People's Stories Children's Rights

23 countries – home to around 405 million schoolchildren – are yet to fully open schools
by UNICEF, Education International, UNESCO, agencies
30 March 2022
As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, 23 countries – home to around 405 million schoolchildren – are yet to fully open schools, with many schoolchildren at risk of dropping out, according to a new UNICEF report released today.
Are children really learning? features country-level data on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures on children, as well as an updated analysis of the state of children’s learning before the pandemic. It points out that 147 million children missed more than half of their in-person schooling over the past 2 years. This amounts to 2 trillion hours of lost in-person learning globally.
“When children are not able to interact with their teachers and their peers directly, their learning suffers. When they are not able to interact with their teachers and peers at all, their learning loss may become permanent,” said Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director. “This rising inequality in access to learning means that education risks becoming the greatest divider, not the greatest equalizer. When the world fails to educate its children, we all suffer.”
In addition to data on learning loss, the report points to emerging evidence that shows many children did not return to school when their classrooms reopened.
Data from Liberia show 43 per cent of students in public schools did not return when schools reopened in December 2020. The number of out-of-school children in South Africa tripled from 250,000 to 750,000 between March 2020 and July 2021. In Uganda, around 1 in 10 schoolchildren did not report back to school in January 2022 after schools were closed for two years. In Malawi, the dropout rate among girls in secondary education increased by 48 per cent, from 6.4 per cent to 9.5 per cent between 2020 and 2021. In Kenya, a survey of 4,000 adolescents aged 10-19 years found that 16 per cent of girls and 8 per cent of boys did not return when schools reopened.
Out-of-school children are some of the most vulnerable and marginalized children in society. They are the least likely to be able to read, write or do basic math, and are cut off from the safety net that schools provide, which puts them at an increased risk of exploitation and a lifetime of poverty and deprivation.
The report highlights that while out-of-school children suffer the greatest loss, pre-pandemic data from 32 countries and territories show a desperately poor level of learning, a situation that has likely been exacerbated by the scale of learning lost to the pandemic. In the countries analysed, the current pace of learning is so slow that it would take seven years for most schoolchildren to learn foundational reading skills that should have been grasped in two years, and 11 years to learn foundational numeracy skills.
In many cases, there is no guarantee that schoolchildren learned the basics at all. In the 32 countries and territories examined, a quarter of Grade 8 schoolchildren – around 14 years old – did not have foundational reading skills and more than half did not have numeracy skills expected of a Grade 2 student, around 7 years old.
“Even before the pandemic, the most marginalized children were being left behind. As the pandemic enters its third year, we can’t afford to go back to “normal.” We need a new normal: getting children into classrooms, assessing where they are in their learning, providing them with the intensive support they need to recover what they’ve missed, and ensuring that teachers have the training and learning resources they need. The stakes are too high to do anything less,” said Russell.
Jan. 2022
More than 635 million students remain affected by full or partial school closures. On the International Day of Education and as the COVID-19 pandemic nears its two-year mark, UNICEF shares the latest available data on the impact of the pandemic on children’s learning.
“In March, we will mark two years of COVID-19-related disruptions to global education. Quite simply, we are looking at a nearly insurmountable scale of loss to children’s schooling,” said Robert Jenkins, UNICEF Chief of Education.
“While the disruptions to learning must end, just reopening schools is not enough. Students need intensive support to recover lost education. Schools must also go beyond places of learning to rebuild children’s mental and physical health, social development and nutrition.”
Children have lost basic numeracy and literacy skills. Globally, disruption to education has meant millions of children have significantly missed out on the academic learning they would have acquired if they had been in the classroom, with younger and more marginalized children facing the greatest loss.
In low- and middle-income countries, learning losses to school closures have left up to 70 per cent of 10-year-olds unable to read or understand a simple text, up from 53 per cent pre-pandemic.
In Ethiopia, primary school children are estimated to have learned between 30 to 40 per cent of the math they would have learned if it had been a normal school year.
