Submission 1: International Development Committee inquiry on The Impact of Coronavirus


Plan International UK


17th April 2020










Contact: Amelia Whitworth, Senior Policy and Advocacy Manager





About Plan International UK

Plan International UK is a global children’s charity with a particular focus on the rights and needs of adolescent girls. We work to give every child the same chance in life and provide their basic needs including healthcare, education, clean water and work to protect them from risks such as sexual exploitation, slavery and forced marriage. Last year we reached over 8 million people in 75 countries.







  1. The direct and indirect impacts of the outbreak on developing countries, and specific risks and threats (particularly relating to countries with existing humanitarian crises and/or substantial populations of refugees or internally displaced persons); lessons identified and learned/applied from previous experience with infectious diseases (for example, Ebola); the implications for DFID’s policy on a global heath strategy



Out of the total population of students enrolled in education globally, UNESCO estimates that over 89% are currently out of school because of Covid-19 closures. This represents 1.54 billion children and youth enrolled in school or university, including nearly 743 million girls[1].


Over 111 million of these girls are living in the world’s least developed countries where getting an education is already a struggle[2]. These are contexts of extreme poverty, economic vulnerability and crisis where gender disparities in education are highest. In Mali, Niger and South Sudan — three countries with some of the lowest enrolment and completion rates for girls — closures have forced over 4 million girls out of school.


The closure of schools and other educational settings deprives girls of those protective environments and access to sources of life-saving information and psychosocial support. Where school feeding is disrupted, girls’ nutrition may also be affected.


During the Ebola outbreak when schools were closed, for example, only 40% of children asked in Liberia and 30% of children asked in Sierra Leone said that home learning was taking place, mostly the occasional reading of old notes. The evidence from Sierra Leone suggests that girls are much less likely to home study than boys, possibly because of their greater domestic and caring responsibilities[3].


Many girls may never return to school, further entrenching gender gaps in education, increasing the likelihood of child marriage and exploitation[4], and undermining girls longer term opportunities. This is particularly true for girls who become pregnant or married during the period of school closures.





Health and wellbeing

Evidence shows that in times of crisis, access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) - including safe delivery, contraception, safe abortion and post-abortion care - decreases. The subsequent health outcomes are grave[5]. Measures to limit the spread of Covid-19, including movement restrictions and border closures are already limiting access for humanitarian personnel and assistance, and resulting in the disruption of services and supplies essential for adolescent girls’ health, safety and wellbeing.


The suspension of health services and the lack of attendance are likely to have a longer-term public health impact. This was sharply illustrated by the case of vaccinations during the Ebola outbreak; in parts of Liberia vaccine programmes appeared to come to a complete stop during the outbreak[6].


Adolescent girls, including survivors of gender-based violence (GBV), have unique sexual and reproductive health (SRH) needs and face greater barriers to accessing services. An inability to prevent unintended and/or unwanted pregnancies will lead to an increase in adolescent mothers, whose risk of dying from complications in childbirth is already significant. Evidence from previous epidemics has shown the strain on health services is likely to lead to resources diverted away from routine health services, including pre and post-natal care required for safe delivery.


Disruptions in supply chains are being caused by current lockdown measures and are leading to significant stockouts of essential SRH supplies. The closing of borders, transportation constraints within countries and constraints in manufacturers’ delivery flows are negatively affecting the import and in-country availability and distribution of contraceptives, essential maternal health medicines and other essential medicines. In the DRC, the Ebola epidemic saw a 70% decrease in distribution of contraceptives[7].


Previous health crises have also shown that a reduction in household income combined with disruption to the services that usually supply girls and young women with hygiene and sanitation products leave them at increased risk of sexual exploitation in order to access these products.

The need for mental health services and counselling is also paramount, as many people, including children, adolescents and young people, are facing high levels of anxiety and stress related to Covid-19. Again, as seen from our research during the Ebola crisis, many children spoke about being unhappy, feeling lonely, being heartbroken at the loss of loved ones and about fear.


Wider challenges include a lack of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities and drinking water making communities particularly at risk of suffering the consequences of Covid-19. Many of the prevention measures, such as hand washing and social distancing, are challenging if not impossible to carry out, particularly in refugee camps and displaced settings.



