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On World Children’s Day, UNICEF warns COVID-19 is causing irreversible harm to children

Children and adolescents account for 1 in 9 of reported COVID-19 infections, according to new analysis released by UNICEF.

20 NOVEMBER 2020 – UNICEF warned in a new report today, Averting a Lost COVID Generation, of significant and growing consequences for children as the COVID-19 pandemic lurches toward a second year.

The report shows that while symptoms among infected children remain mild, infections are rising and the longer-term impact on the nutrition, education, and well-being of an entire generation of children and young people can be life-altering.

“In Aotearoa New Zealand we had effective covid mitigation strategies which prevented the virus from spreading”, said Andre Whittaker, UNICEF New Zealand’s Advocacy Manager. “Many communities overseas have faced considerable challenges where disruptions to key services and soaring poverty rates are posing significant threats to children’s nutrition, education, health, and well-being.”

COVID-related disruptions to critical health and social services pose the most serious threat to children, the report says. Using new data from UNICEF surveys across 140 countries, it notes that 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.

“Before the pandemic, many nations in the Pacific were struggling to curb the high rates of malnutrition, stunting, obesity and micronutrient deficiency. Close to half of all children in Papua New Guinea and one in three children in Solomons are stunted. As COVID-19 impacts household incomes, the rates of malnutrition could be further exacerbated” Whittaker said.

The report estimates that an additional 6.7 million children globally could suffer from wasting, a life-threatening form of malnutrition. Wasting causes children to be too thin and weak and increases their risk of dying, poor growth, development and learning. More than 250 million children under 5 could also miss the life-protecting benefits of vitamin A supplementation programmes.

In Papua New Guinea, nine critical programmes have been disrupted because of COVID-19 including nutrition, wasting and breastfeeding programmes. Unprecedented disruptions to programmes globally are significantly compromising children’s well-being.

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. More reliable, age-disaggregated data on infection, deaths and testing is needed to better understand how the crisis impacts the most vulnerable children and guide the response.

The impact on children’s education has been considerable. As of November 2020, 572 million students are affected across 30 country-wide school closures – 33 per cent of the enrolled students worldwide.

“In Aotearoa, the Pacific and around the world, children have been severely disrupted by school closures and many have had limited access to distance learning” said Whittaker. “COVID-19 has been life-altering for children and it is critical that UNICEF continues to provide services so decades of progress for children isn’t lost.”

Children – especially the poorest and most marginalised – are amongst the hardest hit from disrupted services and increases in poverty. Without urgent action, the number of children impacted by COVID-19 will be even more dire.

To respond to this crisis, UNICEF is calling on governments and partners to:

  • Reverse the rise in child poverty and ensure an inclusive recovery for all.

  • Guarantee access to nutrition and health services and make vaccines affordable and available to every child.

  • Support and protect the mental health of children and young people and bring an end to abuse, gender-based violence and neglect in childhood

  • Increase access to safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene and address environmental degradation and climate change.

  • Redouble efforts to protect and support children and their families living through conflict, disaster and displacement.

  • “Children are always told that they are our future,” Whittaker said. “This World Children’s Day, we are asking governments, partners and the private sector to prioritise children so every child can have a promising future.”

Download photos, broll and the report here.

For the UNICEF survey on disruptions to child services due to COVID-19 across 148 countries from 17 August to 17 September, click here.