Nearly half of all child deaths in Africa stem from hunger, study shows

Almost 60 million children deprived of food despite continent’s economic growth, in what is ‘fundamentally a political problem’

One in three African children are stunted and hunger accounts for almost half of all child deaths across the continent, an Addis Ababa-based thinktank has warned.

In an urgent call for action, a study by the African Child Policy Forum said that nearly 60 million children in Africa do not have enough food despite the continent’s economic growth in recent years.

A child dies every three seconds globally due to food deprivation – 10,000 children every day – but although figures show an improvement in child hunger at a global level, it is getting worse in some parts of Africa, where the problem is largely a question of political will.

Nine out of 10 African children do not meet the criteria for minimum acceptable diet outlined by the World Health Organization, and two out of five don’t eat meals regularly. Liberia, Congo and Chad are at the bottom of the chart when it comes to children aged six to 23 months receiving sufficient and diverse food with a healthy frequency. They are followed by Zimbabwe, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Child hunger is fundamentally a political problem,” said Assefa Bequele, ACPF’s executive director. “It is the offspring of the unholy alliance of political indifference, unaccountable governance, and economic mismanagement. Persistent and naked though the reality is, it remains a silent tragedy, one that remains largely unacknowledged and tolerated, perhaps because it is a poor man’s problem.”

Bequele added: “It is completely unacceptable that children are still going hungry in Africa in the 21st century. The statistics are truly alarming. Child hunger is driven by extreme poverty, uneven and unequal economic growth, gender inequality and a broken food system. Although Africa now produces more food than ever, it hasn’t resulted in better diets.”

Hunger impairs growth and cognitive development of children, but also hits the economic performance of the country they come from. Child hunger can cost African countries almost 17% of their GDP, according to the report. The continent’s present GDP is estimated to have been reduced by 10% because of stunting alone.

Annually, child hunger costs Ethiopia 16.5% of its GDP. The rate for Rwanda is 11.5%. The report says “for every dollar invested in reducing stunting, there is a return of about $22 (£17) in Chad, $21 in Senegal, and $17 in Niger and Uganda”, and if the investment is made early in the child’s life, the return rates can be even higher: up to $85 in Nigeria, $80 in Sudan and $60 in Kenya.

Image by Charles Nambasi from Pixabay

Africa could have one billion undernourished, malnourished and hungry children and young people by 2050 if current levels continue unabated. More than half of African countries are currently off course to meet targets required in the African regional nutrition strategy (2015-2025). Just nine countries will meet the target of reducing stunting by 40% by 2025.

Mauritius and South Africa are among the states with fewer children suffering from hunger, while Central African Republic and Chad are the worst child-friendly nations, according to ACPF. Child hunger has been in sharp contrast with economic growth seen in countries such as Kenya, which has had a 2% average growth in GDP per capita but also a 2.5% increase in stunting.

Child rights campaigner Graça Machel said at last month’s International Policy Conference on the African Child: “Women and girls, along with children from poor and rural backgrounds, suffer the most from hunger. In some countries, stunting rates are twice as high among rural children as among their urban counterparts.”

Conflict and the climate crisis have exacerbated child hunger in Africa, with three out of four of the continent’s stunted children under the age of five living in countries turned into war zones. In areas experiencing protracted conflicts, the rate of undernourishment in children is about two to three times higher.

In 2017, more than eight million people in Ethiopia, five million in Malawi, four million in Zimbabwe and three million in Kenya were affected by acute food insecurity caused by issues relating to the climate crisis.


Coronavirus: Online child abuse warning during lockdown

Online child abusers are seeking to take advantage of the coronavirus pandemic, international law enforcement agency Europol has warned.

Europol said it had information that “strongly indicates increased online activity by those seeking child abuse material”.

With schools closed and many working from home, children are more likely to be using the internet unsupervised.

The agency also said cyber-criminals are taking advantage of the crisis.

In online forums and boards, child abusers are ”welcoming opportunities to engage with children”, Europol said.