Violence against women and girls


Quarantine measures to limit the spread of Covid-19 are already exacerbating the risks of intimate partner violence and other forms of GBV, as households are placed under increased stress by health and economic burdens[8].

These trends are likely to increase around the world. Evidence shows that all forms of violence against girls and young women faced outside of emergencies are multiplied in humanitarian contexts. In parts of Sierra Leone, for example, the teenage pregnancy rate increased 65% during the Ebola epidemic[9].

Disruption of social and protective networks (hotlines, shelters and protection services) and decreased access to services, through movement restrictions and service provision all exacerbate the risk of violence against girls and women[10].




Child protection and social welfare

Quarantine or confinement measures may mean that children, especially those displaced by conflict or disasters are at increased risk of suffering neglect, abandonment, violence and exploitation.


Secondary impacts of the outbreak, such as loss of jobs and disruption to education, may also cause an increase in sexual violence, exploitation, trafficking and child labour as girls and women struggle to support their families.


Economic stress is also highly likely to increase negative coping strategies, including child labour and child, early and forced marriage, and recruitment by armed forces and armed groups, increasing risks of sexual exploitation and adolescent pregnancy[11].

During the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone research showed that 80% of children asked in focus groups said that they had seen more girls of a young age getting married. In that outbreak children reported a direct correlation between school closure and increases of child labour and exploitation, exposure to violence in the home and community, and teenage pregnancy.[12]

An estimated 16,600 or more children lost one or both parents to Ebola[13]. The research found that in most instances relatives, friends or neighbours took on the responsibility of caring for orphans despite the ongoing fear and stigma that continued to surround the disease. Our research indicated that while most orphans are cared for by the community in some way, it was suggested that the quality of care is sometimes low. Over 20% of the adult focus groups in Liberia and Sierra Leone said that orphans were either not properly supervised, or not properly fed[14].


Economic stress during the Ebola crisis as well as other factors such as restriction of movement led to a sharp increase in the price of many staple foods, and households sometimes found that they could not buy food at any price. Children described in detail a reduction in the number of cups of rice their family were eating per day and how they were no longer eating meat, fruits or other quality foods. Almost all those interviewed in Plan International research described an increase in child undernourishment in the community as a result of Ebola[15].





Fragile and conflict-affected settings

In humanitarian contexts, a health epidemic is likely to mean the further erosion of already weak protection structures and education access, even greater stress on livelihoods, and heightened levels of anxiety, fear and worry. As crises exacerbate age, gender and other inequalities, girls, especially those from marginalised communities and with disabilities, may be particularly hard hit.

Crisis-affected populations, particularly refugees, asylum seekers and people on the move, risk being excluded from national Covid-19 preparedness and response plans. Refugees are frequently stigmatised, lack access to health services and information and are excluded from decision-making forums.

Girls within crisis-affected populations face additional discrimination and barriers to participation and access to services. As a result, their needs are likely to be overlooked in Covid-19 responses by national and local authorities. Refugees and asylum seekers also risk having their rights disproportionately violated by measures to control the outbreak, including their right to seek asylum.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, humanitarian needs outstripped available funding, particularly in neglected and forgotten crises. Preparing for and responding to the spread of Covid-19 will stretch, and in some cases redirect, these resources from key areas such as child protection and GBV services, education and SRHR. Funding for existing programming must, at a minimum, be preserved.

As key donor countries face economic shocks resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a risk that humanitarian resources will shrink further, just as needs escalate. The most vulnerable, particularly girls and young women, will be hit the hardest by increasing funding gaps


  1. The UK’s response, bilaterally and with the international community, to the spread of coronavirus to developing countries; the impact of the outbreak on DFID’s operations (staff absences or reassignments, the impact of travel restrictions and other risk mitigation measures); the impact of the outbreak on UK aid funding in the longer term.


The UK has to date committed £744m of ODA to tackle the outbreak of Covid-19 globally. We are pleased that DFID is taking a leading role globally in the size of the financial commitments and the speed with which they have been made. We welcome commitments to multilaterals including the WHO and other UN agencies, as well as other allocations including the activation of the Rapid Response Facility, although the scale of the challenge urgently requires more. We encourage DFID to continue to work with global agencies, and work more closely with INGOs and national and local civil society including women and girls’ rights organisations, to ensure a coordinated global response and that funding and interventions are targeted towards those who are particularly marginalised in order to meet the UK’s commitment to leave no one behind.


