UN: Millions of children face 'potentially catastrophic' impact of coronavirus

A United Nations report estimated that more than 1.5 billion children have been affected by school closures amid the coronavirus pandemic, estimating that the ongoing crisis could be “potentially catastrophic for millions of children.” 

"What started as a public health emergency has snowballed into a formidable test for global development and for the prospects of today's young generation," the report says.

"The socio-economic impact of the virus – and of the containment and mitigation measures governments have put in place around the world – is potentially catastrophic for millions of children," it says, CBS News reported. "What began as a health crisis risks evolving into a broader child-rights crisis."

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The report found that 188 countries have imposed school closures, warning that the move makes critical food services an issue for children worldwide. 

"368.5 million children across 143 countries who normally rely on school meals for a reliable source of daily nutrition must now look to other sources,” the report says. 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that children’s lives around the world “are being totally upended” amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, calling on families and leaders to protect children globally in a Thursday statement and video.

“Thankfully, children have so far been largely spared from the most severe symptoms of the disease,” Gutterres said. 

But the report also found that hundreds of thousands of children could die from the virus, “reversing the last 2 to 3 years of progress in reducing infant mortality within a single year.” 

The report also found that an estimated 42 million to 66 million children could fall into extreme poverty this year, adding to the 386 million children “already in extreme poverty in 2019.”

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The report makes several recommendations for leaders, including that kids have access to coronavirus testing, treatment and vaccines as they become available. The report also calls for securing food supply chains to ensure children are fed and prioritizing programs like schooling, maternal and newborn care and reproductive health services. Special protections for vulnerable children, including migrants and refugees, are also highlighted, in addition to other measures.

The U.N. Children’s Agency said in a statement earlier this week that parents and guardians should also work to keep children safe online, as many schools transition to virtual settings.

"We call on governments and industry to join forces to keep children and young people safe online through enhanced safety features and new tools to help parents and educators teach their children how to use the internet safely," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.