Combatting pandemic-induced child poverty in North Africa: UNICEF study with PEP-OPM

December 2020

New research commissioned by UNICEF-MENA and carried out by PEP and Oxford Policy Management assesses policies to combat increasing child poverty in Tunisia and Morocco caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

A new UNICEF research initiative, undertaken by PEP and Oxford Policy Management (OPM), has generated evidence from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) showing that children may pay the highest price for the effects of the Covid-19 crisis. 

Two teams of local researchers—in Morocco and Tunisia—conducted impact simulations as part of a joint PEP-OPM project, for a UNICEF-MENA research initiative to strengthen evidence on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on child poverty and the role of social protection in the MENA region.

New evidence addressing pandemic-induced child poverty

Findings from Tunisia show that efforts to contain the pandemic are likely to have a very significant impact on the poorest families and children in particular. 

  • The socio-economic consequences of the pandemic and the measures to mitigate its effects will increase poverty among children of all ages (up to 16 percentage points for some groups).
  • The effects will be especially severe for children in large families and those living in the country’s interior regions.

Current government measures aiming to mitigate these effects will have a limited impact (less than one percentage point) because they are not targeted at the most at-risk population groups.

  • Re-orienting the measures to reach those who are most vulnerable during this crisis (informal-sector workers, particularly construction and domestic workers) can reduce poverty, and child poverty significantly.

Moving forward, the research team recommended new national social protection measures—including more inclusive policies and per-child allowances—that not only reduce child poverty in the short-term but also protect the country’s human capital in the long-term.

Find out more in the report Impact des mesures de confinement associées à la pandémie COVID-19 sur la pauvreté des enfants (PDF, in French).

Meanwhile, findings from Morocco show that the crisis is leading to a significant increase in poverty, particularly in urban areas. Children under the age of 5 are the most affected, alongside young adults (aged 18+). Inequality has also increased substantially.

However, current government mitigation measures are fairly effective, halving the effect of the pandemic on national poverty levels and reducing the effect on inequality. The research team also propose measures, going beyond those of the government, such as school aid to encourage households to send their children back to school. For a relatively low cost, these measures can further reduce poverty, particularly among rural children.

Find out more in the report Maroc : Impact de la pandémie Covid-19 sur la pauvreté des enfants (PDF, in French).

Improving future pandemic policy responses 

As well as findings and recommendations to inform immediate policymaking in Tunisia and Morocco, the project is also strengthening evidence-based policymaking in the target countries. Under this initiative, the teams developed simulation tools for Tunisia and Morocco to estimate the impact of the pandemic and policy responses on child monetary poverty and inequality measures in various scenarios. 

Rapid local solutions from local experts

This project is part of PEP’s efforts to go beyond capacity building to capacity promotion. The microsimulation work in Tunisia and Morocco was led by researchers – including previous PEP grantees – who live and work in the countries of analysis.

Touahmi Abdelkhalek, project lead in Morocco, explained how the team collaborated with country-level institutions. “The three local PEP team members have good knowledge of analytical tools and the local situation. They regularly discussed their work with members of the National Observatory for Human Development (ONDH) and local UNICEF staff to improve the relevance of the research,” he said.

“Unexpected crises, such as the one we are currently experiencing, require urgent but informed mitigation policy measures,” said Abdel-Rahmen El Lahga, project lead in Tunisia and PEP Research Fellow. He explained: "This kind of study, carried out by local experts who know the country context and can produce rapid results, is vital for engaging in policy discussions and helping decision-makers design effective measures to support the country’s population.”


The study in Tunisia was carried out by Abdel-Rahmen El Lahga (Institut Superieur de Gestion de Tunis in Tunisia, and PEP), Sami Bibi (Université Laval in Canada, and PEP), Sebastian Silva Leander and Marta Marzi (both of Oxford Policy Management, UK).

The study in Morocco was carried out by Touhami Abdelkhalek (Institut National de Statistique et d’Economie Appliquée in Morocco, and PEP), Dorothée Boccanfuso (Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique in Morocco, and PEP) and Luc Savard (Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique in Morocco, and PEP).

Oxford Policy Management (OPM) is a leading international development consultancy that is committed to helping low- and middle-income countries achieve growth and reduce poverty and disadvantage through public policy reform.

Photo: UNICEF/Choufany 

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