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Largest global survey on COVID-19 impact on children

Thursday 10 September 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on the education of children from poorer backgrounds and is widening the gap between rich and poor and boys and girls, a new global survey by Save the Children revealed today. In the six months since the pandemic was announced, the most vulnerable children have disproportionately missed out on access to education, healthcare, food, and suffered the greatest protection risks. 

The global survey revealed: 
  • Two thirds of the children had no contact with teachers at all, during lockdown; eight in ten children believed they had learned little or nothing since schools closed.
  • 93% of households that lost over half of their income due to the pandemic reported difficulties in accessing health services. 
  • Violence at home doubled: during school closures, the reported rate was 17% compared to 8% when the child was attending school in person;
  • 63% of girls are more often tasked with work around the house, compared to 43% of boys.
  • Investment in education, health and nutrition, mental health services and safety nets are urgently needed. 
The findings were launched today in the report Protect A Generation, based on the largest ever global survey of its kind since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared six months ago. Some 25,000 children and their caregivers shared their experiences, fears and hopes during this unprecedented global crisis. 
The COVID-19 pandemic has in fact widened inequalities along wealth and gender lines, the survey found – with poorer households more likely to suffer income losses (82%) than those not classified as poor (70%). When it comes to health, the survey showed the same concerning divide along wealth lines. Nine in ten households that lost over half of their income due to the pandemic reported difficulties in accessing health services. 45% of respondents from poor households reported having trouble paying for medical supplies during the pandemic. 
Less than 1% of the poorer children interviewed had access to internet for distance learning. Among households that classified themselves as non-poor, it was 19%. Around 37% of poorer families reported difficulties paying for learning materials, compared to 26% of families who classified themselves as non-poor. Two thirds of the children said they had no contact with teachers at all during lockdown, increasing to eight in ten in East and Southern Africa.
Priscovia, 17, from Zambia said: 
“We ask for governments to spend more money to make sure that we can continue learning while at home by providing radios, TVs and internet learning. They must make sure that children in rural areas and from poor families also get to learn. We want to see mobile libraries passing in our communities delivering books for us to learn.”
Children who fall behind in their education run a greater risk of dropping out completely and falling victim to child labour, child marriage and other forms of exploitation. Save the Children estimates that this pandemic has caused the largest education emergency in history, with some 9.7 million children not returning to school this year.
Girls are more heavily impacted than boys, by the COVID-19 pandemic. 63% of the girls said they are doing more chores around the house and more than half (52%) reported they were spending more time caring for siblings. Among boys, that was 43% and 42% respectively. 20% of the girls said that they had learnt nothing during school closures, compared to 10% of the boys. 
Dayana is a 15-year-old girl who lives in the Sonsonate region in El Salvador. She told Save the Children: 
“My mum worked in a house taking care of babies. Because of the coronavirus she could no longer go to work. We always did the cleaning but now we have to do it more often, to avoid getting sick. People are sad because the coronavirus has changed their lives and they can no longer do what they did before.”
  • The Save the Children survey also found that: More than 8 in 10 (83%) of children reported an increase in negative feelings;
  • Almost two thirds of the households (62%) found it difficult to provide their families with varied, nutritious food during the pandemic;
  • 19% of households in which children reported violence had lost more than half of their household income due to COVID-19. 
Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children, said: “COVID-19, has widened existing inequities. The poor became poorer, with a devastating impact on children’s access to healthcare, food, education and safety.”
“To protect an entire generation of children from losing out on a healthy and stable future, the world needs to urgently step up with debt relief for low-income countries and fragile states, so they can invest in the lives of their children. The needs of children and their opinions need to be at the centre of any plans to build back what the world has lost over the past months, to ensure that they will not pay the heaviest price.”
Save the Children urges governments to make sure children out of school have access to quality distance learning materials, that catch up classes are offered to children who have fallen behind and that all children have equal access to learning after schools reopen.  
To prevent shocks from future pandemics, governments need to build social safety nets and strong health and nutrition systems, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalised households. 
Resources are also urgently needed for positive parenting programmes, to ensure children have access to inclusive protection services during and after lockdowns where they can be supported if they’ve fallen victim to abuse, violence of exploitation, and to support children who suffer from mental health issues.  

Notes to editors
  • Save the Children held the largest survey of its kind since the pandemic was announced, to generate evidence about the impact of COVID-19 on children. 
  • Save the children interviewed 8,069 children between 11 and 17 years old and 17,565 adults across 37 countries, all beneficiaries of Save the Children. Most of the interviewed children were in Asia (45%), followed by East and southern Africa (20%), Latin America (14%), the Middle East (10%) and West and Central Africa (8%). The surveys were done online and over the phone.  
For more information or to set up interviews contact: Sibusiso Khasa on 073 449 6871 or [email protected]   
About: Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. In South Africa and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming their lives and the future we share.