COVID-19 leaves profound impact on children in the Middle East and North Africa

Latest data: over half of the children struggle mentally and emotionally due to the pandemic

AMMAN, 20 November 2020 – With over 3 million[1] confirmed cases in the Middle East and North Africa, COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of tens of millions of children in the region. The pandemic has had a compound impact on children’s wellbeing, nutrition, mental health and learning according to recent UNICEF surveys and data.

UNICEF and partners reached out to around 7,000 households in seven countries, covering nearly 13,000 children. According to the surveys released to mark World Children’s Day, almost all families stated that their children were negatively impacted by the pandemic.

“Restrictions on movement and closure of schools had a severe impact on children’s daily routines, their social interactions, and ultimately on their mental well-being.” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Regional Director in the Middle East and North Africa. “The longer the pandemic goes on, the deeper the impact on children will be. It is absolutely critical that we continue to seek creative solutions to counter the impact of COVID and support our children with psycho-social care, blended or remote learning and social protection measures including cash transfers,” added Chaiban.

According to the surveys:

  • Over half of the respondents say that their children have been struggling mentally and emotionally.
  • Nearly 40 per cent of the respondents have expressed concerns about the damages that the COVID-19 crisis is having on the education of their children.
  • Half of the parents and caregivers stated that distance learning was ineffective, due to lack in resources, limited access to internet, lack of support from adult family members and difficulties to connect with teachers.
  • Nearly one out of five respondents mentioned a financial impact and having less money to spend on food.

As more families across the region stay at home amid economic downturns, anxiety and stress are increasing and with it the likelihood of domestic violence. The pandemic has added to the economic hardship, with the daily-wage workers and those working in the informal sector being the most impacted.  UNICEF estimates that the number of children living in poor households in the region could reach 60.1 million[2] by the end of 2020, compared with 50.4 million before the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.   Access to health continues to be severely impacted with 9 million children missing out on their vaccines against polio and measles.

“On a more positive side, we note a number of measures that countries have taken during the pandemic. This includes releasing children from detention, strengthening or extending social protection systems through cash assistance and an overall decrease in the levels of violence in conflict settings, in line with the call from the United Nations Secretary-General for a global ceasefire”.

Since March this year more than 3,000 children were released from detention in 13 countries around the region. Nine countries provided cash assistance to more than 12.5 million families and the number of grave violations against children has gone down by half in comparison to 2019. This includes the number of children killed and injured and attacks on schools and hospitals.

 “We can turn this pandemic into an opportunity to reform systems that provide for children and improve children’s access to services including quality education with a focus on skills, primary health care, mental health support and services to counter domestic and gender-based violence” concluded Chaiban.   

UNICEF will continue to support governments, the civil society, the private sector, foundations and individuals across the region in the following six areas:

  • Repurposing and repackaging mental health and psychosocial support to address impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The continuity of learning for all children and safety in schools including through bridging the digital gap and exploring low cost technology.
  • Implementing a jumpstart package to equitable access to primary health care for children and mothers.
  • Scaling up and adapting infant and young children feeding programmes and public messaging.
  • Expanding social protection systems to reach the most affected children and families including through expanding cash transfer programmes.
  • Promoting government budget allocations and public financing in social sectors with a specific focus on health care and education.

UNICEF and partners conducted the surveys in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Qatar, Syria and Tunisia to showcase the greatest challenges and concerns families have faced since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the surveys were conducted in April-July 2020.


[1] As of 10 November.

[2] Monterey poverty

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