COVID-19 could reverse gains made for African children

Monday 8 June 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse progress made for children in Africa by years or even decades, with economic aftershocks risking to push an additional 33 million children into poverty, according to Save the Children. 

With malaria levels projected to rise to levels of some 20 years ago, an estimated 265 million younger children out of school because of COVID-19 and the virus added to the factors driving food insecurity, the pandemic is expected to have a long term impact on children, despite early decisive action taken by many African countries. 

Save the Children today launched its paper How To Protect A Generation At Risk’, which analyses the primary and secondary impacts of COVID-19 on Africa’s children. The agency warns that while children are not the highest-risk group in terms of direct fatalities, more action needs to be taken now to prevent the pandemic having far-reaching impacts on African children’s rights and wellbeing now and into the future. 

COVID-19 has enormous implications for the education, health, nutrition and protection of millions of children in Africa. This health crisis could compromise children's educational outcomes for a generation, with girls being particularly at risk of staying out of school. Indeed, with their education so suddenly interrupted, 262,5 million children are out of school and millions among them are at risk of not returning to school, especially girls”, said Doris Mpoumou, Director of Africa Union Liaison Office for Save the Children. 

“The COVID-19 outbreak is exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and is putting pressure on already weak health systems across the continent and is disrupting routine health services, which is likely to increase child deaths from perfectly preventable and treatable diseases. In addition, the pandemic is during already alarming levels of hunger due to climate shocks, conflict and economic instability. Refugee and internally displaced children are the most vulnerable. We hope that this brief is a starting point to inform responses to COVID-19 by governments and organisations in Africa”, Ms, Mpoumou continued. 

How To Protect A Generation At Risk was launched online through a virtual dialogue between young Africans, representatives of the African Union for Human Resources, Science and Technology, and for Social Affairs, the Minister in Charge of Education and Literacy in Burkina Faso, and a representative of the government of Zambia. The youth urged the AU and African governments to make child-friendly decisions, to put in place concrete and strong actions to protect African children and to ensure that their rights are respected during and after the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Mariam, 20, Young ambassador for Save the Children in Nigeria, said: 

“School closures have been imposed as a measure to slow down the spread of the virus globally affecting millions of children including children in Africa. 

Some schools have introduced distance-learning platforms, which makes students living in low-income homes digitally excluded. Also, many public schools do not have the resources, technology and equipment to provide online teaching. Children’s dependence on online platforms for distance learning has also increased their risk of exposure to inappropriate web content and online predators”

“Children in conflict areas, as well as those living in refugee and IDP settlements, are also at high risk of facing abuse, for example, sexual exploitation in exchange for good food or water. They are also at risk of getting sick easily and dying from preventable diseases.”

With one of the youngest populations in the world, the African continent is exposed to many of the collateral impacts of the COVID-19. While African governments have responded quickly to the pandemic, they now need to make sure this leadership is aligned to their continental commitment and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the child. 

Save the Children urges governments, with the support of African Union, to: 

  • Guarantee children rights during the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring children will have access to quality health, education and protection services;
  • Recognise and integrate the specific needs of the most vulnerable children, including girls, into their COVID-19 response plans. 
  • Develop and the implement social protection mechanisms and policies to protect children and families from future pandemics and other shocks.

ENDS

Notes to editors 

  • Please find the full report here
  • To support children affected by the COVID-19, Save the Children has adapted it's programmes. Among other things, the organisation is supporting distance learning so children can continue their education from home. It is also running cash programmes to help families mitigate the economic impacts of the outbreak, it is running nutrition programmes in vulnerable communities, it is raising awareness on prevention and mitigation of the disease and has distributed PPE in vulnerable communities.

 

  • It is estimated that over 262.5 million children from pre-primary and secondary school are currently out of school because of COVID-19 closures, which translates to approximately 21.5% of the total population in Africa. For many poor and vulnerable children in Africa, schools are not only a place for learning but also a safe space from violence and exploitation. It is also where they have a nutritious meal (sometimes the only meal for the day). 

 

  • Recent estimates of food insecurity suggest that as many as 107 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa were acutely food insecure. 
  • Some projections estimate that malaria deaths may double in sub-Saharan Africa this year compared to 2018 due to factors such as disruptions in net distributions and reduced community access to antimalarial medicines. 
  • Under the worst-case scenario, the number of malaria deaths would reach 769,000 in 2020, which are mortality levels last seen twenty years ago. 
  • Children make up 59% of Africa’s refugees and asylum seekers and 50% of its internally displaced people, which are heavily impacted by preventing many across the continent from seeking asylum and safety, in violation of the international legal principle of non-refoulement. UNHCR estimates that 167 countries have so far fully or partially closed their borders to contain the spread of the virus.