It warned that abusers expect children “to be more vulnerable due to isolation, less supervision and greater online exposure”.

A spokeswoman said the agency could not share which national law enforcement agencies had raised concerns, but described the increase in activity as a “worrying trend”.

Supervision needed

“There are lots of kids at home, off school, and they’re online while their parents are busy working,” said Prof Alan Woodward, a cyber-security expert at the University of Surrey.

“Understand the risk – it’s the very time that these people take advantage of your attention being somewhere else.”

The NSPCC said technology companies also had a “vital job” to do in protecting children from abusers on their platforms – and report suspicious activity to police.

“Worryingly, abusers will see this national health emergency as an opportunity to target children who are spending more time online and may be feeling increasingly lonely or anxious because of the lockdown,” said Andy Burrows, NSPCC Head of Child Safety Online.

“At home it is now more important than ever for parents and carers to be having regular conversations with their children about what they’re doing online, and that they know they can come to you with any worries they may have.”

Phishing emails

The NSPCC’s Net Aware website contains information for parents about different social networks and websites, and how to stay safe online. It has recently added articles about video chat and livestreaming services, and the newly-popular Netflix Party extension.

Europol’s report also warned of the high level of other cyber-crime, including phishing emails that pretend to contain information about the virus in links and attachments which “aim to profit from the global health concern.”

Many of the scams being employed are classic cyber-attacks, with a new coronavirus angle in the way they are presented.

“The psychology they’re using is the same, but some of the classic human responses are heightened at the moment,” Prof Woodward said.

“Fear, doubt, and uncertainty is a classic one to play on.”



UN chief calls for greater protection for children caught up in COVID-19 crisis

The looming global recession resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic could cause hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths this year, effectively reversing recent gains in reducing infant mortality, a new UN report issued on Thursday has revealed.

In a statement on the new findings, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for urgent action to support the world’s children amid the universal crisis.

“Thankfully, children have so far been largely spared from the most severe symptoms of the disease. But their lives are being totally upended”, he said.

“I appeal to families everywhere, and leaders at all levels: protect our children.”

The report finds that the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, together with measures to mitigate the spread of the new coronavirus, could potentially be catastrophic for millions of children worldwide.

It details how the crisis is putting young lives at risk in key areas that include education, food, safety and health.

Education on lockdown

Practically all students worldwide are now out of school because of the pandemic.

Nearly 190 countries have imposed school closures, affecting 1.5 billion children and young people.

The report stated that the losses in learning today, and in their future development, are hard to fathom.

“Some schools are offering distance learning, but this is not available to all”, the Secretary-General said, adding that children in countries with slow and expensive Internet services are severely disadvantaged.

Millions missing out on school meals

Child nutrition is another vital concern, according to the report.

The UN chief recalled that even before the pandemic, childhood malnutrition and stunting were at unacceptable levels.

With classrooms shuttered, the nearly 310 million children worldwide who rely on school meals are missing out on this daily dose of nutrition.

Meanwhile, hastily implemented lockdown measures risk disrupting food supply chains and local markets, posing a potentially grave threat to food access.

Safety at home and online

Sixty per cent of all children worldwide are living in countries that have implemented full or partial lockdowns, according to the report.

As the crisis deepens, family stress-levels also are rising, and children confined at home are both victims and witnesses of domestic violence and abuse.

School closures also mean the loss of what the UN chief called “an important early warning mechanism” for incidents.

“There is also a danger that girls will drop out of school, leading to an increase in teenage pregnancies”, he added.

Earlier this week, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and partners reported that with more children relying on technology for learning and socializing, the risk of online abuse and exploitation is rising.

The Secretary-General underlined the special responsibility social media companies have in ensuring child protection online.

Child health a casualty

Though coronavirus infection rates so far have been “far milder” among children, the report found the broader effects of the crisis on child health are significant.

Hospitals and health facilities overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients are making it difficult for children to access standard care.

