The impact of COVID-19 on children in Africa: a thorn in the flesh

Author: Angeline Munzara

Editor: Keetie Roelen


The children of Africa are bleeding

The COVID-19 outbreak is like a double-edged sword to a poor African child, piercing through bone and marrow. Even before the pandemic, children in sub-Saharan Africa were disproportionately affected by poverty. Sub-Saharan Africa has increasingly become a locus for extreme poverty and is home to 59% (413 million) of the world’s extreme poor. Experiences with other communicable diseases highlight their far-reaching negative consequences on lives and livelihoods. Countries such as Sierra Leone and Democratic Republic of Congo are still recovering from the socio-economic impacts of Ebola.  Analysis by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Program (WFP) about acute food insecurity in October shows that these countries are most affected.

Growing fears of repeat of history

Similar to Ebola, COVID-19 has had serious knock-on effects on household income. With few or no government social protection schemes in place, COVID-19 is putting children at risk of eating less food, having to beg, or in some cases, even to be married off early or drop out of school as parents and caregivers resort to negative coping mechanisms.

Studies increasingly reveal evidence of the economic impact of COVID-19. Vision Fund, the microfinance arm of World Vision, carried out rapid assessments on COVID-19 impacts among its 2400 microfinance clients in eight countries in Africa (DRC, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia) showing how 92% reported loss of income. Another rapid assessment was also carried out among savings for transformation refugees/host settlements groups in West Nile, Uganda with 47% of members facing reduced income and 10% percent having already sold productive assets.

What needs to be done? A Call to Action

Article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that parent(s) or main caregivers have the primary responsibility to secure, within their abilities and financial capacities, the conditions that are necessary for the child’s development. COVID-19, however, is making it hard to fulfil these obligations. We are OUT OF TIME to address the impacts of COVID-19, and must act now. Without immediate action to protect people’s livelihoods now, the impact of this pandemic will reverse progress toward the post 2030 Agenda and irreparably damage the lives of current and future generations of children.

As we look into COVID-19 Recovery Responses, integrated and sustainable solutions are required. In helping families recover from the Ebola crisis, World Vision supported 42,000 small traders in Sierra Leone – almost 80% of whom were women – kick-start their businesses by providing small loans and grants to help members’ pool resources and fund their businesses. Through a combination of targeted cash transfers and financial literacy training, 302 savings groups were established (10,546 members with 6,373 females) including the first child savings group (known as ‘Destiny’) during 9 months of lockdown and school closures.

An analysis of the Women Empowered for Leadership and Development  in Sierra Leone shows how members used the earnings from the loans shows that 81.3% of beneficiaries used funds to pay school fees and buy learning materials, and 60% used the funds for medical expenses. The majority of loans provided for the basic needs of more than 40,000 children at a time when basic incomes were severely limited.

Based on these key learnings, governments, UN agencies, donors, NGOs, and the private sector must act together to:

  • Urgently scale up child sensitive social protection measures to help poor families meet immediate food, nutrition and income needs of children
  • Where school closures halted school meals programmes, ensure children continue to access food through such means as delivering food to homes.
  • Keep food and agriculture market systems functioning through prioritising the rapid analysis, response and adaptations to food and agricultural markets.
  • Protect jobs and livelihoods by providing funding to support Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), particularly, those led and owned by women to allow for faster economic recovery. Debt financing should allow flexible repayments and grace periods.
  • Invest in interventions promoting a green recovery and develop economic recovery interventions that integrate resilience to climate change and restore environmental assets central to food security, safety nets and natural resource-based livelihoods.

World Vision’s Response 

The wide range of COVID-19’s impacts require a multi-pronged response and strong partnerships to provide such a response. World Vision’s COVID-19 Emergency Response plan aims to directly support 72 million of the most vulnerable people and 36 million children in 70 countries. In some cases, this means plugging the gaps following discontinuation of services, such as reported by our teams in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC):

“Communities shared feedback about their children who used to benefit from school feeding, but are now going hungry as a result of school closures. World Vision and WFP listened and reached a consensus to provide food rations to families of 18,651 children in the Kasai region, who had already been registered and were benefitting from the programme before schools closed.

Elsewhere, World Vision is working on targeted programmes on nutrition-sensitive agriculture and  providing cash vouchers and food assistance to the most vulnerable children and their families, supporting savings groups with technical guidance and recovery support, working to analyse disrupted market systems to identify recovery strategies that both engage market forces and support the productive capacity of poor households, particularly smallholder farmers.  World Vision is also offering an integrated package of assistance, savings groups, training and assets (e.g., seeds, sewing machines, livestock, etc.) coupled with ongoing coaching support, to enable the most vulnerable families to escape the extreme poverty trap. Alongside this, we are collaborating with faith actors to train communities on Empowered World View, an approach that reaches deep into people’s core beliefs, transforming their view of the world so that the cycle of chronic poverty and hopelessness can be broken.

But over and above any interventions that can be offered, children and their families need to be able to find and hold onto hope that their present, painful circumstances can change.

This blog post was written by Angeline Munzara, who is Senior Advisor, Livelihoods External Engagement & Savings Groups, World Vision. It was originally published on the Poverty Unpacked blog by Keetie Roelen following the Bristol Poverty Institute  webinar on ‘The poverty and inequality dimensions of COVID-19 in Africa‘ that was held on 12 November 2020.

Photo credit: gitgitau_photography