COVID-19 ‘biggest global crisis for children in our 75-year history’ – UNICEF Canada | UNICEF Canada: For Every Child Skip to main content
Publication Date: 2021/12/09

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NEW YORK/TORONTO, 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.

"For 75 years, UNICEF has helped defend children’s rights around the world and the COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest threat to progress in our history," said David Morley, President and CEO of UNICEF Canada. "COVID-19 has put all childhoods at risk. The longer the pandemic goes on, the more intense the impact on children."

The report says a staggering 100 million additional children are estimated to now be living in multidimensional poverty because of the pandemic, a 10 per cent increase since 2019. Further, the report warns of a long path toward regaining lost ground – even in a best-case scenario, it will take seven to eight years to recover and return to pre-COVID child poverty levels.

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:

  • 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.
  • At its peak, more than 1.6 billion students were out of school due to nationwide shutdowns.
  • 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
  • Up to 10 million additional child marriages can occur before the end of the decade as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years. An additional 9 million children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the increase in poverty triggered by the pandemic. 

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. 

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About UNICEF

UNICEF is the world’s leading humanitarian organization focused on children. We work in the most challenging areas to provide protection, healthcare and immunizations, education, safe water and sanitation and nutrition. As part of the United Nations, our unrivaled reach spans more than 190 countries and territories, ensuring we are on the ground to help the most disadvantaged children. While part of the UN system, UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations to finance our life-saving work. Please visit unicef.ca and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For further information:

Laurence Bodjrenou Senior Manager, Communications lbodjrenou@unicef.ca 514 288-5134 ext 8426 / 514-232-4510

Emily O’Connor Communications Manager EOconnor@unicef.ca 416 482-6552 ext 8866 / 647-500-4230