The Covid-19 pandemic threatens to relegate millions of children globally to a “lost generation”, causing irreversible harm to children’s education, nutrition and wellbeing.
This was revealed by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency fund (Unicef) ahead of its commemoration of World Children’s day on Thursday.
Analysis released this week showed that children and adolescents under 20 years old accounted for 1 in 9 of reported Covid-19 infections. This group accounted, in other words, for 11 % of the 25.7 million infections reported by 87 countries.
In the new report, Unicef warned of dire and lasting consequences for children as the Covid-19 pandemic approached a second year. According to the body, its report titled Averting a Lost Covid Generation was the first to comprehensively outline the growing consequences for children as the pandemic continued.
It showed that while children rarely suffered from the disease itself, the rise in infections was driving the longer-term impact on the basic survival needs of an entire generation of children and young people.
In South Africa, this problem was recently highlighted by MEC for social development in the Western Cape, Sharna Fernandez.
Speaking during the DA’s webinar on economic policy on Wednesday, Fernandez lamented the negative effects on various social programmes of the extended lockdown period on vulnerable families. This was especially true of feeding schemes, sanitary towels and food parcel distribution drives, which were constrained during the hard lockdown.
While the Western Cape government said it did its best to keep early childhood development centres funded during this period, Fernandez said the situation was worse in other provinces.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who interacted with her office complained that the sector was largely decimated over the lockdown period this year. Not only did lack of funding leave staff unpaid, but children who relied on feeding schemes at these centres suffered as a result.
Delayed payments by provincial governments led to devastating social consequences for the mostly women employed in the sector and the children and families who depended on them.
In the Unicef report, lockdowns and school closures around the world were said to be linked to large scale cutting off of access to nutrition programs and other vital social services. Covid-related disruptions to critical health and social services for children posed the most serious threat to children, the report said.
Using new data from Unicef surveys across 140 countries, it noted 40 % decline in the coverage of nutrition services for women and children across 135 countries.
As of October 2020, 265 million children were still missing out on school meals globally. More than 250 million children under five years old could miss the life-protecting benefits of vitamin A supplementation programmes.