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It has been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and while we count the massive death toll and economic losses, what is going unnoticed by most governments across the world is the disruption that this pandemic has caused in the lives of children and young adults. The crisis that COVID-19 has generated has exposed children to a trifecta of threats: direct consequences of the disease itself, interruption in essential services and increasing poverty and inequality.

A recent UNICEF report explains in quantifiable terms, the losses that a generation of youth is incurring due to the pandemic. It was released ahead of World Children’s Day and is titled ‘Averting a lost COVID generation.’

The report reveals that globally, the number of children living in multidimensional poverty – without access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation or water – is estimated to have soared by 15 per cent, or an additional 150 million children by mid-2020.

It also finds that “In 87 countries (as of November 3) with age-disaggregated data, children and adolescents under 20 years of age accounted for 1 in 9 of COVID-19 infections, or 11 per cent of the 25.7 million infections reported by these countries.”

Using new data from UNICEF surveys across 140 countries, the report makes some alarming observations. According to the report, around one-third of the countries that were surveyed witnessed a drop of at least 10 per cent in coverage of routine health care services like vaccinations, outpatient care for childhood infectious diseases, and maternal health services. The main reason cited for the drop in health services coverage was the fear of infection, says the report.

In a press note, UNICEF revealed, “There is a 40 per cent 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 5 could miss the life-protecting benefits of vitamin A supplementation programmes.”

The report further states, “65 countries reported a decrease in-home visits by social workers in September 2020, compared to the same time last year.”

Another worrying data that the report brights to light is, as of November 2020, 572 million students across 30 countries have been affected by school closures, these students account for 33 per cent of the enrolled students worldwide.

An additional 6 to 7 million children under the age of 5 will suffer from wasting or acute malnutrition in 2020, a 14 per cent rise that will translate into more than 10,000 additional child deaths per month – mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Last week, during an online discussion session, organised by UNICEF titled ‘Amidst child rights crisis, experts call to ‘reimagine’ a sustainable, safer world for children’, Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF India Representative delivered the keynote speech. She said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded as a child rights crisis. Through rising poverty and inequality, the pandemic has upended essential services that protect health, education and safety of children and young people. We need to adopt a whole of society child-centric approach as the costs of the pandemic on children are immediate and can persist for years, if not addressed.”

In India, UNICEF’s community-based findings indicate a spike in child marriages and school dropouts. It also revealed the alarming chasm in access to digital learning.

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