How the COVID-19 pandemic has scarred the world’s children

A year into the pandemic, children around the world are facing a devastating new normal.

UNICEF
A student stands in an empty classroom in Panama City, Panama.
UNICEF/UN0359802/Schverdfinger
12 March 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of families around the world. Across virtually every key measure of childhood, progress has gone backward in the 12 months since the pandemic was declared, leaving children confronting a devastating and distorted new normal.

The past year has seen an increase in children who have been left hungry, isolated, abused and anxious. The education of hundreds of millions of children has been disrupted. Access to protection services and health services – including routine vaccinations – has been severely impacted. The pandemic is also affecting young people’s mental health and pushing their families into poverty. Such social and economic disruptions can increase the likelihood of child marriage.

The signs that children will bear the scars of the pandemic for years to come are unmistakable.

Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director

Even as remarkable, life-saving progress is made in distributing COVID-19 vaccines, the latest available data from UNICEF reveal the devastation already wrought on the world’s children:

 

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.

A girl sells bottles of juice prepared by her grandmother at a market in Thailand.
UNICEF/UNI358506/Brown
A girl sells bottles of juice prepared by her grandmother at a market in Thailand.

Child poverty is expected to increase – a November 2020 report projected the number of children living in monetary-poor households to increase by about 140 million by the end of 2020.

A girl plays among some trees near her home in Pandayacu, Ecuador.
UNICEF/UNI340932/Kingman
A girl plays among some trees near her home in Pandayacu, Ecuador.

At least 1 in 3 schoolchildren have been unable to access remote learning while their schools were closed.

Two Syrian refugees sit on the floor of a shelter in Jordan.
UNICEF/UN0357027/Saman
Two Syrian refugees sit on the floor of a shelter in Jordan.

As of November 2020, in 59 countries with available data, refugees and asylum seekers were unable to access COVID-19-related social protection due to border closures and rising xenophobia and exclusion.

A child is vaccinated against measles at a nutrition centre in Hargeisa, Somaliland.
UNICEF/UN0414894/Naftalin
A child is vaccinated against measles at a nutrition centre in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

As of November 2020, more than 94 million people were at risk of missing vaccines due to paused measles campaigns in 26 countries.

A 15-year-old girl sits at her home in conflict-affected eastern Ukraine.
UNICEF/UN0399567/Filippov
A 15-year-old girl sits at her home in conflict-affected eastern Ukraine.

At least 1 in 7 children and young people lived under stay-at-home policies for most of 2020, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation.

Hasseniya, 16, was a child when she was married in Mauritania.
UNICEF/UN0421558/Pouget
Hasseniya, 16, was a child when she was married in Mauritania.

Around 10 million additional child marriages may occur before the end of the decade, threatening years of progress in reducing the practice.

Mothers and their babies take part in a nutrition activity in their community in Bertoua, Cameroon.
UNICEF/UN0422215/Dejongh
Mothers and their babies take part in a nutrition activity in their community in Bertoua, Cameroon.

As of November 2020, estimates suggested an additional 6 to 7 million children under age 5 could suffer from wasting or acute malnutrition, 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 may worsen.

Children wash their hands at a Global Hand Washing Day event organized by UNICEF Bangladesh in Dhaka.
UNICEF/UN0354647/Kiron
Children wash their hands at a Global Hand Washing Day event organized by UNICEF Bangladesh in Dhaka.

Around 3 billion people worldwide lack basic handwashing facilities with soap and water at home. In the least-developed countries, three quarters of people and more than two thirds of schools lack the basic hygiene services needed to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. On average, more than 700 children under five die every day from diseases caused by the lack of water, sanitation and hygiene.  

A group of schoolchildren cross the street in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan.
UNICEF/UNI344623/Fong/AFP
A group of schoolchildren cross the street in Tochigi Prefecture, Japan.

Even before the pandemic hit, conflict, poverty, malnutrition and climate change were already driving massive growth in the number of children in need of assistance. COVID-19 is making this situation even worse. But while this reality can feel overwhelming, there is also reason to hope.

Throughout the crisis, UNICEF has been working with partners to reach children and their families with vital health; nutrition; education; water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH); gender-based violence and social protection services.  

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