Geneva: Nearly two-thirds of school-age children worldwide have no Internet at home, a UN report found on Tuesday, as epidemic-induced school closures have made online access important for education.

In total, 1.3 billion children between the ages of three and 17 do not have Internet access in their homes, according to a joint report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The report found that young people and young adults had similar access, with 63 percent of all 15- to 24-year-olds having no contact at home.

“For many children and young people, having no internet at home is more than a digital gap, it is a digital valley,” UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore warned in a statement.

He said the lack of connectivity prevented young people from competing in the “modern economy, which sets them apart from the world.”

The findings of the report are particularly alarming, with hundreds of millions of students forced to rely on virtual learning at a time when school closures are widespread due to the Kovid-19 epidemic.

“To be clear: the lack of Internet access is costing their future to the next generation.”

The report warned that before the epidemic broke out, the digital divide was exacerbating inequalities, allowing children from poorer households and rural or low-income countries to fall behind with less than a chance to catch up with their peers.

It found that fewer than one in 20 school-age children from low-income countries have Internet access at home, compared with nine out of 10 in affluent countries.

Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are the least expensive areas for children to get online, with nine out of 10 children having no internet access at home.

There are clear differences between Internet access in towns and cities and in rural areas, with 60 percent of children living in urban settings without Internet access at home, compared to 75 percent in rural areas.

“Connecting the rural population remains an extraordinary challenge,” ITU chief Howlin Hao said in a statement.

The report warns that even in households with Internet access, children may not really be able to get online.

It warned that the pressure to do chores or work, the lack of adequate equipment at home, and that girls may have less Internet access than boys.

The two UN agencies did not have specific numbers showing differences in Internet access among girls and boys, but their data showed a clear difference in how easy it is for men and women to get online.

Worldwide, 55 percent of men and 48 percent of women use the Internet in 2019, but the differences are more pronounced in low-income countries and poorer areas.

In Africa, for example, 37 percent of men and boys and only 20 percent of women and girls use the Internet last year, according to ITU data.

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