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Lindsay Glassco Nov 20, 2020

Why children are hungry: COVID-19 and food security

Lindsay Glassco | Nov 20, 2020

Every child has the fundamental right – regardless of sex, gender identity or expression, race, ethnicity, ability, nationality, national status, beliefs or creed – to the best health care possible, clean water to drink, healthy food, and a clean and safe environment to live in without exception. As countries and societies around the world struggle to respond to the direct and indirect consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, too often, these children’s rights get neglected.

COVID-19 is, first and foremost, viewed as a global health crisis. While this is true, the impacts of this pandemic far surpass the realm of health. It is also an economic crisis, a social crisis and a children’s rights crisis.

girl holding hand up while wearing shirt that says "Stop COVID-19"

Arguably, the most visible impact of the pandemic for children has been school closures. This on its own is important and worth urgent intervention. But, there’s more to the story.

The pandemic is deeply impacting the world in which children live and grow, creating environments where their rights are being infringed upon. As multiple issues around the world continue to collide – COVID-19, climate change, gender inequality, violence and displacement to name a few – a multi-layered emergency that has long existed has become exacerbated: food insecurity.

The food security crisis and its impact on children

For food security to exist, all people, at all times, must have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Food security is not a new problem. Already in 2019, 135 million people were facing a food crisis.  This was largely a result of conflict and insecurity, weather extremes, economic shocks or a combination of each of them.

Emebet feeds her son Mikias nutrition-rich food at Plan-supported feeding centre addressing food security in Ethiopia

Due to COVID-19, food insecurity around the world has been compounded. The pandemic has disrupted domestic food supply chains, affected food production and negatively impacted people’s – particularly women’s – incomes and livelihoods. The combination of higher priced food and households with less money to spend means many families are cutting down on how much they eat on a daily basis. Already within the space of a couple of months, household consumption in sub-Saharan Africa has gone down by seven to ten per cent due to the COVID-19 crisis and millions of children are going to bed hungry.

For children, the consequences of food insecurity are grave. According to the UN, hunger linked to COVID-19 has led to the deaths of 10,000 more children a month over the first year of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, some 47 million children under age 5, mostly in Africa and South Asia, were moderately or severely wasted (thinness, a form of acute malnutrition); without rapid mitigation, child wasting and related mortality are expected to increase in 2020 and beyond.

We cannot let this happen.

Food security and gender

Growing evidence around the world underlines that in any crisis, girls, young women and women are often hardest hit. The story is no different when it comes to a food emergency.

When families ration their food consumption, girls most often eat least and last. When families run drastically short of food, adolescent girls may be forced into sexual exploitation and abuse to help put food on the table. Amidst food insecurity, they face additional increased risks of child marriage and teen pregnancy.

pregnant teen stands in home

In a report about COVID-19’s impact on girls that Plan International Canada released last spring, we highlighted what girls’ fears were, and not having access to food was one of them. In that report, we heard from Janet, a 14-year-old girl from Liberia who said, “My fear with this virus is that women will really suffer. We will suffer over food. Men will abuse us. Because if I don’t have food and a boy has food and I ask him for help, he will ask me for sex before he gives me some. This is the suffering I am talking about.”

School closures due to the pandemic have also had an impact on hunger for children, especially girls. More than 26 million girls across Africa who normally rely on school meals for a reliable source of daily nutrition must now look for other sources.

Take action in solidarity with children

COVID-19 has exacerbated food insecurity around the world and the detrimental effects this multi-layered emergency will have on children.

On Children’s Day, let’s take a moment to reaffirm all children’s rights as set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, celebrate children and stand in solidarity with them as powerful agents of change everywhere.

Children’s rights – including their fundamental rights to health care, food and water, as well as their rights to education – are being negatively impacted. This is particularly concerning in countries around the world where children were already living in poverty and where their rights were already threatened.

Girls eating porridge as part of school feeding program to help food security

While the needs are great – Plan International Canada is offering Canadians a simple way to make a tangible difference – all from the comfort and safety of their homes. To help ensure children’s right to food is upheld in times of crisis, our Food Basket Gift of Hope provides staples like beans, cooking oils, fortified cereal blends and sugar. For children in crisis, it can have a life-saving impact.

With setbacks like growing global food insecurity due to COVID-19, the need has never been greater. By purchasing a Gift of Hope and encouraging family and friends to do the same, you are standing in solidary with children and their rights. You have an opportunity to help restore children to health, send a positive message about our global connectedness and unleash a ripple effect of change for children, especially girls, around the world.

Buy a food basket


Plan International Canada supporters and partners are encouraged to follow and engage with Lindsay Glassco on Twitter at @GlasscoLindsay.