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Locking down children

While most people including the government and political parties have been talking about the huge impact of Covid-19


Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  28 Jun 2020 8:05 AM GMT

While most people including the government and political parties have been talking about the huge impact of Covid-19 and the lockdown on the economy of the world, what very few are discussing is the enormous ramifications the situation has on the lives of children. It is not as simple as thinking that children are losing out on just studies and play. In fact, children are among the biggest victims of the pandemic and lockdown. While remaining confined to homes has thankfully protected children largely from the direct health effects of Covid-19 at least to date, the crisis is having a profound effect on their overall well-being. As Unicef has recently pointed out, all children, of all ages, and in all countries, are being affected, in particular by the socio-economic impacts and, in some cases, by mitigation measures that may inadvertently do more harm than good. A news-item carried by this newspaper two days ago has been an eye-opener in this aspect. A study conducted by Dr Neil Chanchlani of the University of Exeter, UK, quoted in the news-item said school-going children suddenly being stopped from going to school or the older ones suddenly being stopped going to college has evoked in them a sense of instability as well as a break of their normal routine. The habit of not doing everything on time has led to several adverse effects on them. Confined to the four walls of home, children are bound to become lazy, turn slow in perception, put on weight by consuming food without any physical activities, and watching television or remaining glued to the mobile phone screen. It also said that children belonging to below poverty line (BPL) families are the most unfortunate ones because they have been deprived of taking a healthy and regular meal at school. Families living in a crowded environment on the other hand have deprived children a peaceful and healthy environment. Scarcity of food at home, coupled with noticing domestic violence at home have together affected their mental health. The UK study has pointed at other adverse effects like widespread delays or omissions of routine childhood vaccinations, which can threaten herd immunity; missed detection of delayed development milestones, which are usually identified during routine child-health checks and delays in seeking care for non-Covid-19 related illnesses, which can lead to severe illness and even death. Meanwhile, an analysis conducted by Unicef has said that 99 per cent of children and young people under 18 worldwide (2.34 billion) live in one of the 186 countries with some form of movement restrictions in place due to Covid-19. Sixty per cent of all children live in one of the 82 countries with a full (7%) or partial (53%) lockdown – accounting for 1.4 billion young lives. Closure of schools because of the pandemic has disrupted the education of more than 1.57 billion students – 91 per cent – across the globe. What is most serious is that here has been a near-total disruption in immunization services, which in turn has threatened to cause outbreaks of diseases for which there already exists a vaccine, such as polio, measles and cholera. Many more newborn babies, children, young people and pregnant mothers could be lost to non-coronavirus related causes if the national healthcare systems, already under great strain, become completely overwhelmed by the pandemic and the lockdown. Most nutrition programmes have been either disrupted or suspended, and so also are community programmes for the early detection and treatment of undernourished children. While everybody has been stressing on protecting ourselves and others through proper handwashing and hygiene practices, the reality is that for many children, basic water, sanitation and hygiene facilities remain out of reach. Nobody seems to talking about the fact that 40 per cent of the world population – which comes to 3 billion people – still lack a basic hand-washing facility with soap and water available at home; this is close to three quarters of the population of the least developed countries including certain districts of India. As parents in millions of families are struggling to maintain their livelihoods and income, it is important that governments scale up various social protection measures – by way of providing social safety nets and cash transfers, protecting jobs, working with employers to support working parents, and prioritizing policies that connect families to life-saving health care, nutrition and education. The society, the intellectuals, the opinion leaders, politicians and religious leaders too should talk about these issues. Since children constitute the most vulnerable group of our society, they need to be protected first. Government and non-government organizations must look into the matter seriously. In Assam, a large number of poor children must be languishing because of the unprecedented impact of the pandemic and lockdown. There is an urgent need for a timely and healthy intervention; otherwise, the future of our children will be at stake.

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