COVID-19: Children from poorest households across the globe have suffered greatest loss of family income, missed out most on education and faced the highest risk of violence at home

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 when schools were closed: when schools were closed, the reported rate was 17% compared to 8% when schools were open and the child was able to attend in person.
  • 63% of girls are more often tasked to do more chores around the house, compared to 43% of boys.
  • Investment in education, health and nutrition, child protection services, 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 with 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 the 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 the 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 girls reported that they have too many chores to do to be able to learn, compared to 10% of 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 any of their income due to COVID-19, compared to 5% when there had been no income loss.

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 protection.”

“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 or exploitation, and to support children’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing.