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Kids have issues beyond trick-or-treating

Along with costumes, candy and Jack o’lanterns, Halloween has long been associated with UNICEF – for years, kids carried those little collection boxes in support of their less-fortunate counterparts around the world.

With a different approach to Halloween this year, the United Nations agency has also switched gears, with a Halloween walk-a-thon instead of the usual door-to-door fundraiser. The campaign encourages families to turn their trick-or-treating steps into a safe, socially distanced walk-a-thon throughout their neighbourhood. It also reintroduces a digital version of UNICEF’s iconic orange box to enable children to celebrate and raise money in a physically distanced way.

It’s a way to continue to support the world’s most disadvantaged children. While everyone around the world is feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in some way or other, those already in tough situations have it even worse.

Even without the coronavirus threat, UNICEF already had its hands full. The agency is the world’s largest provider of vaccines, it supports child health and nutrition, safe water and sanitation, quality education and skill-building, HIV prevention and treatment for mothers and babies, and the protection of children and adolescents from violence and exploitation. It’s a big, never-ending job that spans across 190 countries and territories.

Last year, UNICEF reached out to 307 million children under age 5 with services to prevent malnutrition; provided 17 million out-of-school children with education; gave four million children and young people with skills development; some 18.3 million people got access to safe drinking water; 15.5 million were provided with basic sanitation services; and humanitarian assistance was rendered in 281 emergencies in 96 countries.

Despite its wide-ranging work, UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations to finance its lifesaving work.

While child and youth mortality rates have fallen in the past few decades – the rates for those under the age of 5 have dropped by almost 60 per cent since 1990, for instance – the numbers show there’s still much work for the agency to do.

In 2019 alone, 7.4 million children, adolescents and youth died mostly of preventable or treatable causes. Globally, 70 per cent of deaths among children and youth under 25 occurred among children under 5 years of age, accounting for 5.2 million deaths.  An additional 2.2 million deaths occurred among children and young people aged 5−24 years, 43 per cent of which occurred during the adolescent period, ages 10−19.

An estimated one in six children – or 356 million globally – lived in extreme poverty before the pandemic, with experts suggesting the pandemic will see that situation worsen significantly.

Sub-Saharan Africa – with limited social safety nets – accounts for two-thirds of children living in households that struggle to survive on an average of $1.90 a day or less per person – the international measure for extreme poverty. South Asia accounts for nearly a fifth of these children.

Although children make up around a third of the global population, around half of the extreme poor are children. Children are more than twice as likely to be extremely poor than adults (17.5 per cent of children vs. 7.9 per cent of adults). The youngest children are the worst off – nearly 20 per cent of all children below the age of 5 in the developing world live in extremely poor households.

Child poverty is more prevalent in fragile and conflict-affected countries, where more than 40 per cent of children live in extremely poor households, compared to nearly 15 per cent of children in other countries, the analysis says.

UNICEF’s research shows the COVID-19 crisis will continue to disproportionately impact children, women and girls, threatening to reverse hard-won gains towards gender equality. Social protection measures have a crucial role to play to mitigate coping mechanisms by the poor and vulnerable in both the immediate COVID-19 response as well as the longer-term recovery.

Plenty of reasons there to keep the plight of the world’s children in mind as yours perhaps prepare to go trick-or-treating.

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