maggio 19, 2021

Children and the Pandemic

“Won’t somebody please think of the children! Oh, will somebody please think of the children” these were the lines made famous by Helen Lovejoy in the iconic TV show ‘The Simpsons’. The line was used as a satire in the show but has always been an emotional appeal and reminder that we must think of the children. But are we thinking of the children as we design strategies to combat Covid? Children across the world have suffered because of covid and also because of the lockdowns imposed to tackle it. Some problems that children suffered were part of the larger problems that the pandemic brough on. But there are many problems which are uniquely faced only by children.

As countries went into lockdowns schools shifted their teaching to online platforms. This was supposed to allow children to access learning while being at home. A novel idea for ensuring that children continue to learn during the pandemic but what about the millions of children who had no access to the internet? How would they learn? What would be done to ensure that these children would not miss out on their education. This was a major issue that poor children across the world faced. Access to the internet is limited in many parts of the world especially in rural areas. Many families, access the internet through mobile phones which may not be available exclusively for a child. It is expensive to buy devices with internet access. The problem gets further compounded in situations where there is more than one child of school going age. Learning for many is a way out of poverty but poverty is what prevented many children from learning during the lockdown.

For all children across all social strata friends and peer groups are a major part of growing up. Friends that are made during one’s childhood plays a critical role in defining the type of adults we become. Friends and peer add to our happiness. They make us feel part of a group, they make us feel loved and cherished. Apart from learning socializing is a significant part of schooling. The impact of being away from once peer group and living in isolation and in most cases with adults who are also stressed out by the pandemic is not a pleasant situation for children. The full effect of the stress caused by such living conditions will be realized only at a later time.

In India government schools provide mid-day meals for children in primary schools. For many children the main source of nutritious food during the day is through the mid-day meal. When the lockdown was first imposed children lost access to this main source of nutrition. Many NGO’s working with children along with new outlets raised this issue with the government and public platforms only after which provisions were made to supply food to the homes of children directly. Loss in nutrition during childhood can continue to have serious consequences even later in a person’s life.

Homes are not always the safest place for children. Research shows that children tend to be abused by people closest to them and usually in a family setting. Children are also exposed to instances of intimate partner violence at home. Estimates put the number of children who witness intimate partner violence at something between 133 to 275 million. Job losses, ill health, stress from the pandemic have all added additional stress on families which could increase the abuse of children. The lockdowns and isolation also prevent children from reaching out for help through their schools and other organizations leaving them completed isolated and alone when they need the most help.

As parents fall severely ill with covid many children have no one to look after them. In the current second wave of the pandemic in India organizations working with children are constantly getting distress calls about children who are left with no caregivers. Messages are being circulated on whatsapp groups asking people to help in whatever way they can. A heart-breaking message which many people in Delhi received was for a milk donor. A day-old baby had lost her mother to covid. These instances are continuously rising in the country. Recently the government issued directives to people on the protocols they need to follow to ensure the safety of children. Many poor countries including India do not have the apparatus to take care of children. It is truly worrying to think of the fate of these children.

It is a difficult time for everyone, but it has been especially difficult for children. Apart from the illness itself the isolation, lockdown, illness and death of a parent or parents has increased their vulnerability making them more susceptible to harm. As we deal with the pandemic and slowly emerge from its devastating impact it will be our duty to ensure that children are safe and cared for. After all the future of mankind are the children of today.

Land of the Free and Home of the Brave?
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About Navika Harshe

Navika Harshe

Navika Harshe leads the health research cluster at A-id. She is an independent researcher who works on issues around health, policy and governance. She has a decade of expertise working in policy specifically monitoring and evaluation across Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the Lok Sabha (Parliament of India) and the Planning Commission of India. In her recent role as a Senior Research Manager at NEERMAN she led a cohort study which followed 440 pregnant women through their pregnancy in Uttar Pradesh, India. Navika was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Chicago where she received her Masters in Public Policy. She also holds a Masters in Economics from the University of Hyderabad. Her research interests include Health policy and its implementation, Economic development, Social and Public policy and Education policy.

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