Over 10 crore children, living in India and other South Asian countries, could slip into poverty as a result of the prolonged impact of the coronavirus crisis, the United Nations said in a report on Tuesday. In the worst-case scenario, the region could see the additional deaths of as many as 8.8 lakh children aged five or under and that of 36,000 mothers over the next 12 months.

“The bulk of these deaths would occur in India and Pakistan, although Bangladesh
and Afghanistan could also see significant levels of additional mortality,” the report read.

In the report titled, Lives Upended, United Nations Children’s Fund said that South Asia – which includes India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bhutan – is home to some 600 million (around 60 crore) children, with around 240 million (24 crore) already living in poverty. While children may be less susceptible to the virus itself, they are being profoundly affected by the fallout, including the economic and social consequences of the lockdown.

Jean Gough, UNICEF regional director for South Asia, said that the long-term impact of the economic crisis on children will be “on a different scale entirely”. “Without urgent action now, Covid-19 could destroy the hopes and futures of an entire generation,” she added.

The progress made in immunisation, nutrition and other vital health services have been severely disrupted, potentially threatening the lives of up to 4.59 lakh children and mothers over the next six months, the report added.

“With schools closed, more than 430 million [43 crore] children have had to rely on remote learning which have only partially filled the gap; many households – especially in rural areas – have no electricity, let alone internet access,” the UNICEF said. “There are concerns that some disadvantaged students may join the nearly 32 million [over three crore] children who were already out of school before Covid-19 struck.”

The UNICEF said that from the moment the lockdowns and other restrictions on movement to control the spread of the coronavirus were put in place, the devastating impact on children was apparent in many parts of the region. “It was perhaps most visible in the huge movement of migrant workers and their families heading back to their homes in rural India,” it added.

“The journey for these children was arduous enough,” said UNICEF India Representative Yasmin Haque. “And many of them have continued to suffer from abuse, uncertainty, stigma and discrimination even after they reached home.”

The global body urged governments to immediately direct more resources towards social protection schemes, including emergency universal child benefits and school feeding programmes.

“Putting such measures in place now will help the countries of South Asia transition faster from the humanitarian crisis caused by Covid-19 to a resilient and sustainable development model, with long term benefits for child wellbeing, the economy, and social cohesion,” Gough said.

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