NEW YORK/TORONTO, 4 March 2021 – At least 1 in 7 children – or 332 million globally – has lived under required or recommended nationwide stay-at-home policies for at least nine months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, putting their mental health and well-being at risk, UNICEF warned today.
The new analysis by UNICEF, which uses data from the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, identifies some of the most enduring lockdown conditions worldwide.
According to the analysis, 139 million children globally have lived under required nationwide stay-at-home orders for at least nine months since COVID-19 was characterized as a pandemic on 11 March 2020 – meaning they are required to stay at home with few exceptions. The rest of the 332 million – or 193 million – have lived under recommended nationwide stay-at-home policies for the same amount of time.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that have disrupted every aspect of a child and young person’s childhood is a grim reminder of the sacrifices made by young people over the last year,” said David Morley, President and CEO of UNICEF Canada. “We must emerge from this pandemic with a better approach to child and youth mental health, and that starts by giving this issue the attention it deserves, investing in support services and working towards a brighter future.”
As the pandemic enters its second year, the impact on children and young people’s mental health and psychosocial well-being is taking a toll. A UNICEF Canada U-Report poll of young people found that 69 per cent say the pandemic is having a negative or very negative impact on their mental health.
Long before the pandemic, children and young people carried the burden of mental health risks, with half of all mental disorders developing before age 15, including 75 per cent by early adulthood. Reports show the majority of the 800,000 people who die by suicide every year are young people.
UNICEF's most recent Report Card 16 found a striking number of children in Canada are unhappy. Canada ranked 31st out of 38 wealthy countries in mental health and happiness. Almost one in four children in Canada reported low life satisfaction before the pandemic, and Canada continues to have one of the highest rates of adolescent suicide.
For children experiencing violence, neglect or abuse at home, lockdowns have left many stranded without the support of teachers, extended families and communities. 80 per cent of U-Reporters in the same poll said they are somewhat, very or extremely concerned about the level of stress they perceive within their family, with 16 per cent saying they are at least somewhat concerned or extremely concerned about violence in the home.
Children in vulnerable population groups – such as those living and working on the streets, children with disabilities, and children living in conflict settings – risk having their mental health needs overlooked entirely.
According to WHO, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93 per cent of countries worldwide, while the demand for mental health support is increasing.
In response, UNICEF is supporting governments and partner organizations to prioritize and adapt services for children.
“If we did not fully appreciate the urgency prior to the COVID-19 pandemic – surely we do now,” said Henrietta Fore UNICEF Executive Director. “Countries must dramatically invest in expanded mental health services and support for young people and their caregivers in communities and schools. We also need scaled-up parenting programs to ensure that children from vulnerable families get the support and protection they need at home.”
Notes to Editors
The data presented are derived from UNICEF’s Dashboard on government responses to COVID-19 and the affected populations based on data from the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker and UN DESA Population Division, and are collated between 11 March 2020 – 22 February 2021.
Stay-at-home policies are categorized as follows:
0 – no measures.
1 - recommend not leaving house.
2 - require not leaving house with exceptions for daily exercise, grocery shopping, and ‘essential’ trips.
3 - Require not leaving house with minimal exceptions (for example, allowed to leave only once a week, or only one person can leave at a time).
332 million children represent the minimum estimate and refer to children living in countries with both recommended and required nationwide stay-at-home policies (1-3). 139 million children represent the minimum estimate and refer to children living in countries with required nationwide stay-at-home policies (2-3). Countries where policies have been implemented on regional or local levels are not included – an unknown number of children under lockdown conditions in these countries will come on top of the cited numbers.