This pandemic poses significant and immediate risks for girls particularly in the form of GBV, disrupted education, the breakdown of social protection and the lack of access to essential health services including SRHR. Therefore, it is critical that resources are not diverted from programmes essential to the health, safety and wellbeing of girls and young women and that funding for child protection, GBV prevention and response, education and SRHR programming is protected, and if necessary increased in line with needs.


We have been pleased to hear positive indications from DFID that their response to the outbreak of Covid-19 will support the localisation agenda, particularly local women and girls’ rights groups. This is a positive step and we encourage DFID to announce swiftly how they intend to fund these commitments, including a focus on grassroots girls’ rights groups.


As the impacts of Covid-19 on the UK economy becoming increasingly clear we anticipate a reduction in cash terms in the overall aid budget. In order to continue progress towards the Global Goals and other commitments the aid budget should be focused primarily on the world’s poorest and those who are particularly marginalised, including adolescent girls. The UK has long been a global leader in promoting health, education and gender equality, and we would welcome assurances from DFID that these will continue to be sufficiently resourced priority themes throughout the UK’s long-term international development agenda.


Recommendations for DFID:







  1. The impact of the outbreak, and consequential mitigation measures, on fundraising by UK-based development charities/NGOs


A significant proportion of DFID’s business as usualportfolio delivered by UK INGOs has been affected by the pandemic. Plan International UK are currently adapting many of our programmes, including those funded by DFID, to respond to Covid-19 and the current operating environment. We continue to work with DFID, donors and national governments to adapt programmes and where possible meet needs as they arise. For instance, following the closure of schools and education institutions in Ghana, the Government of Ghana tasked the Education and Communication ministries to roll out a distance learning programme. Plan International has offered to the Ghanaian Education Service (GES) the immediate use of its five studios and technical team, for the production of content to transmit distance learning programmes on a dedicated GBC (Ghanaian Broadcasting Cooperation) channel.

We have welcomed DFID’s engagement with INGOs but continue to seek further assurances that DFID will support adaptation and core funding requirements of programmes. This is essential so that interventions can meet the changing needs of communities, particularly girls, in the context of Covid-19, and continue to advance the sustainable development agenda.


The activation of the Rapid Response Facility with £20 million is a timely initial move. We know from the Ebola crisis that immediate response at community level is needed to scale-up programmes which meet both the primary and secondary impacts of the pandemic in already vulnerable communities. The RRF enables DFID’s response to benefit from INGOs’ reach, community trust and local partners and networks to quickly and effectively respond.


More broadly, whilst we have seen an encouraging response from the public to our emergency fundraising appeal we are anticipating a significant drop in overall public fundraising income. This presents a concern to the long-term sustainability of our development and humanitarian interventions to advance girls’ rights globally now and in the future.


Recommendations for DFID:


This includes:








[1] UNESCO, COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response, 2020

[2] UNESCO, COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response, 2020

[3] Plan International, Ebola: Beyond the Emergency, 2015

[4] Global Partnership for Education, GPE’s response to COVID-19: Rapidly mobilizing to face an unprecedented challenge, 2020

[5] UNFPA COVID-19: A Gender Lens, March 2020

[6] Plan International, Ebola: Beyond the Emergency, 2015

[7] Barden-O’Fallon J, Barry MA, Brodish P, Hazerjian J. Rapid Assessment of Ebola-Related Implications for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Service Delivery and Utilization in Guinea. PLOS Currents Outbreaks. 2015:


[9] UNDP, Assessing Sexual and Gender Based Violence during the Ebola Crisis in Sierra Leone, 2015

[10] WHO, COVID-19 and violence against women: what the health sector/system can do, 2020

[11] Save the Children, Plan International, World Vision, UNICEF, Children’s Ebola Recovery Assessment: Sierra Leone, 2015

[12] Save the Children, Plan International, World Vision, UNICEF, Children’s Ebola Recovery Assessment: Sierra Leone, 2015

[13] UNICEF, 2015

[14] Plan International, Ebola: Beyond the Emergency, 2015

[15] Plan International, Ebola: Beyond the Emergency, 2015