COVID-19: Number of children living in household poverty to soar by up to 86 million by end of year

01 June 2020
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Todd Brown
UNICEF Cambodia/2018/Todd Brown

New analysis from Save the Children and UNICEF reveals that without urgent action, the number of children living in poor households across low- and middle-income countries could increase by 15 per cent, to reach 672 million


NEW YORK, 01 June 2020 – The economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic could push up to 86 million more children into household poverty by the end of 2020, an increase of 15 per cent, according to a new analysis released today by Save the Children and UNICEF Head Quarters.

The analysis highlights that, without urgent action to protect families from the financial hardships caused by the pandemic, the total number of children living below the national poverty line in low- and middle-income countries could reach 672 million by year-end. Nearly two-thirds of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

“The coronavirus pandemic has triggered an unprecedented socio-economic crisis that is draining resources for families all over the world,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “The scale and depth of financial hardship among families threatens to roll back years of progress in reducing child poverty and to leave children deprived of essential services. Without concerted action, families barely getting by could be pushed into poverty, and the poorest families could face levels of deprivation that have not been seen for decades.”

Save the Children and UNICEF warn that the impact of the global economic crisis caused by the pandemic and related containment policies is two-fold. Immediate loss of income means families are less able to afford the basics, including food and water, less likely to access health care or education, and more at risk of child marriage, violence, exploitation and abuse. When fiscal contraction occurs, the reach and quality of the services families depend on can also be diminished.

For the poorest families, lack of access to social care services or compensatory measures further limits their ability to abide by containment and physical distancing measures, and thus further increases their exposure to infection.

“The shocking poverty impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic will hit children hard. Children are highly vulnerable to even short periods of hunger and malnutrition—potentially affecting them for their whole life. If we act now and decisively, we can prevent and contain the pandemic threat facing the poorest countries and some of the most vulnerable children. This report should be a wake-up call for the world. Poverty is not inevitable for children,” said Save the Children International CEO, Inger Ashing.

Before the pandemic, two-thirds of children worldwide did not have access to any form of social protection, making it impossible for families to withstand financial shocks when they hit and furthering the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty. Only 16 per cent of children in Africa are covered by social protection.

Hundreds of millions of children remain multidimensionally poor - meaning they lack access to health care, education, proper nutrition, or adequate housing – often a reflection of inequitable investments by governments in social services.

To address and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on children in poor households, Save the Children and UNICEF call for rapid and large-scale expansion of social protection systems and programmes including cash transfers, school feeding and child benefits – all critical investments that address immediate financial needs and lay the foundation for countries to prepare for future shocks.

Governments must also invest in other forms of social protection, fiscal policies, employment and labor market interventions to support families. This includes expanding universal access to quality healthcare and other services; and investing in family friendly policies, such as paid leave and childcare.

Since COVID-19 hit, the Royal Government of Cambodia has already scaled up its social protection programme.  A new COVID-19 Cash Transfer Programme for ID Poor Households has been approved and is scheduled to launch during the second week of June 2020. Supported by UNICEF, European Union (EU), Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and United Nation Development Fund, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Save the Children,  and other partners, this programme aims to cover an estimate of 540,000 households living in poverty (ID Poor) or over 2.4 million individuals. The COVID-19 Cash Transfer is designed to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable groups of population, including the needs of children 0-5 years old, persons with disabilities, elderly and persons living with HIV/AIDS. The programme is a top up of the existing Cash Transfer Programme for the Poor Pregnant Women and Children (0-2 years old) and the Scholarship Programme for Children in Primary and Secondary Schools.



Notes to editors:

The analysis is based on economic projections by the IMF and World Bank, historical evidence on past income distribution changes from UNU WIDER, and demographic data from MICS and DHS. The county by country data covers over 100 low- and middle-income countries.


About Save the Children

Save the Children believes in a world in which all children survive, have the chance to learn, and are protected from abuse, neglect and exploitation. Through our work in around 117 countries, we reach the most deprived and marginalised children, helping them survive, learn and be protected.

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For further information, please contact:

Georgina Thompson, UNICEF New York, Tel: +1 917 238 1559,

Natasha Dos Santos, Save the Children, Tel: +44 7787 191957,

Say Sokpheap, Save the Children Cambodia,

Telephone number: +855 23223403/4/5/6 (Ext. 154), Mobile: +855 12 682 770,

Rik Goverde, Save the Children, Tel: +7732 602 301,


Media contacts

Rudina Vojvoda
Chief of Communication
UNICEF Cambodia
Tel: +85523260204;ext=434
Bunly Meas
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Cambodia
Tel: +85523260204;ext=435

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UNICEF Cambodia/2018

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