Across virtually every key measure of childhood, progress has gone backward, UNICEF says as pandemic declaration hits one-year mark

Spokespeople available for interview

11 March 2021
A girl wearing a pink dress, sitting on the floor with papers in front of her studying.
Fifteen-year-old Anjali Dodiyar Meena, a 9th class student, studying at her home in Dungarpur district in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan.

NEW YORK, 11 March 2021 – One year since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the latest available data from UNICEF uncover a devastating and distorted new normal for the world’s children. 

“One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, progress has gone backward across virtually every key measure of childhood,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “The number of children who are hungry, isolated, abused, anxious, living in poverty and forced into marriage has increased. 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.”

How the COVID-19 pandemic has affected children:

  • As of March 2021, 13 per cent of 71 million COVID-19 infections in 107 countries (62 per cent of the total global infections) with data by age are among children and adolescents under 20 years of age.
  • In developing countries, child poverty is expected to increase by around 15 per cent. An additional 140 million children in these countries are also already projected to be in households living below the poverty line.
  • Schools for more than 168 million schoolchildren globally have been closed for almost a year. Two-thirds of countries with full or partial closures are in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • At least 1 in 3 schoolchildren has been unable to access remote learning while their schools were closed.
  • Around 10 million additional child marriages may occur before the end of the decade, threatening years of progress in reducing the practice.
  • At least 1 in 7 children and young people has lived under stay-at-home policies for most of the last year, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation.
  • As of November 2020, more than two thirds of mental health services for children and adolescents had been disrupted.
  • As of November 2020, an additional 6 to 7 million children under age 5 may have suffered from wasting or acute malnutrition in 2020, resulting in almost 54 million wasted children, a 14 per cent rise that could translate into more than 10,000 additional child deaths per month – mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. With a 40 per cent decline in nutrition services for children and women, many other nutrition outcomes can worsen.
  • As of November 2020, more than 94 million people were at risk of missing vaccines due to paused measles campaigns in 26 countries.
  • As of November 2020, in 59 countries with available data, refugees and asylum seekers are unable to access COVID-19-related social protection support due to border closures and rising xenophobia and exclusion.
  • Around 3 billion people worldwide lack basic handwashing facilities with soap and water at home. In the least developed countries, three quarters of people, more than two-thirds of schools and a quarter of health care facilities lack the basic hygiene services needed to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. On average 700 children under-five die every day from diseases caused by the lack of water, sanitation and hygiene. 

“Children must be at the heart of recovery efforts,” said Fore. “This means prioritizing 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.”


“The pandemic has upended lives everywhere. It has particularly impacted the emotional and psychological well-being of children and threatened to roll back decades of progress.

We must act to limit and reverse the potential adverse impact of this pandemic on children. As the vaccination drive picks up and the essential services get restored, we have to keep children at the centre of building back from the social and economic fall-out. We should make every effort to use the lessons learnt from the pandemic to build more resilient institutions and systems for children's education, nutrition, health and protection,” said Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, Representative, UNICEF India.

Estimated impact of COVID -19 on children in India (2020): 

  • In India, closure of 1.5 million schools due to the pandemic and lockdowns in 2020 has impacted 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. In addition, there are over six million girls and boys who were already out of school even before the COVID-19 crisis began. Online education is not an option for all as only one in four children has access to digital devises and internet connectivity. Pre-COVID, only a quarter of households (24 per cent) in India had access to the internet and there is a large rural-urban and gender divide.

Till date in India only nine states/union territories have opened all classes from class 1 to class 12, 10 states have reopened classes 6-12 and 15 states have only opened classes 9-12. Three states have reopened anganwadi centers, with younger children losing out greatly on crucial foundational learning.  

  • India has made steady progress in newborn mortality reduction in the last five years before COVID19, reducing the NMR from 28 in 2013 to 23 in 2018, saving additional 33,000 newborn lives each year (source: Sample Registration Survey). There is a danger of losing some of these gains made due to the impact of COVID -19 on health systems.
  • According to a Lancet study, of the 10,40,000 under-5 deaths in India in 2017, as many as 706,000 deaths could be attributed to malnutrition. But due to COVID-19 induced food security and malnutrition these figures are estimated to go up.
  • According to the Joint Monitoring Programme on WASH 2019, approximately 60 per cent of households in India have handwashing facilities with soap. The coverage in rural communities is lower. According to National Sample Survey 2019 only 36 per cent of households in India washed their hands before eating and only 74 per cent cleaned their hands with soap after defecation.
  • CHILDLINE received 460,000 calls in 21 days from March 20 to April 10 2020, asking for protection from distress, abuse and violence, a 50% increase from their regular call volumes. Nearly 10,000 of these were intervention cases which required CHILDLINE staff to reach the children in need of support. ChildLine reported 6,355 intervention calls to prevent child marriages and 898 child marriages were averted during the lockdown as reported by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

Media contacts

Sonia Sarkar
Communication Officer (Media)
Tel: +91-981 01 70289

Multimedia content

A man wearing PPE is closing a box containing vaccines.
An employee closes the lid of a cold box containing COVID-19 vaccines at a manufacturer in Pune, a city located in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, on 23 February 2021.


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