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COVID-19: Children from poorest households across the globe have suffered greatest loss
by UNICEF, Save the Children, agencies
Sep. 2020
150 million additional children plunged into poverty due to COVID-19, reports UNICEF, Save the Children
New analysis reveals the number of children living in multidimensional poverty – without access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation, or water – has increased by 15 per cent since the start of the pandemic.
The number of children living in multidimensional poverty has soared to approximately 1.2 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new UNICEF and Save the Children analysis. This is a 15 per cent increase in the number of children living in deprivation in low- and middle-income countries, or an additional 150 million children since the pandemic hit earlier this year.
The multidimensional poverty analysis uses data on access to education, healthcare, housing, nutrition, sanitation and water from more than 70 countries. It highlights that around 45 per cent of children were severely deprived of at least one of these critical needs in the countries analyzed before the pandemic.
Although the analysis paints a dire picture already, UNICEF warns the situation will likely worsen in the months to come.
“COVID-19 and the lockdown measures imposed to prevent its spread have pushed millions of children deeper into poverty,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “Families on the cusp of escaping poverty have been pulled back in, while others are experiencing levels of deprivation they have never seen before. Most concerningly, we are closer to the beginning of this crisis than its end.”
The report notes that child poverty is much more than a monetary value. Although measures of monetary poverty such as household income are important, they provide only a partial view of the plight of children living in poverty. To understand the full extent of child poverty, all potential deprivations must be analysed directly. This also points to the need to implement multi-sectoral policies addressing health, education, nutrition, water and sanitation and housing deprivations to end multidimensional poverty.
Social protection, inclusive fiscal policies, investments in social services, and employment and labor market interventions to support families are critical to lifting children out of poverty and preventing further devastation.
This includes expanding access to quality health care and providing the tools and technology needed for children to continue their education remotely; and investing in family-friendly policies such as paid leave and child care.
“This pandemic has already caused the biggest global education emergency in history, and the increase in poverty will make it very hard for the most vulnerable children and their families to make up for the loss”, said Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children. “Children who lose out on education are more likely to be forced into child labour or early marriage and be trapped in a cycle of poverty for years to come. We cannot afford to let a whole generation of children become victims of this pandemic. National governments and the international community must step up to soften the blow.”
There are not only more children experiencing poverty than before, the poorest children are getting poorer as well, the report notes.
“We must act now to prevent additional children from being deprived in basic life needs like school, medicine, food, water and shelter,” said Fore. “Governments must prioritize the most marginalized children and their families through rapid expansion of social protection systems including cash transfers and child benefits, remote learning opportunities, healthcare services and school feeding. Making these critical investments now can help countries to prepare for future shocks.”
Sep. 2020
COVID-19: Children from poorest households across the globe have suffered greatest loss of family income and have missed out most on education.
Save the Children conducts largest global survey of its kind among some 25,000 children and adults across 37 countries on the impact of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the education of children from poorer backgrounds and is widening the gap between rich and poor and boys and girls, a new global survey by Save the Children revealed today.
In the six months since the pandemic was announced, the most vulnerable children have disproportionately missed out on access to education, healthcare, food, and suffered the greatest protection risks.
The global survey revealed:
Two thirds of the children had no contact with teachers at all, during lockdown; eight in ten children believed they had learned little or nothing since schools closed.
93% of households that lost over half of their income due to the pandemic reported difficulties in accessing health services.
Violence at home doubled when schools were closed: when schools were closed, the reported rate was 17% compared to 8% when schools were open and the child was able to attend in person.
63% of girls are more often tasked to do more chores around the house, compared to 43% of boys.
Investment in education, health and nutrition, child protection services, mental health services and safety nets are urgently needed.
The findings were launched in the report Protect A Generation, based on the largest ever global survey of its kind since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared six months ago. Some 25,000 children and their caregivers shared their experiences, fears and hopes during this unprecedented global crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has in fact widened inequalities along wealth and gender lines, the survey found – with poorer households more likely to suffer income losses (82%) than those not classified as poor (70%).
When it comes to health, the survey showed the same concerning divide along wealth lines. Nine in ten households that lost over half of their income due to the pandemic reported difficulties in accessing health services. 45% of respondents from poor households reported having trouble paying for medical supplies during the pandemic.
Less than 1% of the poorer children interviewed had access to internet for distance learning. Among households that classified themselves as non-poor, it was 19%.
Around 37% of poorer families reported difficulties paying for learning materials, compared to 26% of families who classified themselves as non-poor.
Two thirds of the children said they had no contact with teachers at all during lockdown, increasing to eight in ten in East and Southern Africa.