Families out of work, or otherwise experiencing reduced incomes, are forced to cut back on essential health and food expenditures, which particularly affects children, women and breastfeeding mothers.

Polio vaccination campaigns have ceased, thus setting back progress in eradicating the disease in its last two strongholds: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Additionally, 23 countries have suspended measles immunization campaigns targeting nearly 80 million children.

“With the global recession gathering pace, there could be hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths in 2020”, the Secretary-General warned.

This scenario would effectively reverse progress made in reducing infant mortality over the past two to three years.

“And this alarming figure does not even take into account services disrupted due to the crisis – it only reflects the current relationship between economies and mortality, so is likely an under-estimate of the impact,” said the report.

Action for children

While the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented, it is also an opportunity for “unprecedented international solidarity” for children and humanity.

Governments are urged to take steps to counter the unintended effects on children by rolling out or expanding social assistance to families, securing food supply chains and local food markets, and prioritizing the continuity of services such as schooling, nutrition programmes, and maternal and newborn care.

The report further recommends specific protections for the most vulnerable children, such as migrants, refugees, minorities, children with disabilities, and those living in slums.

Standard strategies for physical distancing and lockdowns should be adapted in places such as low-income settings in urban areas, refugee camps and conflict zones.

The report underlined that the UN is working across all settings and stands ready to support countries striving to invest in the world’s youngest generation.

Said the Secretary-General: “With the pandemic placing so many of the world’s children in jeopardy, I reiterate my urgent appeal: let us protect our children and safeguard their well-being.”


Ontario Government Supports Families in Response to COVID-19

Province Providing One-time Financial Assistance During School and Child Care Closures

TORONTO — The Ontario government is offering direct financial support to parents while Ontario schools and child care centres remain closed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The new Support for Families initiative offers a one-time payment of $200 per child 0 to 12 years of age, and $250 for those 0 to 21 years of age with special needs.

The announcement was made today by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.

“During this extraordinary time, we’re doing everything we can to support parents to keep everyone safe and ensure our children continue to learn and stay mentally active,” said Premier Ford. “This one-time funding will allow parents to access additional tools for our kids to use while at home and studying remotely. I want to remind everyone to stay at home and only go out if absolutely necessary. It’s the only way we are going to defeat this terrible virus.”

“Our aim during these extraordinarily challenging times is to continue supporting those impacted hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak — Ontario families,” said Minister Lecce. “School and child care closures have disrupted family life a great deal and our government will do whatever it takes to support them and keep them safe. This funding will flow to parents directly, to offer them immediate relief during this difficult time.”

Families can complete a simple online application at Ontario’s Support for Families web page to access this financial support. Parents already receiving Support for Parents payments through direct deposit will be automatically eligible for this financial support and do not need to submit a new application.

“As we reach a critical juncture in our fight against COVID-19, it’s important schools and child care centres remain closed,” said Minister Elliott. “Keeping Ontarians safe is our number one priority and it’s also our duty to help parents who are supporting their children and families during this unprecedented time.”

Through this initiative the government is providing over $300 million in relief to parents across Ontario as part of Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19.

“With schools and child care closed, life has become more difficult for families and they need some extra help,” said Rod Phillips, Minister of Finance. “Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19, includes $7 billion in direct support for people and jobs, and $10 billion in cash flow support for people and businesses. This $17 billion plan includes direct relief for parents when they need it the most.”

Quick Facts

  • Ontario public schools will remain closed to teachers until Friday, May 1, 2020, and to students until Monday, May 4, 2020, to keep Ontario’s students safe from COVID-19. Private schools, licensed child care centres and EarlyON programs will also remain closed until April 13, according to the Declaration of Emergency, which only allows closures to be extended for one 14-day period at a time.
  • On March 22, Ontario announced its effort to support health care and frontline workers with emergency child care services across the province. Frontline workers who make use of these services are also eligible for this one-time payment.
  • The Government reiterated its focus on positive mental health supports for students dealing with the challenges of COVID-19. Premier Ford announced an investment of up to $12 million to deliver online and virtual mental health supports across our province, supporting students, families and frontline workers.
  • Ontario launched the second phase of Learn at Home and Apprendre à la maison, a new online portal that provides resources for families so students can continue their education while schools are closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation.
  • Visit Ontario’s website to learn more about how the province continues to protect Ontarians from COVID-19.


