Primary and Secondary Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Children in Ghana

UNICEF Ghana, Social Policy Research Institute (SPRI), National Development Planning Commission (NDPC)

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a heavy toll on the human and economic development of many countries around the world. As of 31st December 2020, Ghana had the second-highest number of coronavirus cases in the region of West and Central Africa with 54,771 persons having tested positive. Acknowledging the multiple efforts made by the Government of Ghana, the paper calls for further investment and actions to address the adverse effects of the pandemic, especially on children.

This briefing paper was developed by UNICEF and the Social Policy Research Institute, in collaboration with the National Development Planning Commission. It built on existing microdata, analyses of children’s vulnerabilities and specific phone survey data collected between March and June 2020. The paper outlines the primary and secondary impacts of COVID-19 on children in Ghana.

In the short term, children have experienced reduced access to essential goods and services, increased poverty, food insecurities and exposure to violence, abuse and exploitation, as well as declines in physical and mental health. In the long term, these might lead to intensified adverse effects on children’s health, nutrition and learning outcomes, psychosocial well-being, and on the ability of households to recover. Especially among vulnerable households and children, these factors risk exacerbating existing deprivations and inequities.

Prior to COVID-19, one-in-three children in Ghana already lived below the monetary poverty line, and two-in-three children were multidimensionally poor. Children staying at home and the re-prioritization of support services in key sectors have also compounded the various risks children face in critical periods of their development.

The paper also highlights how nearly one million children below one year of age have been missing out on routine essential health services. It also stresses the impact of nationwide school closures on the educational progress of more than nine million learners between pre-primary and secondary school levels. More than 1.6 million children of primary school age in some of the poorest and most deprived districts in Ghana have also lost access to school meals. For many children from vulnerable groups, including children with disabilities, the prolonged school closures have put a premature end to their education.

Although access to clean water and practicing good hygiene are essential to reducing susceptibility to diseases, there are persistent regional disparities in households’ access to reliable water supply. Pandemic-related household income shocks, food insecurity, economic instability and social isolation have increased children’s vulnerability to violence, child labour, and abuse. Between March and June 2020, the share of Ghanaian children exposed to physical punishments in their households reportedly rose from 18% to 26%, according to a phone survey with households.

The paper finds that wide-reaching secondary effects of the virus and consequent mitigation and preventive measures should be addressed in multidimensional ways, across sectors. In addition to emergency relief, strengthening social protection systems and prioritizing child-sensitive spending on human capital development, particularly on children’s learning through school reopening, are forward-looking strategies to protect children from this and future crises.