In the US, learning losses have been observed in many states including Texas, California, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland. In Texas, for example, two thirds of children in grade 3 tested below their grade level in math in 2021, compared to half of children in 2019.
In several Brazilian states, around 3 in 4 children in grade 2 are off-track in reading, up from 1 in 2 children pre-pandemic. Across Brazil, 1 in 10 students aged 10-15 reported they are not planning to return to school once their schools reopen.
In South Africa, schoolchildren are between 75 per cent and a full school year behind where they should be. Some 400,000 to 500,000 students reportedly dropped out of school altogether between March 2020 and July 2021.
Follow-on consequences of school closures are on the rise. In addition to learning loss, school closures have impacted children’s mental health, reduced their access to a regular source of nutrition, and increased their risk of abuse.
A growing body of evidence shows that COVID-19 has caused high rates of anxiety and depression among children and young people, with some studies finding that girls, adolescents and those living in rural areas are most likely to experience these problems.
More than 370 million children globally missed out on school meals during school closures, losing what is for some children the only reliable source of food and daily nutrition.

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Two-thirds of households with children have lost income during Pandemic
by UNICEF-World Bank, ILO, agencies
Mar. 2022
At least two-thirds of households with children have lost income since the COVID-19 pandemic hit two years ago, according to a new report published today by UNICEF and the World Bank.
Impact of COVID-19 on the welfare of households with children – which presents findings from data collected in 35 countries – notes that households with three or more children were most likely to have lost income, with more than three-quarters experiencing a reduction in earnings. This compares to 68 percent of households with one or two children.
The report also notes that income losses have left adults in one in four households with children going without food for a day or more. Adults in nearly half of households with children reported skipping a meal due to a lack of money. Around a quarter of adults in households with or without children reported stopping working since the pandemic hit, the report says.
“The (very) modest progress made in reducing child poverty in recent years risks being reversed in all parts of the world. Families have experienced loss at a staggering scale. While last year inflation reached its highest level in years, more than two-thirds of households with children brought in less money. Families cannot afford food or essential health care services. They cannot afford housing. It is a dire picture, and the poorest households are being pushed even deeper in poverty,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF Director of Programme Group.
The report finds that children are being deprived of the basics, with children in 40 percent of households not engaging in any form of educational activities while their schools were closed. Given that data is compiled at the household level, the actual participation rate at individual level is likely even lower, especially for children who come from households with three or more children.
“The disruptions to education and health care for children, coupled with catastrophic out-of-pocket health expenses which affect more than 1 billion people, may well put the brakes on the development of human capital – the levels of education, health and well-being people need to become productive members of society,” said Carolina Sanchez-Páramo, Global Director of Poverty and Equity for the World Bank. “This could lock in increases in inequality for generations to come, making it less likely that children will do better than their parents or grandparents.”
While households with three or more children were the most likely to experience a loss of income, they were also more likely to receive government assistance, with 25 percent accessing this support, compared to 10 percent of households with no children. The report notes that this somewhat helped to mitigate the adverse impact of the crisis on households who received support.
The report notes that prior to COVID-19, one in six children worldwide – 356 million – experienced extreme poverty, where household members struggled to survive on less than $1.90 a day. More than 40 percent of children lived in moderate poverty. And nearly 1 billion children lived in multidimensional poverty in developing countries, a figure that has since increased by 10 percent as a result of the pandemic.
UNICEF and the World Bank urge a rapid expansion of social protection systems for children and their families. Support including the delivery of cash transfers and the universalization of child benefits are critical investments that can help lift families out of economic distress and help them prepare for future shocks.
* Note: The report draws on information from a set of high-frequency phone surveys (from 35 countries) and focusing solely on the impact of the crisis on children. In the paper, we analyze the initial impact of the crisis (with survey data collected during the period April to September 2020) as well as the subsequent evolution of the impact of the crisis (with survey data collected during the period October 2020 to May 2021).
We focus on the following harmonized key indicators of children’s welfare covering both their individual conditions as well as those of the household they live in: (i) Income loss and job loss; (ii) Food insecurity (households reporting an adult member didn’t eat for a whole day or skipped a meal due to lack of money/resources); (iii) Social protection programs (whether households have received any government assistance since the beginning of the pandemic); and (iv) Education (participation in any educational activities following closures due to COVID-19).
Sep. 2021
Social protection for children not adequate according to new World Social Protection report.
A new report launched today by the International Labour Organization (ILO) provides a global overview of progress made around the world over the past decade in extending social protection and building rights-based social protection systems, in the context of COVID-19, and with input from UNICEF Innocenti on social protection gaps and opportunities for children.
As COVID-19 continues to imperil years of progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), this report underscores what steps must be taken to continue progress in poverty reduction. The World Social Protection Report: Social protection at the crossroads – in pursuit of a better future, a flagship of the ILO, is an essential contribution to the monitoring framework of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The pandemic has brought to light the pre-existing stark protection gaps across all countries and made it impossible to ignore the persistent social protection deficits experienced in particular by certain groups, such as informal workers, migrants, unpaid carers, and notably: children.
Five key messages from the report:
The pandemic has exposed deep-seated inequalities and significant gaps in social protection coverage, comprehensiveness and adequacy across all countries. COVID-19 provoked an unparalleled social protection policy response. Socio-economic recovery remains uncertain and enhanced social protection spending will continue to be crucial.
Countries are at a crossroads with regard to the trajectory of their social protection systems. Establishing universal social protection and realizing the human right to social security for all is the cornerstone of a human-centred approach to obtaining social justice.
Key messages on social protection for families and children
COVID-19 is expected to reverse the modest progress made in reducing child poverty. Before COVID-19 there had been a reduction in children living in extreme poverty from 19.5 per cent of children in 2013 to 17.5 per cent of children in 2017, ( 356 million ). It is estimated that the pandemic has increased the number of children living in income-poor households by more than 142 million, bringing the total to almost 725 million.
Section 4.1 of the report, Social protection for children and families, was co-authored by UNICEF Innocenti's Chief of Social and Economic Policy, Dominic Richardson, and underscores how social protection for children remains limited, yet is critical for unlocking their potential.
The vast majority of children still have no effective social protection coverage, as only 26.4 per cent of children globally receive social protection benefits. Furthermore, effective social protection is particularly low in some regions: 18 per cent in Asia and the Pacific, 15.4 per cent in the Arab States and 12.6 per cent in Africa.
National expenditure, on average, for social protection for children is too low, equating to only 1.1 per cent of GDP, compared to 7 per cent of GDP spent on pensions. The regions of the world with the largest share of children in the population, and the greatest need for social protection, have some of the lowest coverage and expenditure rates, especially sub-Saharan Africa (0.4 per cent of GDP). Consequently, the need to close gaps in social protection coverage, comprehensiveness and adequacy and to address child poverty is of overriding urgency.
Before and during the pandemic there have been positive developments, including the adoption of universal or quasi-universal child benefits in several countries. Critically, COVID-19 has reignited attention to and awareness of the importance of inclusive social protection systems, high-quality childcare services, and of the need for social protection for caregivers.
While the crisis response to COVID-19 was unprecedented, with fiscal stimuli adopted globally, it was insufficiently child-sensitive. This deficiency, combined with the high risk of a return to austerity, puts recent progress in social protection systems for children in jeopardy.
Key recommendations for enhancing social protection for children
Avoid fiscal austerity and use recovery as a policy opportunity to further strengthen child-sensitive and inclusive social protection systems in order to ensure children’s well-being and achieve the SDGs.
Move rapidly towards universal social protection for children at the country level – including universal child benefits and the policy window provided by COVID-19 must be used to prioritize investments to close critical gaps.
Ensure adequacy within social protection systems in terms of inclusion and gender sensitivity, and that they address climate-related and conflict-related risks.
It is also of paramount importance that policymakers implement an integrated social protection portfolio for children that includes child benefits and childcare services, provision of parental leave, and access to healthcare to deliver the best results for children and society.

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