COVID-19 ‘biggest global crisis for children in our 75-year history’ – UNICEF

On its 75th anniversary, UNICEF warns that COVID-19 is rolling back virtually every measure of progress for children, including a staggering 100 million more children plunged into poverty

10 December 2021
Year 12 and 13 students return to schools in Fiji

NEW YORK/SUVA, 9 December 2021 – COVID-19 has affected children at an unprecedented scale, making it the worst crisis for children UNICEF has seen in its 75-year history, the United Nations Children’s agency said in a report released today. 

The report Preventing a lost decade: Urgent action to reverse the devastating impact of COVID-19 on children and young people highlights the various ways in which COVID-19 is challenging decades of progress on key childhood challenges such as poverty, health, access to education, nutrition, child protection and mental well-being. It warns that, almost two years into the pandemic, the widespread impact of COVID-19 continues to deepen, increasing poverty, entrenching inequality and threatening the rights of children at previously unseen levels.

“Throughout our history, UNICEF has helped to shape healthier and safer environments for children across the globe, with great results for millions,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “These gains are now at risk. The COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest threat to progress for children in our 75-year history. While the number of children who are hungry, out of school, abused, living in poverty or forced into marriage is going up, the number of children with access to health care, vaccines, sufficient food and essential services is going down. In a year in which we should be looking forward, we are going backward.”

“All children have rights to education, water and sanitation, good health, to be protected and to be heard. UNICEF has worked tirelessly for the past 75 years to ensure that children are able to access these rights,” said UNICEF Pacific Representative, Jonathan Veitch. “However, COVID-19 has pushed us back and the Pacific region is no exception where children represent 50 per cent of the population. Children need to be prioritised right now in every Pacific Island country if their rights are to be realised.”

Even before the pandemic, around 1 billion children worldwide suffered at least one severe deprivation, without access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation, or water. This number is now rising as the unequal recovery furthers growing divides between wealthy and poor children, with the most marginalized and vulnerable hurt the most. The report notes:

  • At its peak, more than 1.6 billion students were out of school due to nationwide shutdowns. Schools were closed worldwide for almost 80 per cent of the in-person instruction in the first year of the crisis. In Fiji, schools were closed for three months in 2020, and closed again in April 2021 with the second wave of COVID-19. They remain closed for all children except years 12 and 13 as of December 2021. With plans of re-opening soon, all students ranging from early childhood education to secondary level will be able to go to school again and learn in classrooms. The sooner that they can all return safely to the classroom, the better for them, their families and society as a whole.
  • Mental health conditions affect more than 13 per cent of adolescents aged 10–19 worldwide. By October 2020, the pandemic had disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93 per cent of countries worldwide.
  • 50 million children suffer from wasting, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition, and this figure could increase by 9 million by 2022 due to the pandemic’s impact on children’s diets, nutrition services and feeding practices.

Beyond the pandemic, the report warns of other threats to children that pose extreme threats to their rights. Approximately one billion children – nearly half of the world’s children – live in countries that are at an ‘extremely high-risk’ from the impacts of climate change, including children living in Pacific Island countries who are highly vulnerable to climate induced disasters.

To respond, recover and reimagine the future for every child, UNICEF continues to call for:

  • Investing in social protection, human capital and spending for an inclusive and resilient recovery;
  • Ending the pandemic and reversing the alarming rollback in child health and nutrition – including through leveraging UNICEF’s vital role in COVID-19 vaccine distribution;
  • Building back stronger by ensuring quality education, protection, and good mental health for every child;
  • Building resilience to better prevent, respond to, and protect children from crises – including new approaches to end famines, protect children from climate change, and reimagine disaster spending. 

“In an era of a global pandemic, growing conflicts, and worsening climate change, never has a child-first approach been more critical than today,” said Fore. “We are at a crossroads. As we work with governments, donors and other organizations to begin charting our collective path for the next 75 years, we must keep children first in line for investment and last in line for cuts. The promise of our future is set in the priorities we make in our present.”


Notes to Editors:

Download the report here

For more information please contact: 

Nazzina Mohsin, UNICEF New York, Tel: +1 929 538 8012,
Zubnah Khan, UNICEF Pacific, Tel: +679 9988137,

Media contacts

Zubnah Khan
Communication Officer
UNICEF Pacific
Tel: +679 330 0439 Ext. 175
Tel: 9988137


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