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.
"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."
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.