Unprecedented: Pandemic Impact on Children
Interruption of education and getting pushed further into poverty are just two of the ill effects on those least able to deal with the social upheaval and economic distresses since 2020.
Coronavirus. Pandemic. Social distancing. Terms so familiar we can pass them off with a wave of the hand and shrug, “What’s new?” But for the most fragile victims, the impact of the 2020-21 pandemic will be felt for years to come. Children are the most susceptible to this scourge, especially because of their education getting interrupted and being pushed deeper into poverty.
In 2020, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization estimated that 138 countries had closed schools nationwide (a later report showed closures of more than a year affected 168 million students, or more than 80% of children across the globe). This had especially detrimental social and health consequences for kids living in poverty, reported The Lancet.
“School closures will exacerbate food insecurity,” wrote Wim Van Lacker and Zachary Parolin. “For many students living in poverty, schools are not only a place for learning but also for eating healthily. Research shows that school lunch is associated with improvements in academic performance, where food insecurity (including irregular or unhealthy diets) is associated with low educational attainment.”
A year into the pandemic, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said progress had gone backward across nearly every key measure of childhood, creating a devastating, distorted new normal.
“The number of children who are hungry, isolated, abused, anxious, living in poverty and forced into marriage has increased,” said Henrietta Fore, executive director of the UN agency. “At the same time, their access to education, socialization and essential services, including health, nutrition and protection, has decreased. The signs that children will bear the scars of the pandemic for years to come are unmistakable.”
The Guardian also reported that two decades of progress in reducing extreme poverty had been pushed into a sharp reverse because of the pandemic, the growing climate emergency, and increasing debt. The London newspaper said the crisis has been highlighted in multiple reports about such indicators as the dropout rate in education, falling wages, and rising unemployment, much of it driven by the hammering of the global economy.
Axel van Trotsenburg, managing director of operations at the World Bank, said the concern is that the global poverty crisis is again on the upswing, with current estimates of another 150 million affected by the end of 2021. He told The Guardian this shows the fragility of the process and the effort required to rebuild.
“On top of that we are seeing increases in the other poor and unemployed outside of the definition of extreme poverty,” van Trotsenburg said. “It’s a clear sign that this crisis is already producing serious ripple effects. You have 1 billion kids out of school, and online education not accessible to many children in developing countries. . . . There is also a disproportionate number of girls who, when they leave school, will permanently quit education so will lose even more.”
Child Labor Consequences
Child poverty and pandemic effects are not limited to the absence of schooling for children. Multiple reports indicate that the unparalleled economic repercussions of COVID-19 are exacerbating child poverty and exposing minors to exploitative and hazardous child labor. The non-governmental organization (NGO) World Vision said that eight million children had been forced into child labor in Asia alone as a result of lost livelihoods.
In addition, a 69-page report, “I Must Work to Eat,” was published in May of 2021 by the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights in Uganda and Friends of the Nation in Ghana. It looked at problems in Uganda, Ghana and Nepal, where children reported working long, grueling hours for low pay. Their parents had lost jobs or income because of the pandemic and associated lockdowns.
Researchers interviewed 81 working children as young as 8; they toiled at such places as brick kilns, carpet factories and gold mines. Some worked as mechanics, rickshaw drivers, or in construction. Some reported working because their families didn’t have enough food; some continued working even after lockdowns eased.
Commenting on the report, Jo Becker (children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch) said many children feel they must work to help their families survive. However, she said a rise in child labor should not be an inevitable consequence of the pandemic. “Governments and donors should scale up cash allowances to families to keep children out of exploitative and dangerous child labor and protect children’s rights to education and an adequate standard of living,” Becker said.
Take action, join the pandemic relief efforts, and become a part of the solution that is breaking the cycle of poverty for children. Explore the GFA World website at https://www.gfa.org/sponsorachild/ to learn more. By sponsoring a child in South Asia or Africa, you can actively contribute to transforming their life. Find a child who shares your birthday or select one based on age or gender. Remember, your sponsorship holds the key to bringing hope to an underprivileged child’s life.Learn more about child poverty
 Van Lacker, Wim; and Parolin, Zachary. “COVID-19, school closures, and child poverty: a social crisis in the making.” The Lancet. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(20)30084-0/fulltext. April 7, 2020.
 “Regression on ‘virtually every indicator’ of progress for children: UNICEF.” UN News. https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/03/1086982. March 11, 2021.
 Beaumont, Peter. “Decades of progress on extreme poverty now in reverse due to Covid.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/03/decades-of-progress-on-extreme-poverty-now-in-reverse-due-to-covid. February 3, 2021.
 “COVID-19 effects on global child poverty.” World Vision. https://www.worldvision.ca/stories/health/covid19-effects-on-global-child-poverty. March 11, 2021.