A boy wearing a mask during the pandemic.

War Child Covid-19 report

Coronavirus is creating a children’s emergency, dragging alarming numbers of boys and girls into poverty and child labour in conflict-affected countries.

War Child UK, the charity for children affected by conflict, today 14 July 2020 releases its new report on the impacts of the current coronavirus pandemic on children and their families in war affected countries.  


The report Covid-19 in fragile humanitarian contexts: impacts of the pandemic on children features interviews and case studies from Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Iraq and Yemen and shows a repeating picture across continents.  Local governments’ preventative measures, albeit in good faith, have forced many families out of work leaving them penniless and facing starvation as they are unable to afford the hiked price of key food items. Schools have been closed, in many cases, since February. According to War Child the absence of access to schools is one of the biggest factors leading to increased reports of children’s rights violations. Children are increasingly being forced to work, including the worst forms of child labour (e.g. mining), child marriage is expected to rise and there are concerning reports of increases in sexual exploitation of children, including in exchange for basic goods and money.  The mental health impacts caused by the increased uncertainty is coupled with the strains of living in a war zone as live attacks and bombings are continuing in Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile there’s been an increase in reported recruitment of children into armed groups in the Central African Republic and it’s expected to rise in Yemen.   

In these conflict countries, health infrastructure is incredibly limited.  For example the Central African Republic has three ventilators to serve a population nearing five million. Similarly in Iraq there is a shortage of skilled health workers with the Ministry of Health estimating 20,000 doctors leaving the country with now only 0.8 doctors available per 1,000 people. Stark warnings of potential surges in cases mean many countries have imposed strict lockdown measures which, while they might be stemming the spread of the disease, are having catastrophic consequences for those living in weaker economies.  

As restrictions begin to ease across Europe, many countries with fragile settings are maintaining their lockdowns leaving millions of children out of school without access to food, healthcare and other essential services. War Child is calling on the UK government and the international community to prevent disaster by increasing funding to respond to this children’s emergency and ensuring humanitarian aid isn’t further hindered by lockdown measures.   


War Child UK CEO, Rob Williams OBE said:   

“We are seeing children being stripped of their rights at terrifying rates as multiple factors collide to cause catastrophe. The coronavirus must not be seen as only a health crisis.  This is a children’s emergency which could yet prove to be the world’s most deadly humanitarian disaster. As we are beginning to beat the virus in the UK we must not turn our backs on the millions of children whose futures hang in the balance.    

Unless we can achieve a rapid resumption of education and children protection services the knock-on effects of the lockdowns seem set to permanently disadvantage an entire generation of children.  

While restrictions on gatherings and movements are needed to contain the virus, urgent support is needed to maintain child protection services and ensure the continued provision of humanitarian aid including providing child protection, education and psychosocial support. There must be increased funding to help those with no income and provide life-saving health, food, water and sanitation without movement restrictions."


War Child’s key recommendations:   

  • Unfettered access for humanitarian aid through lockdown  

  • Sufficient funding from donors to child protection services and education  

  • Provision of psychosocial support and the mental health services  

  • Ensuring health, food and sanitation needs are met   

  • Unanimous support for a global ceasefire  

  • Consult children and their families about decisions relating to the response ensuring they are engaged in the design and implementation of plans  

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Notes to editor

About War Child UK  

War Child is the only specialist charity for children affected by conflict. For more than two decades we’ve been driven by a single goal – for no child’s life to be torn apart by war. We aim to reach children as early as possible when conflict breaks out and stay to support them through their recovery – keeping them safe, helping them learn and cope with their experiences, and equipping them with skills for the future.   

We understand children’s needs, respect their rights, and put them at the centre of the solution - from supporting Syrian children to access education, to rehabilitating ex-child soldiers in the Central African Republic, and promoting justice for young people in detention in Afghanistan.   

We also campaign for changes to policies and practices to support children in conflict, working with children and young people themselves to demand their rights.   

Together with our partners we deliver our vital, life-saving work in 15 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and Latin America. In 2017 alone, we reached more than half a million children.   


Web: https://www.warchild.org.uk/   

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/warchilduk/   

Twitter: https://twitter.com/WarChildUK   

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/warchilduk/   

Charity number: 1071659  


Additional stats and facts:   


  • School closures have resulted in loss of education for over 1 billion children worldwide  

  • Almost one in four children living under COVID-19 lockdowns are reported to be dealing with feelings of anxiety, with many at risk of long-term psychological distress 



  • More than 90% of the population is living in extreme poverty and 80% rely on informal labour to survive.  

  • The UN states 14 million are now in acute humanitarian need and this is up from 9.4 million at the start of the year.  

  • A third of the country is facing acute food insecurity including almost 4 million people at the emergency level – one of the highest figures in the world.   

  • During COVID 19 there has been 12 incidents in which parties to the conflict carried out deliberate acts of violence or interference with healthcare workers or facilities, disturbing critical healthcare provision during COVID- 19.  

  • Decades of conflict in Afghanistan had already led to more than 3 million children – the majority girls and children from the poorest and remote areas of the county – not having access to education prior to the pandemic. Millions more are now deprived of their right to education.  

  • In April, the Ministry of Public Health stated that there were only about 300 artificial ventilation devices in Afghanistan.  

  • There are only 9·4 skilled health professionals, and 1·9 physicians, per 10 000 individuals in Afghanistan.  


Central African Republic  

  • Nearly 700,000 people are internally displaced of which 200,000 are living in camps.  

  • Over half a million remain refugees in Cameroon, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo  

  • An estimated 2.2 million people in need of health assistance and medical professionals are not only dealing with recent coronavirus cases but also cases of malaria, measles, and tuberculosis. Across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus  

  • Most people who survive on around $2 a day.  

  • Just three ventilators are available to help save the lives of people who contract coronavirus in Central African Republic, a country of almost five million people.   

  • Increase of children in mining areas : estimated 500 cases. A large flow of adults and children have been noted to mining sites such as near Bossangoa, where 30 new cases (24 girls) of WFCL were recently documented – documentation is ongoing.  

  • Increased number of girls in mining areas who are sexually exploited in exchange for money or necessities : estimated 200 cases reported by local authorities, including a number of early pregnancies and girl mothers as a result.   

  • Increased child recruitment reported in Soungbe and Korompoko municipalities (51 cases documented in May including 15 new cases of recruitment including 4 girls)  



  • Iraq has 1.4 million internally displaced persons, approximately 300,000 living in camps and reliant on humanitarian assistance and 4.6 million IDPs.  

  • An estimated seven million people (23% of the country’s population) are living in poverty and on approximately $2 a day.   

  • The Ministry of Health estimates 20,000 doctors have left the country leaving 0.8 doctors available per 1,000 people.  



  • An estimated 80% of the population requiring some form of humanitarian or protection. Over 24 million need assistance.  

  • More than 3.6 million people have been displaced.  

  • Only 50% of Yemen’s health centres are fully functional after more than half of Yemen’s hospitals and clinics were destroyed or closed because of conflict.  

  • Over half of the facilities operating do not have general practitioners and there is an estimated ten health workers per 10,000 people which is well below the WHO minimum benchmark of 41 per 10,000.  

  • UK funded modelling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has predicted that there may already be over 1 million coronavirus infections in Yemen given limited mitigation measures.   

  • In the worst case scenario, the model predicts that there could be up to 10 million people infected with up to 85,000 deaths.  

  • Malnourishment has impacted on children greatly with estimates of 2 million being acutely malnourished, including nearly 360,000 suffering from severe acute malnutrition.