Priscovia, 17, from Zambia said: “We ask for governments to spend more money to make sure that we can continue learning while at home by providing radios, TVs and internet learning. They must make sure that children in rural areas and from poor families also get to learn. We want to see mobile libraries passing in our communities delivering books for us to learn.”
Children who fall behind in their education run a greater risk of dropping out completely and falling victim to child labour, child marriage and other forms of exploitation.
Save the Children estimates that this pandemic has caused the largest education emergency in history.
Girls are more heavily impacted than boys, by the COVID-19 pandemic. 63% of the girls said they are doing more chores around the house and more than half (52%) reported they were spending more time caring for siblings. Among boys, that was 43% and 42% respectively. 20% of girls reported that they have too many chores to do to be able to learn, compared to 10% of boys.
Dayana is a 15-year-old girl who lives in the Sonsonate region in El Salvador. She told Save the Children:
“My mum worked in a house taking care of babies. Because of the coronavirus she could no longer go to work. We always did the cleaning but now we have to do it more often, to avoid getting sick. People are sad because the coronavirus has changed their lives and they can no longer do what they did before.”
The Save the Children survey also found that: More than 8 in 10 (83%) of children reported an increase in negative feelings;
Almost two thirds of the households (62%) found it difficult to provide their families with varied, nutritious food during the pandemic.
Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children, said: “COVID-19, has widened existing inequities. The poor became poorer, with a devastating impact on children’s access to healthcare, food, education and protection.”
“To protect an entire generation of children from losing out on a healthy and stable future, the world needs to urgently step up with debt relief for low-income countries and fragile states, so they can invest in the lives of their children. The needs of children and their opinions need to be at the centre of any plans to build back what the world has lost over the past months, to ensure that they will not pay the heaviest price.”
Save the Children urges governments to make sure children out of school have access to quality distance learning materials, that catch up classes are offered to children who have fallen behind and that all children have equal access to learning after schools reopen.
To prevent shocks from future pandemics, governments need to build social safety nets and strong health and nutrition systems, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalised households.
* Protect a Generation report:
Aug. 2020
Global Coalition to End Child Poverty: A Call to Action for governments to expand children’s access to Child-Sensitive Social Protection in the wake of COVID-19
COVID-19 threatens to push millions more children into poverty and deprivation across the world, risking lasting negative impacts on them and wider society. While governments have been putting in place short-term social protection measures to protect their citizens from the immediate economic impacts of the pandemic, this Call to Action explains why governments must maintain and scale up their investments in child-focused and child-sensitive social protection to avoid failing an entire future generation.
July 2020
Economic fallout from COVID-19 tightens its grip on children, by David Stewart, Sola Engilbertsdottir (UNICEF).
“Poverty is when you don’t have any money. Because of a lack of money, children don’t have a chance to develop. They may not have a good profession or a good foundation for life.” This is how Marieta and Gor from Armenia recently described the impact of poverty.
Whether it’s the instant loss of income that so many parents face as a result of COVID-19 or the austerity measures that may follow plummeting GDP, children will bear the brunt of this pandemic long after the virus itself has been eradicated.
Projections change daily, with some predictions that the recession that follows COVID-19 will be the worst global crisis since World War II. As a result, up to 106 million more children could live in poor households by the end of the year, according to new projections from UNICEF and Save the Children.
This is on top of the 385 million children living in extreme poverty before COVID-19 hit, and the 663 million children living in multidimensional poverty, meaning monetary poverty combined with poor health, lack of education, inadequate living standards, or exposure to environmental hazards, disempowerment or the threat of violence.
As these stark economic predictions manifest, we will witness global poverty increasing. What deepens the tragedy is that children are disproportionately affected by poverty. Not only are they twice as likely to live in poverty than adults, they are also more forcefully affected by its consequences.
Children living in poverty are less likely to go to school, more likely to be forced into child labor, more likely to be married as children, and less likely to access nutritious food and quality healthcare.
“We are worried that our children won’t have enough to eat,” said Siriphon Yampikul, of Thailand. “We parents can go without food, that is OK. But our children cannot go without.”
The threat to children is not limited to the near term. The recovery phase will take years, especially in low- and middle-income countries where there is limited capacity to mitigate the impact of the economic slowdown.
In Sub-Saharan Africa for instance, temporary measures were introduced and existing programmes were scaled up following the 2008 crisis – but were constrained by weak social protection systems, low pre-existing coverage, and decreased revenues.
And you don’t need to look too far back in history to know that when a crisis hits, budget cuts often follow an initial spike in government spending on the response. These austerity measures produce devastating results for children. If the response to COVID-19 follows the same pattern, we will see how unequally and cruelly economic destruction is distributed.
Families on the cusp of escaping intergenerational cycles of poverty will be flung back in. In East Asia and the Pacific, for example, the virus is expected to keep almost 24 million people in poverty who would otherwise have escaped.