Coronavirus: school closures mean an increased risk of hunger for families around the world

Schools are closing across the world. At the time of writing, UNESCO report that 107 countries have implemented nationwide closure, affecting 861.7 million children. There are localised closures in a further 12 countries. These numbers have been increasing significantly each day.

On each school day, half of the world’s school students in low- and middle-income countries eat a free or subsidised meal. For these 310 million children and their families, school meals are a lifeline, providing nutritious food that children would not get at home.

In the face of unprecedented and unanticipated school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s vital to ensure that the food needs of school children continue to be met. If not, their human right to food will be jeopardised.

Meeting crucial needs

We know that school meals play an important role in meeting children’s food needs. In India, nearly 100 million children receive a free lunch every school day. These lunches reduce protein deficiency by 100%, calorie deficiency by 30% and iron deficiency by 10%. In the US, students consuming a school lunch under the National School Lunch Program get more than one third of their daily calories from food and drink provided at school.

School meals can have many other benefits. Meals at school can reduce household food expenditure, in turn alleviating poverty. School meals can act as safety nets, maintaining children’s food consumption during times of crisis such as drought.

We also know that when schools are closed for long periods such as during the holidays, households struggle. Children and their families may eat less and consume less nutritious food when schools are closed, a phenomenon known as holiday hunger. The absence of school meals during the holidays has also been found to contribute to reduced academic performance.

In the UK, holiday hunger has become increasingly prevalent. It has been estimated that 3 million children are at risk of going hungry in the school holidays.

In my own research in the state of Rajasthan in India, I found increased food insecurity and decreased dietary diversity in the summer holidays and a widespread desire for school meals to continue out of term-time.

Some governments are aware of this and continue school feeding programmes in school holidays. In the US, the Summer Food Service Program continues to supply school meals to children in the summer, although coverage is far from universal. In India, the school lunch continues in the summer in areas experiencing drought. In the UK, charitable organisations attempt to fill the void left in the school holidays.

Urgent requirements

Based on what we know about holiday hunger, we can expect that households across the world will struggle during the school closures which have resulted from the coronavirus pandemic. These closures may well extend beyond the length of a typical school break. The situation is likely to be exacerbated by the wider economic impacts of the pandemic, including on employment. Situations like the current pandemic, when schools are closed, are also the times when school feeding programmes are the most needed.

The loss of school meals will be felt most by the neediest children and families. The potential negative impacts of school closures on the poorest children has already been noted in the US, but will also be the case across the world.

Some governments have already recognised the need to address the gaps in food provisioning left in the absence of school meals. In India, the state government of Bihar has announced the intention to transfer the cash value of school lunches to families (notably a very small sum).

In Kerala, rations have been delivered to the homes of young children who attend anganwadis (pre-school centres). Clearly, further initiatives are needed to ensure the nearly 100 million children that rely on India’s Midday Meal Scheme are protected from hunger and malnutrition during school closures.

In some US states, school meals are being provided under an extension of the Summer Lunch Program. Moreover, the US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has recently unveiled a Maintaining Essential Access to Lunch for Students (MEALS) Act, which would enable further provision of lunches during school closures.

In the UK, charities and academics have called for cash transfers to be given to individuals or households during this crisis. Schools and charities have already started preparing to supply school meals or food packages and the government has announced funding and vouchers for those receiving free school meals.

Many governments have taken the decision to close schools, a necessary response to COVID-19. They will, however, have adverse consequences. To ensure that school closures do not leave school children and their families hungry, urgent action by governments and international organisations is required. School lunches, and the vital role they play in guaranteeing that children are well fed and nourished, must be part of the conversation.


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