The number of children living in multidimensional poverty in low- and middle-income countries has soared 15% to 1.2 billion, according to a new report by UNICEF and Save the Children.
COVID-19 and its impacts, specifically, have pushed 150 million additional children into poverty, the joint analysis found.
The criteria of multidimensional poverty goes beyond economic figures, taking into account whether a child has access to basic human needs such as clean water, food, health care, education, and shelter. This measurement allows policymakers to better grasp a child's quality of life, since income is not always a reliable indicator of well-being.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 1.3 billion children have lost access to in-person education following social distancing requirements. For children without access to technology and other resources at home, education has all but ceased, including the school meals that provide a key source of nutrition.
“This pandemic has already caused the biggest global education emergency in history, and the increase in poverty will make it very hard for the most vulnerable children and their families to make up for the loss,” said Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children, in a statement.
“Children who lose out on education are more likely to be forced into child labour or early marriage and be trapped in a cycle of poverty for years to come,” she added. "We cannot afford to let a whole generation of children become victims of this pandemic. National governments and the international community must step up to soften the blow.”
UNICEF found that children who had lived without access to basic human rights prior to the pandemic are sliding even deeper into poverty.
Children are losing access to nutritious food as agricultural markets are disrupted, health care as resources are reallocated toward fighting the pandemic, and clean water as investments in water infrastructure get delayed.
The report warns that the problem will only get worse in the months to come as countries struggle with a global economic depression.
“COVID-19 and the lockdown measures imposed to prevent its spread have pushed millions of children deeper into poverty,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF's executive director. “Families on the cusp of escaping poverty have been pulled back in, while others are experiencing levels of deprivation they have never seen before. Most concerningly, we are closer to the beginning of this crisis than its end.”
The report urges countries to ensure universal access to remote learning, provide cash transfers and food to families in need, and expand access to basic health care.
“We must act now to prevent additional children from being deprived in basic life needs like school, medicine, food, water, and shelter,” Fore said.