How is the COVID-19 pandemic impacting children?

 

Highlights

  • Children are not the face of this pandemic. But they risk being among its biggest victims.
  • While they have thankfully been largely spared from the direct health effects of the virus - at least to date – the crisis is having a profound effect on their wellbeing.
  • Poverty, learning crisis and security threats are only few of the many issues that children have had to face amidst the unprecedented times.

American humorist Erma Bombeck said- “Children make your life important,”. And could she be any more current?

Children are perhaps our most valuable resource and all our future. But today, the pandemic is a crisis for our children, and the fallout may follow them for the rest of their lives. Undebatable as it is, COVID-19 is harming health, social and material well-being of children worldwide A rise in poverty levels, food insecurity, unsettled healthcare, and other personal factors such as demise of caregivers and psychological stress can have long term affects on children.

COVID-19 has impacted everyone

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How has COVID-19 affected children across the world?

Firstly, poverty is a huge concern. A UN report suggests that in the pre-pandemic era 2019, 386 million children were in extreme poverty. The income shocks induced by the pandemic merely at the household level, even if only temporary, can have devastating effects on children, particularly those living in poor households with limited assets. Subsequently, this number will only increase.

Secondly, there seems to be a learning crisis looming over us- In a bid to combat COVID-19, countries were forced to impose school closures, affecting billions of children and youth. The potential losses that may ensue in learning for today’s young generation, and for the development of their human capital, are hard to measure. Even if distance learning platforms are gaining traction, not everyone is well equipped to avail it.

Next, and perhaps the most painful impact is on child survival and health. Economic hardship experienced by families as a result of the global economic downturn could result in hundreds of thousands of child deaths. Rising malnutrition and risks to child mental health and wellbeing are also considerable.

Children’s overall being is at stake

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In addition, the lockdowns and shelter in place measures come with heightened risk of children witnessing or suffering violence and abuse. Children in conflict settings and the ones living in unsanitary and crowded conditions are at considerable risk. Besides, children’s reliance on online platforms for distance learning has also increased their risk of exposure to inappropriate content and online predators.

What should governments & policymakers do?

Well, there is a need to minimise the impact of standard physical distancing and lockdown strategies on children in low-income countries and communities. Additionally, social protection programmes should be expanded to reach the most vulnerable children. Continuity of child-centred services should be prioritised- particularly in relation to schooling, nutrition programmes, immunisation, and other maternal and new-born care.

Practical support should be given to parents and caregivers on how to talk about the pandemic with children, how to manage their own mental health and the mental health of their children.

Bottomline

Countries are battling the pandemic and working to save lives and livelihoods. However, a child’s need may not immediately appear to warrant considerable attention. Yet, the measures adopted to curtail the spread of the new virus (for instance closure of schools, restrictions on movement, physical distancing, mask-wearing, and restricted social gatherings) can have massive adverse impacts on children and adolescents. 

Now is the time to step up international solidarity for children and humanity and to lay the foundations for a deeper transformation of the way we nurture and invest in our world’s youngest generation!

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