In Brazil families with children and adolescents are the hidden victims of the pandemic, reveals a UNICEF research

28 August 2020
Toma de temperatura a una niña en Brasil.
© UNICEF/UNI333653/Sarraf/AFP

Brazilians living in families with children and adolescents were the most affected by reduced incomes, food insecurity and hunger. The research also found that most children and adolescents continued to have access to education at home, but 9 percent were excluded.

Brasília, August 27, 2020 - Families with children or adolescents were the most impacted by the crisis caused by COVID-19 in Brazil. This is revealed in the research launched by UNICEF “Primary and Secondary Impact of COVID-19 on Children and Adolescents”. Conducted throughout the country by the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics (Ibope), the research shows that Brazilians living with people under 18 at home were the majority among those who had reduced income, who were subject to food insecurity and even subject to hunger, among other challenges.

"Although children and adolescents are not the most directly affected by COVID-19, the research shows that they are the main hidden victims of the pandemic. Their families have experienced the greatest income reductions, the quality of food they receive has worsened, and many of their rights are at risk. It is crucial to understand these impacts and prioritize the rights of children and adolescents in response to the pandemic," says Paola Babos, UNICEF’s deputy representative in Brazil.

The research also reveals that most of the children and adolescents - both in private and public schools - continued to have access to education in the pandemic. However, 9 per cent were unable to continue learning at home, increasing exclusion in the country. Among the 91 per cent of children who remained with access to education, a significant percentage were unable to study on a regular basis. "The results make it clear that the access to rights occurs unequally in Brazil. With the pandemic, disparities can become worse, strongly impacting those already in a vulnerable situation," explains Paola.

Faced with this scenario, UNICEF reinforces the call for the country to give priority to children and adolescents in response to COVID-19. This means emphasizing and prioritizing the rights and needs of girls and boys in budgets, programs, and projects, in order to mitigate the impact of the crisis - in the short, medium, and long terms - on the lives of children, adolescents, and their families.

The main results from the research are as follow:

Impact on family income
The crisis caused by COVID-19 directly impacted the income of Brazilians. According to the survey, 55 per cent say that their home income has decreased since the beginning of the pandemic. The impact was greater in families with children and adolescents. Of these, 63 per cent experienced   a decrease in their income.

The income reduction is also more present in the poorest social areas: 67 per cent of those with family income of up to one minimum wage had their income reduced, against 36 per cent of those with a family income of more than 10 salaries. The study also reveals that 18 per cent of the Brazilians failed to pay any electricity, water or gas bills during the pandemic.

The emergency assistance provided by the government was requested by 46 per cent of the Brazilians interviewed. Among those living with children and adolescents, the percentage reached 52 per cent. Of those who asked for social assistance, 25 per cent were not considered eligible or have not yet received the benefit. Unemployment was also higher among families with children and adolescents.

"The research makes it clear that the economic and social impacts of the pandemic affect more children, adolescents, and their families. More than temporary benefits, it is important that regular social protection programs include all vulnerable families in a sustainable manner. Therefore, they need to be focused on those who need it most, those with children, who already had high rates of vulnerability accentuated by the pandemic. When fiscal and budgetary planning takes place, it is fundamental to consider social protection not as an expense, but as an investment in the present and future of the country," says Liliana Chopitea, Chief Social Policy, Monitoring and Evaluation at UNICEF Brazil.

Food and nutritional security

The pandemic has affected food and nutritional security in the country. Almost half of the Brazilian population (49 per cent) has reported changes in eating habits since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among families living with children and adolescents, the impact has been even greater: 58 per cent.

Among the dietary changes, the increase in consumption of unhealthy foods was strongly cited. According to the survey, 31 per cent of the families with children and adolescents started to consume more processed foods, such as instant noodles, cakes, stuffed cookies, sweetened chocolate powder, canned foods, and others. Among families that do not live with children and adolescents, this increase in consumption was 18 per cent. It was also highlighted the increase in the consumption of soft drinks and sweetened beverages and the consumption of food prepared in fast-food restaurants (hamburgers, esfihas or pizzas). 

At the same time, the scenario of food and nutritional insecurity in the country became more pronounced. According to the survey, one in five Brazilians (21 per cent) experienced a situation in which they ran out of food and there was no money to buy any. The situation is more worrying among those who live with children and adolescents, where figures reached 27 per cent. In addition, 6 per cent said they were hungry and stopped eating due to a lack of money to buy food (9 per cent among those living with children and adolescents). 

"We are facing an alarming scenario of malnutrition. On the one hand, we notice the increase in the consumption of unhealthy foods, which contributes significantly to the increase of overweight and chronic non-transmissible diseases. On the other hand, we see the increase in food and nutritional insecurity that may result in malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies. Poor nutrition has worrying impacts on children's development, especially in the early stages of life. This situation impacts primarily on the most vulnerable populations in the long term. It is essential to act immediately to reverse this scenario and ensure that girls and boys have access to adequate and healthy food," said Cristina Albuquerque, Chief of Health at UNICEF Brazil. 

Right to education

In education, the pandemic has changed the routine of children, adolescents, and families. With the closure of schools, UNICEF estimates that 44 million girls and boys have been kept away from classrooms around the country.

The scenario, however, does not mean that everyone had not classes. According to the research, 91 per cent of Brazilians living with children or adolescents between the age of  4 and 17,  who were enrolled in a school before the pandemic, declared that they continued to accomplish the school activities at home during the pandemic (89 per cent of those enrolled in public schools and 94 per cent in private ones). There are, however, 9 per cent of children and adolescents who were in school before the pandemic and were unable to continue activities at home - being excluded from school.

Among those who succeeded, most students (87 per cent) initiated school activities through Internet - 97 per cent among students from private schools and 81 per cent from public schools. However, the level of attendance shows significant differences. In the five days of the week prior to the survey, 63 per cent of the students received school assignments and activities, while 12 per cent received no assignments at all and 6 per cent received them on just one single day being kept away from the learning process.

In both public and private schools, communication with families has remained active. According to the survey, 68 per cent say that the school has contacted them to inform the progress of the children's activities (71 per cent in private schools and 65 per cent in public schools). In addition, 48 per cent affirm that the school contacted them to find out the situation at home and with the children and adolescents. At this point, the contact was greater for those who have children in public schools, 51 per cent, versus 44 per cent in private ones.

"The research reflects the efforts of schools and educational networks to maintain the right to learn. Even with the pandemic, most schools have maintained contact with families, which is crucial to understand the situation of the students and improve the activities offered remotely. On the other hand, the pandemic has increased inequalities. This is reflected in the percentages of girls and boys who were unable to continue learning at home. Faced with the crisis caused by COVID-19, we have to make an even greater effort so that school exclusion does not increase in the country," says Ítalo Dutra, Chief of Education at UNICEF Brazil.

About the research

The research Primary and secondary impacts of COVID-19 on Children and Adolescents (in Portuguese) was conducted by the Ibope Institute for UNICEF. The sample consisted of 1,516 interviews, representative of the country's population. The interviews were conducted by telephone from July 3 to July 18, 2020. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.

Media contacts

Marisol Quintero
Regional Communication Specialist
UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
Tel: +507 3017484
Pedro Ivo
Tel: +55 (61) 98166 1636

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit

Follow UNICEF on Twitter and Facebook