Half the world’s poor are children: Covid is a catalyst to further deprivation

Charity Compassion UK states that there has never been a greater need to care for children in poverty. Last month, research by the World Bank revealed that those affected by poverty are disproportionately young, with children accounting for half the world’s poor even though they are just a quarter of the total population.  Covid-19 has also compounded the risks that are posed by armed conflict and climate change, reversing the precious gains that have been made against reducing poverty worldwide. 

Compassion UK, a Christian child development NGO, is putting a spotlight on how local churches across the world are often on the frontline of dealing with the fallout of poverty on children and their families, and the essential need to support them in these difficult times. Experts predict that a global recession could push an additional 42 to 66 million children1 into extreme poverty this year.

Compassion UK CEO Justin Dowds says,

“As we navigate this pandemic, equipping local churches to care for children in poverty has never been more relevant or significant.”

Besides hunger and safety concerns for the children Compassion works with, Head of Global Programme Sidney Muisyo shares some alarming health issues being reported by their church partners: “We are seeing the uptake of childhood vaccinations not happening as normal because people are afraid to go to the hospitals. And sometimes lockdowns and curfews have been hindering the ability to get to hospitals. So, we are watching this very carefully. We are concerned about the question of malaria and other vaccinations. We’re going to have to pay very close attention and play catch up.”

In Kenya, eight-year-old Shaniz lives in ‘Kosovo’, a district so squalid and dangerous it was named for the war-torn, poverty-ravaged European state. Since COVID-19 hit their community, her family has been balancing on a knife’s edge between surviving and the dangerous freefall into deeper poverty. Shaniz reassures her teddy bear and says,

“I know you love breakfast, but mama says dinner is more important now. And we’ve done it before, so we’ll be okay.”

Children like Shaniz living in Kenya are generally spared the worst health impacts of the virus, but the broader effects of the pandemic could reverse years of global child health progress. The United Nations reports that the economic hardship experienced by families could result in hundreds of thousands of additional child deaths in 2020.

Reduced household income will force families in poverty to cut back on essential health and food expenditures. Three meals a day becomes two, or even just one. Madai, a Compassion project director in El Salvador says,

“Some families don’t have enough money to buy vegetables. They usually eat one meal a day or just give their children a snack to eat because it is cheaper.”

This rising malnutrition could have lifelong consequences. Immune systems weakened from lack of nutrients are prone to more infections, which in turn leads to worse nutrition—a vicious cycle. Undernourishment can also impair speech, coordination, and memory.

Compassion, who work through the local Church, with 8,000 partners across Africa, Asia and Latin America, already support the most vulnerable children in their local communities every day. However, since COVID-19 hit, the charity’s focus has shifted from just supporting those children, to also giving additional support to their families and the community around them, providing much-needed health and stability through hygiene, food and housing security.

In Peru, when the pandemic struck, two-year-old Genesis was already on the verge of severe malnutrition. Her mum Ana Caso says,

“My daughter was very skinny and I didn’t know what to do. We took her to the local health centre but whatever they gave us did not work. I asked God to help me with this.” If the local church-based project had not been there to support the family, COVID-19 would have left them in crisis. 

Ana says,

“Compassion has helped us to learn more about health and hygiene. We are learning how important it is now at this time. The children are able to eat well, and my daughter Genesis came out of anaemia thanks to the church.”

The continued education and safeguarding of children confined to their homes are also issues Compassion’s local church partners are tackling, with a unified vision of freeing a growing number of children from the effects of poverty in order to give them hope for their future.

Compassion UK is encouraging supporters and the public to donate to their COVID-19 Appeal, which will go towards empowering their church partners to extend their care further to provide children, families and wider communities with vital support.

To find out more go to https://www.compassionuk.org/covid-19-appeal/

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