Last updated: September 2022

COVID-19 and children

UNICEF data hub

This is a universal crisis and, for some children, the impact will be lifelong.

Children are not the face of this pandemic. But they risk being among its biggest victims, as children’s lives are nonetheless being changed in profound ways. All children, of all ages, and in all countries, are being affected, in particular by the socio-economic impacts and, in some cases, by mitigation measures that may inadvertently do more harm than good.

Moreover, the harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally. They are expected to be most damaging for children in the poorest countries, and in the poorest neighbourhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations.

Pushing more households and children into poverty

As families lose their sources of income due to COVID-19 and the global economy has been plunged into a recession, more households are falling into monetary poverty. For the poorest families, including those who do not have access to social protection, the situation is dire.

An additional 60 million children could be living in monetary poor households by the end of 2021
Number of children living in monetary poor households, 2019 estimates and 2020 – 2021 projections
Source: Save the Children/UNICEF (2021), Impact of COVID-19 on children living in poverty: A Technical note
Intensifying hardships of poor children

Since children experience poverty differently than adults, it is also important to assess their material shortcomings and potential deprivations and to measure their poverty multidimensionally rather than just through income alone.

Approximately 100 million more children are living in multidimensional poverty – without access to essential services
Percentage of children living in multidimensional poverty globally, based on access to education and/or health services, 2019 estimates and 2021 projections
Source: Save the Children/UNICEF (2021), Impact of COVID-19 on children living in poverty: A Technical note
Exacerbating the learning crisis

The potential losses that have accrued in learning for today’s young generation, and for the development of their human capital, are hard to fathom. Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, 23 countries – home to nearly 405 million schoolchildren – are yet to fully open schools, with many schoolchildren at risk of dropping out. 

At least 463 million children worldwide were unable to access remote learning during COVID-19 school closures in 2020
Percentage and number of students potentially reached and not reached by digital and broadcast remote learning policies, by region (pre-primary to upper secondary)
Source: Authors’ calculations using MICS, DHS and other national household surveys.
Threatening child survival and health

While children appear to be largely spared the direct mortality impacts of COVID-19, the indirect effects stemming from strained health systems and disruptions to life-saving health services such as immunization and antenatal care, can result in devastating increases in child mortality.

Almost 200,000 additional stillbirths could occur over the next 12 months due to the impact of COVID-19
Scenario-based model of the possible effects of different levels of reduced key intervention coverage on stillbirths
Source: United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME), ‘A Neglected Tragedy: The global burden of stillbirths’, UNICEF, New York, 2020.
Increasing child malnutrition

Today, more vulnerable children are becoming malnourished due to the deteriorating quality of their diets and the multiple shocks created by the pandemic and its containment measures. Efforts to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 are disrupting food systems, upending health and nutrition services, devastating livelihoods, and threatening food security.

The impacts of COVID-19 on nutrition are manifold
Reducing access to life-saving vaccines

Every year, vaccines save an estimated 2 to 3 million lives, but COVID-19 threatens to roll back decades of progress made in reducing preventable child deaths by hindering access to these life-saving services. According to new data, nearly 14 million children did not receive any vaccines in 2019.

Due to COVID-19 measures, approximately
80 million children under the age of 1 in at least 68 countries may miss out on receiving life-saving vaccines
Source: WHO, UNICEF, Gavi, and the Sabin Vaccine Institute, 2020.
Reversing decades-long progress in the fight against HIV

New HIV infections among young children have decreased by half in the last decade, however, service disruptions due to COVID-19 could reverse these gains. The number of new HIV infections is projected to nearly double if 100 per cent of the population loses access to treatment services over a six-month period, and the number of paediatric deaths will similarly soar.

An additional 124,000 children could be infected with HIV if prevention services are disrupted for 6 months
Effect of HIV service disruptions on new infections among children aged 0-14, by percentage of the population affected
Source: Avenir Health analysis of UNAIDS 2020 estimates.
Mounting risks of violence, exploitation and abuse

Lockdowns measures can expose children to a range of risks. Several factors related to confinement measures are likely to result in heightened tensions in the household, added stressors placed on caregivers, economic uncertainty, job loss or disruption to livelihoods, and social isolation.

66% of countries reported a disruption in violence against children-related services due to COVID-19
Percentage distribution of countries by whether or not they have reported a disruption in any services related to violence against children, total and by region
Putting more girls and boys at risk of child marriage

The everyday lives of girls have been overturned by the pandemic: their physical and mental health, their education, and the economic circumstances of their families and communities. Changes like these increase the likelihood of child marriage, and over the next decade, up to 10 million more girls will be at risk of becoming child brides as a result of the pandemic.

Around 10 million additional child marriages may occur before the end of the decade due to COVID-19

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