The United Nations agency responsible for aiding children is warning that the costs of coronavirus-related school closures outweight the benefits, and that the pandemic poses substantial threats to children and their countries’ long-term well-being.
“Evidence shows that the net benefits of keeping schools open outweigh the costs of closing them,” reads a new UNICEF report titled “Averting a Lost Generation.” “Data from 191 countries show no consistent association between school reopening status and COVID-19 infection rates,” it adds.
Released on Thursday, the report casts doubt on government leaders’ rationale for closing schools amid a surge in cases, and highlights the pandemic’s economic and health consequences for children.
“Other consequences, such as a year of interrupted school with little learning or getting a virus without suffering severe symptoms may not seem all that serious against the backdrop of this global pandemic,” reads the report.
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“But these experiences reverberate into the future of every child who goes through them. And there are more hidden impacts – loss of future employment potential, rising violence, increased poverty, mental health issues and COVID-related long-term morbidity for children who are malnourished or already vulnerable.”
While UNICEF acknowledges that children with co-morbidities may be “especially vulnerable” to the virus, it adds: “Greater threats to children’s health, however, are caused by the disruptions in critical services that protect and support children and young people caused by efforts to contain the virus.”
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It’s unclear how much school closings contributed to some of the outcomes mentioned in the report. However, it argues that the pandemic overall has deepened “poverty across every dimension of a child’s life, including health, education, nutrition, housing, water and sanitation.”
“Approximately 150 million additional children are living in multidimensional poverty. This represents a roughly 15 per cent increase compared to pre-pandemic levels,” it notes.