Progress in fight against child poverty could be wiped out by Covid, says report

UN and World Bank call for structural changes to tackle the effects of the pandemic on children, who make up half the world’s poor

The world’s limited progress in tackling child poverty over recent years could be destroyed by the coronavirus pandemic, the UN and World Bank have warned.

“Slow-paced, unequally distributed” progress meant one in six children were living in poverty even before the pandemic, according to a joint study.

“These numbers alone should shock anyone. And the scale and depth of what we know about the financial hardships brought on by the pandemic are only set to make matters far worse,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, director at Unicef.

Humanitarian agencies have repeatedly warned about the economic difficulties brought on by the pandemic and the potential for the fight against poverty to be set back decades.

Wijesekera said governments need to plan for how to protect children to avoid “levels of poverty unseen for many, many years”.

The study said most countries had found ways to supplement incomes through cash handouts, but that most programmes were only short-term and not able to counter the lasting impacts of the pandemic.

It called for structural changes to avoid a serious escalation in poverty, through family benefits, childcare and increased support for workers.

The study said that almost half of the world’s poor are children, a larger proportion than in 2013, because fewer gains had been made in fighting child poverty than among adults.

Globally there was a reduction of extreme child poverty between 2013 and 2017, but it was not the case in every region, with sub-Saharan Africa seeing an increase of 64 million children in extreme poverty.

The global director of the World Bank’s Poverty and Equity Global Practice, Carolina Sánchez-Páramo, said not protecting children from the impacts of the pandemic would have long-term social consequences.

“Extreme poverty deprives hundreds of millions of children of the opportunity to reach their potential, in terms of physical and cognitive development, and threatens their ability to get good jobs in adulthood,” she said.