And for children living in countries already affected by conflict, fragility, and violence, the impact of this crisis will add to an already precarious situation, increasing further risks of instability.
Although past crises offer a grim picture of what’s to come, they also provide valuable insight into how we might mitigate the impact. UNICEF works to support governments and partners in more than 100 countries to design and implement social protection systems and measures such as cash transfers, which can play a major role in cushioning the impact of financial crises on households with children.
Currently, 2 out of 3 children have no access to any child or family benefits. Rapidly expanding these programmes to reach every child is a critical investment not just in children and families, but also in a world better prepared for future shocks.
As one child in Trinidad said: “Poverty upsets my community. It affects you and me.”
In addition to expansion of coverage, social protection responses must consider children’s specific needs and vulnerabilities, including those related to gender and disability.
There are mounting calls for debt relief to support low and middle-income countries. In countries everywhere, however, the scale of the solution has to match the scale of the problem.
Governments must take decisive action to prevent child poverty from deepening and inequality from worsening within and across countries. They must rapidly extend cash transfer programmes to reach every child, invest in family-friendly policies, such as paid leave and accessible, affordable childcare, and expand access to healthcare and other public services.
In the medium and longer term, they will need to strengthen and expand shock responsive social protection systems to make children, communities and economies more resilient.
The economic impacts of COVID-19 are without precedent in modern history. Unprecedented action to protect children and their families from the worst effects should be a fundamental yardstick for success.
* David Stewart is Chief of Child Poverty and Social Protection at UNICEF, and Sola Engilbertsdottir is a Policy Specialist at UNICEF.

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Children have a right to a healthy environment
by Joint Call to Action to UN Human Rights Council
On 1 July 2020 at the Human Rights Council's Annual Full Day meeting on the Rights of the Child, the Children’s Rights Environmental Initiative (CERI) together with the Child Rights Connect Working Group on Environment and with the support of more than 20 institutions and high-level experts from around the world, presented a joint Call to Action to the Human Rights Council demanding formal recognition of children’s right to a healthy environment.
The following statement calls on governments to strengthen their commitments to adopt a child rights-based approach to environmental and climate-related initiatives, and identifies 7 concrete measures for action:
'At a time when the world is in a deep health crisis, and as children’s rights globally suffer severe setbacks due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, attention must not be diverted from the environmental emergency that is undermining children’s rights and future prospects around the world.
Each year more than 1.7 million children under the age of five lose their lives as a result of avoidable environmental degradation, while millions more suffer disease, disability, and an array of other forms of harm, some of which can result in lifelong effects.
Children’s rights are under threat due to insufficient government measures to address the climate crisis, unprecedented levels of biodiversity loss, exploitation of natural resources, exposure to toxic substances and waste, and widespread pollution of the air, water and soil.
Negative effects are disproportionately experienced by girls, children in poverty, indigenous children, children with disabilities and others in vulnerable situations, exposing them to intersecting risks and often violating the principle of non-discrimination.
In light of this, millions of children and youth across the world are calling for more urgent and ambitious action to tackle the root causes and impacts of the global environmental crisis.
For the annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child, Member States should ensure that children’s voices are not only heard, but acted upon, by placing children’s rights and best interests at the core of ambitious and concrete environmental actions and policies, including recognition of a human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. The time is ripe for action.
Place children’s rights at the heart of environmental policies and action
A general lack of awareness of the many links between a safe and healthy environment on the one hand, and children’s rights on the other, combined with weak political will, represent fundamental obstacles to the respect, protection and fulfilment of children’s rights in the context of environmental measures.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) provides a clear normative framework for realizing children’s rights through a healthy environment, but consideration of the treaty remains largely absent from environmental or climate-related policies, laws, and action.
We call on States to:
Respect, protect and fulfil children’s rights when adopting and implementing environment-related agreements, policies and action to address environmental harm including biodiversity loss and ecosystem destruction, pollution, exposure to hazardous substances and wastes, and climate change, underpinned by a precautionary and preventive approach.
Particular attention must be paid to the most marginalised and vulnerable children, and public resources - including regional and international development aid - must be mobilised and allocated accordingly.
Adequately regulate businesses to ensure that they comply with all applicable environmental laws and the General Comment No. 16 of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, including mandatory child rights due diligence and environmental impact assessments in order to identify, prevent and mitigate their environmental impact on child rights, including across their supply chains and within global operations.
Support and constructively engage in the further development of authoritative guidance on children’s rights and the environment, including through a future General Comment on Child Rights and the Environment to be elaborated and adopted by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Recognise the right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment
The right to a healthy environment should be formally recognised by the United Nations as soon as possible. Such a step would be of particular relevance to children, as well as for future generations, who shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden of environmental harm.
