As the United Nations quoted, ‘children are not the face of this pandemic. But they risk being among its biggest victims.’ From creating the largest disruption of the education system in history to emotional distress due to social distancing, and increasing poverty hardships, COVID-19 has profoundly affected the wellbeing of children of all ages, and in all countries.
As per reports by the United Nations, closures of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94 percent of the world’s student population, up to 99 percent in low and lower-middle-income countries.
Many children and young people felt isolated and lonely due to school closures. This resulted in emotional distress and troubled feelings, including anxiety, anger, frustration, and worry due to the uncertainty of how long this crisis will last and dealing with isolation.
Due to lockdown, many children have had no physical access to friends, peers, schoolmates, and relatives for a really long period of time. Although, online classes and schools gave many an opportunity for virtual connectivity but there has been a higher probability that they have become increasingly addicted to social media and online entertainment. Increased digital connections can also result in ’emotional contagion’ where the distress and fear experienced by one spread to another person. Preventing a learning crisis from becoming a generational catastrophe requires urgent action from all.
Lockdown has heightened the risk of children witnessing or suffering violence and abuse including domestic abuse, child trafficking, child labor, and online child abuse. Children in conflict settings, as well as those living in unsanitary and crowded conditions, have been at considerable risk. Children’s reliance on online platforms for distance learning has also increased their risk of exposure to inappropriate content and online predators. Limited or no opportunity for outdoor play and socialization also impacted children’s self-confidence and decision making power. Since they have been living under the care of their families, their sense of individuality is diluting on various levels.
What can be done?
Children are not just the recipients and beneficiaries of help; they are also active social actors who are capable of interacting with others and shaping their environments. A growing body of evidence has shown that children and young people are eminently able to advocate for social change and actively embrace the opportunity to work towards the promotion and protection of their rights. Thus, it becomes our responsibility to provide children with safe spaces to put forth their views and involve in activities to cope with hardships and improve their self-confidence and sense of personal efficacy. Children’s voices must be sought and integrated into planning on matters of public health, school, social services, media use, and juvenile justice.
Apart from providing medical support and care, the government should also focus on providing practical support to parents and caregivers, including how to talk about the pandemic with children, how to manage their own mental health and the mental health of their children, and effective tools to help support their children’s learning efficiently.