Coronavirus Pandemic Could Push 86 Million More Children into Household Poverty by End oF 2020: Report

The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic could push up to 86 million more children around the world into household poverty by the end of 2020, a new report from UNICEF and Save the Children has warned.

In an analysis released on Thursday, UNICEF and Save the Children said the number of children affected by household poverty could surge by 15 percent, bringing the number of children living below the national poverty line in low- and middle-income countries up to 672 million by the year's end.

The organizations' analysis is based on economic projections by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, as well as historical evidence on past income distribution changes from the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU WIDER) and demographic data from Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys and DHS.

Nearly two thirds of the children likely to be affected live in sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia.

However, countries across Europe and Central Asia are expected to see the most significant increase of up to 44 percent across the region. Meanwhile, Latin America and the Caribbean could see as much as a 22 percent rise.

In an interview with Newsweek, Yolande Wright, the global director of poverty, gender equality and inclusion at Save the Children said she was not surprised by the numbers.

"The honest truth is that we aren't entirely surprised because we are hearing from children on the ground in every region that we work in about how fearful they are about the economic impact [of the pandemic] on their families."

If anything, Wright said, the report's estimates are largely conservative. In some countries, the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on child poverty could be far worse, she said.

For the past three decades, Wright said, "we've seen an improvement for children globally. Of course, we've seen some countries falling back due to conflict or crises, but generally, we've seen a positive trajectory."

However, now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, that trajectory feels unlikely to continue, she said. "I think this is the first time we'll see a real substantial setback."

In a statement published online, Henrietta Fore, UNICEF's executive director, shared in that warning, asserting that the coronavirus pandemic has "triggered an unprecedented socio-economic crisis that is draining resources for families all over the world."

"The scale and depth of financial hardship among families threatens to roll back years of progress in reducing child poverty and to leave children deprived of essential services," Fore said.

The impact of the global economic crisis, according to UNICEF and Save the Children is "two-fold."

The immediate loss of income many families are suffering means they are unable to afford "the basics, including food and water." They are also "less likely to access health care or education, and more at risk of child marriage, violence, exploitation and abuse."

Meanwhile, the report warns, when fiscal contraction occurs, it can also have an impact on the services that families in need rely on during times of crisis.

"For the poorest families, lack of access to social care services or compensatory measures further limits their ability to abide by containment and physical distancing measures, and thus further increases their exposure to infection," UNICEF and Save the Children warn.

In a separate statement published by UNICEF, Save the Children International CEO Inger Ashing said "the shocking poverty impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will hit children hard."

"Children are highly vulnerable to even short periods of hunger and malnutrition—potentially affecting them for their whole life," Ashing said. "If we act now and decisively, we can prevent and contain the pandemic threat facing the poorest countries and some of the most vulnerable children."

Ashing said the report should be a "wake-up call for the world. Poverty is not inevitable for children."

In order to address and lessen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on children in poor households, UNICEF and Save the Children have called for a "rapid and large-scale expansion of social protection systems and programs, including cash transfers, school feeding and child benefits."

These are "critical investments that address immediate financial needs and lay the foundation for countries to prepare for future shocks," the organizations have said.

"Governments must also invest in other forms of social protection, fiscal policies, employment and labor market interventions to support families," they asserted. "This includes expanding universal access to quality healthcare and other services; and investing in family friendly policies, such as paid leave and childcare."

If these steps are not taken, Fore warned, "families barely getting by could be pushed into poverty, and the poorest families could face levels of deprivation that have not been seen for decades."

This article has been updated with statements from Yolande Wright, the global director of poverty, gender equality and inclusion at Save the Children.

A child from the Favela Aglomerado da Serra receives donation meals on May 20, 2020 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. About 200 donated meals are being distributed daily in the favela. Pedro Vilela/Getty

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