from wasting, the form of malnutrition, and that figure could increase to 9 million by 2022 due to the impact of the pandemic on child feeding, nutrition services and feeding practices.
Beyond the pandemic, the report warns of other threats to children that pose extreme threats to their rights. Globally, 426 million children – almost one in five – live in areas of conflict that become increasingly intense and weigh more heavily on civilians, disproportionately affecting children. Women and girls are most at risk of conflict-related sexual violence. Eighty percent of all humanitarian needs are motivated by conflict. Likewise, around 1 billion children – almost half of the world’s children – live in countries “at extremely high risk” from the impacts of climate change.
To respond, recover and reinvent the future of every child, UNICEF continues to call for:
- Investing in social protection, human capital and spending for an inclusive and resilient recovery;
- End the pandemic and reverse the alarming decline in children’s health and nutrition, including by leveraging UNICEF’s vital role in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine;
- Build back stronger by ensuring quality education, protection and good mental health for every child;
- Building resilience to better prevent, respond and protect children from crises, including new approaches to end famines, protect children from climate change and reinvent disaster spending.
“In a time of a global pandemic, growing conflicts and worsening climate change, never has a child-first approach been more critical than it is today,” Fore said. ” We are at the crossroads. As we work with governments, donors and other organizations to begin to chart our collective course for the next 75 years, we must keep children on the front lines for investments and last for cuts. The promise of our future is defined in the priorities we set in our present. “
Notes to Editors:
Download the report here