It is beyond debate that children are wholly dependent on the natural environment to lead dignified, healthy and fulfilling lives, including a safe climate, clean air, safe water and adequate sanitation, healthy and sustainably produced food, non-toxic environments to learn and play in, and healthy biodiversity and ecosystems.
We call on States to:
Support the formal recognition of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment by the UN
Protect and support child environmental human rights defenders
In too many instances, the views, rights and interests of children go completely unheard in decisions on the environment, leading to adverse outcomes in terms of children’s well-being and development.
Furthermore, when acting and speaking out on environmental issues, children often face condescension, intimidation, harassment, reprisals and even violence from authorities or corporations. Children in all their diversity must be empowered to defend their right to a healthy, safe and sustainable environment.
We call on States to:
Take concrete action to protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly of child environmental human rights defenders, including online, by providing a safe and enabling environment for initiatives by young people and children to defend human rights relating to the environment, and by promoting a positive narrative around their activities. Pay particular attention to the rights of girls and young woman defending the environment.
Increase children’s awareness of environmental issues, and strengthen their respect for the natural environment and capacity to respond to environmental challenges, at all stages of education, including by ensuring the availability and accessibility of age-and gender-responsive information on the effects of environmental harm.
Facilitate public participation in decision-making on the environment, with a particular emphasis on fulfilling children’s right to be heard, including from a young age, and ensuring that their views are given due weight in all environmental processes.
Ensure that children have access to justice, including effective remedies for and reparation of human rights violations due to environmental harm, for example climate change and exposure to toxic substances and pollution, through child-friendly complaint mechanisms at all levels, including by ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure.
Address the climate crisis
The climate crisis is a children’s rights crisis. Yet, just 20 per cent of national climate policies mention children, and only 2 per cent of them refer to children’s rights. We call on States to align with the Intergovernmental Declaration on Children, Youth and Climate Action and implement the following commitments:
Undertake the urgent and transformative action required to limit global temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, in line with best available science and as pursued by the Paris Agreement. This includes the rapid replacement of fossil fuels with rights-respecting renewable energy projects to reduce emissions, and an urgent shift to a circular economy that significantly reduces waste and pollution.
Respect, protect and fulfil the specific rights of children and young people in the implementation of the Paris Agreement at all levels, including targeted measures in countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions, National Adaptation Plans and long-term low-carbon emission development strategies
Urgently scale up and accelerate investment in child-responsive adaptation, disaster risk reduction and mitigation measures, with particular attention to marginalized children
End childhood exposure to pollution and toxic substances
Government failure to address exposure to pollution and to toxic substances and wastes unambiguously violates a wide range of children's rights. Children are born “pre-polluted”. Due to their extremely and uniquely sensitive periods of development, they are not only victims of poisoning that is immediately visible, they also suffer or endure latent impacts from chronic exposure to pollution, to hazardous chemicals and to toxic wastes, causing disease, disability and child mortality later in life.
We call on States to:
Uphold their duty to prevent childhood exposure to pollution and toxic chemicals as part of States’ obligation to protect children, and ensure that this is reflected in laws and policies based on the child's best interests, as well as through business activities
Ensure a just and green recovery from COVID-19, and take urgent steps to prevent future pandemics
Environmental degradation is one of the root causes of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, which has caused more than 475, 000 deaths to date, and inflicted untold suffering on children. States now have an unprecedented opportunity to implement transformational recovery plans that protect children’s rights and the environment, while addressing the drivers of climate change, biodiversity loss, toxic pollution and zoonotic diseases. Children must also have access to knowledge and skills that can support them in the future in accessing decent jobs in a green economy, including by tackling discriminatory gender norms that prevent girls and young women from accessing STEM education and jobs.
We call on States to:
Focus recovery plans and investment on fulfilling children’s rights through ‘building back better’ to achieve a just, healthy and sustainable future, accelerating efforts to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement
Strengthen rather than weaken environmental regulations and protections, including policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Improve access to transformative green skills for children and young people, ensuring such efforts reach girls and young women, through formal and non-formal education and training.
Strengthen monitoring and reporting on children’s rights and the environment
Monitoring and reporting on the impacts of environmental harm on children’s rights, as well as progress made to fulfil children’s rights in this context, are essential for raising awareness and underpinning more effective and targeted policies and measures.
We call on States to:
Strengthen monitoring on children’s environmental rights (e.g. childhood exposure-monitoring for adverse physical and mental health impacts linked to the environment), and publish and disseminate age and gender disaggregated information on the results.
Incorporate the implications of environmental harm on the full enjoyment of children’s rights in their periodic reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, their national reports under the Universal Periodic Review, and in their reporting under environmental frameworks and the Sustainable Development Goals'.

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