Progress reversed on ‘virtually every key measure of childhood’ during pandemic

The agency’s data showed that in developing countries child poverty was expected to increase by about 15 per cent, with an additional 140 million children in these nations projected to be living below the poverty line.

Progress has been reversed on “virtually every key measure of childhood” across the globe, new data from Unicef reveals as world approaches one year since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic.

The number of children suffering hunger, poverty and child marriage have increased all increased over the past 12 months, the United Nations agency warned.

At the same time, access to education and essential services has shrunk, with schools for more than 168 million children having been closed for almost a year.

Henrietta Fore, Unicef’s executive director, said: “The signs that children will bear the scars of the pandemic for years to come are unmistakeable.”

Two-thirds of countries with full or partial closures of schools are located in Latin America and the Caribbean, while at least one in three children have been unable to access remote learning while schools are shut.

Unicef also predicted that about 10 million more child marriages will occur before the end of the decade, threatening years of progress on reducing the practice.

Children’s mental health has also suffered badly due to isolation and strict stay-at-home policies put in place in many countries. Studies have pointed to increased levels of distress, worry and anxiety in children and young people, with many experiencing loneliness and concerns about the future.

Despite this, as of November 2020, more than two-thirds of mental health services for children and adolescents had been disrupted, said the agency.

Data also shows an additional six to seven million children under the age of five may have suffered from wasting or acute malnutrition in 2020. Wasting refers to a process caused by debilitating disease, in which muscle and fat tissue “waste” away due to malnutrition.

Unicef estimates the number of children suffering wasting could rise 14 per cent to to 54 million and that this could lead to more than 10,000 additional child deaths per month, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The situation could worsen with a 40 per cent decline in nutrition services for children and women, the agency warned.

The pandemic also threatens to exacerbate health issues other than Covid, with more than 94 million people at risk of missing jabs due to paused measles campaigns in 26 countries.

Other health problems are being worsened by the lack of basic hand washing facilities, such as soap and water, said Unicef. Its data found that on average 700 children under the age of five die each day from diseases caused by the lack of water, sanitation and hygiene.

Meanwhile, in 59 countries with available data, refugees and asylum seekers are unable to access Covid-related social protection support due to border closures, as well as rising xenophobia and exclusion.

Ms Fore said: “Children must be at the heart of recovery efforts. This means prioritising schools in reopening plans. It means providing social protection including cash transfers for families.

“And it means reaching the most vulnerable children with critical services. Only then can we protect this generation from becoming a lost generation.”

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