Children at risk of becoming the hidden victims of the COVID-19 pandemic
New research on the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on children
SKOPJE, 30 July 2020. Despite well-intended Government measures to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, an additional 16,000 children in North Macedonia are likely to live below the poverty threshold, more children are reported to be victims of domestic violence and more children are at risk of falling further behind in learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The estimates are based on analysis by researchers in a study The social and economic effects of COVID-19 on children in North Macedonia launched today by UNICEF and partners Finance Think and USAID.
“Although children and young people appear to be less likely than adults to get sick from the virus, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the way they learn, the way their families earn an income to cover their needs, and how safe they feel in their homes and communities,” said Patrizia Di Giovanni, UNICEF Representative. “Targeted action is needed so children do not become the hidden victims, bearing the brunt of the long-term impacts of this crisis.”
“It is critical that we understand the impact that COVID-19 is having on youth, in order to collaborate on the best ways to mitigate these effects,” said U.S. Ambassador to North Macedonia Kate Marie Byrnes. “We are leveraging our partnership with UNICEF and our close cooperation with the Ministry of Health and other responsible government bodies to help identify these challenges and develop the best ways to address them.”
This rapid assessment of the social and economic impact of COVID-19 on children highlights:
- Government Covid-19 measures – employment retention measures, relaxation of social assistance criteria and one-off financial support – have softened the poverty incidence among children. These measures are pro-children, or more specifically, have tended to distribute a proportionally larger share of funds in households with children. Despite these measures, an estimated additional 16,000 children are likely to live below the poverty threshold due to loss of jobs and household income. It is estimated that the relative child poverty rate will increase from 29.3 per cent to 33.3 per cent.
- Family violence was reported to have increased during COVID-19 lockdown and curfews, with children being nearly 10 percent of the victims.
- While the educational system shifted to distance learning quickly after school and pre-school closures, the pandemic revealed that not all teachers had the ICT skills needed to plan and implement distance learning.
- While routine health services were not disrupted, there were delays in accessing hospital care for new-borns, children and mothers, primarily because of reduced demand for non-urgent services due to fear of infection, rather than supply of services.
- Budget programs related to children underwent cuts despite the slight increase of total government expenditures during the May budget supplement. Cuts were noted in inclusive education programmes, further exacerbating the ability of students and teachers to adapt to the shift in delivering distance learning.
“The poorest and most vulnerable members of society are being hardest hit by the pandemic. The study reveals that we should be particularly concerned about the well-being of children, mainly in the way their lives have been upended. It will be important for the new government to specifically consider children in the future design of measures. Children in the country must constitute a substantive part of the recovery from COVID-19, so that we pursue a more sustainable and inclusive economy and society,” said Marjan Petreski, Lead Researcher from Finance Think.
The analysis highlights that the social protection reform undertaken in 2019 opened the child allowance to more vulnerable categories, broadened the support by introducing educational allowance and instituted a more equal treatment of different households in need. Yet, the crisis showed that more households with children require additional services, especially when schools are closed.
The findings call for a child-centred policy response to ensure the health crisis does not turn into a child-rights crisis:
First, keep all children learning by ensuring the overall public health and education response considers the long-term impact of disrupted learning, developing a plan to ensure that all children are in school learning or access a unified approach to distance learning, or a blended approach of distance and classroom-based learning, starting September 2020.
Second, support families to cover their needs and care for their children by continuing to provide social protection including cash transfers and support for food and nutrition, purposefully targeting children most at risk, such as households with three and more children.
Third, safeguard children and women from violence, exploitation and abuse by minimizing disruptions to the work of the Centres for Social Work and other essential protection services, as the crisis has further emphasized the existing gap between less and more vulnerable households.
Fourth, keep children and pregnant women healthy and well nourished by continuing to minimize disruptions to routine healthcare, introducing additional measures to increase public confidence and demand for services including support for mental health.
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 www.unicef.mk.