The economic fallout of COVID-19 could push up to 86 million more children into household poverty by the end of 2020, an increase of 15 percent, according to a new analysis released on Thursday by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children.

Without urgent action to protect families from the financial hardships caused by the pandemic, the total number of children living below the national poverty line in low- and middle-income countries could reach 672 million by yearend, said UNICEF in a press release.

Nearly two-thirds of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Countries across Europe and Central Asia could see the most significant increase, up to 44 percent across the region. Latin America and the Caribbean could see a 22-percent increase, said UNICEF.

“The coronavirus pandemic has triggered an unprecedented socio-economic crisis that is draining resources for families all over the world,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director.

“The scale and depth of financial hardship among families threatens to roll back years of progress in reducing child poverty and to leave children deprived of essential services. Without concerted action, families barely getting by could be pushed into poverty, and the poorest families could face levels of deprivation that have not been seen for decades.”

The impact of the global economic crisis caused by the pandemic and related containment policies is two-fold. Immediate loss of income means families are less able to afford the basics, less likely to access health care or education, and more at risk of child marriage, violence, exploitation and abuse.

For the poorest families, lack of access to social care services or compensatory measures further limits their ability to abide by containment and physical distancing measures, and thus further increases their exposure to infection, said UNICEF.

For children living in countries already affected by conflict and violence, the impact of COVID-19 will further increase the risk of instability and of households falling into poverty, it warned.

To address and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on children in poor households, Save the Children and UNICEF call for rapid and large-scale expansion of social protection systems and programs, including cash transfers, school feeding and child benefits.

Governments must also invest in other forms of social protection, fiscal policies, employment and labor market interventions to support families.

This includes expanding universal access to quality health care and other services, and investing in family-friendly policies, such as paid leave and childcare, said the two organizations.

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