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  • Writer's pictureChild Rights Centre, CNLU

The Potential Impact of the Covid-19 Crisis on the Lives of Children

By Anushka Srivastava, a 2nd Year, B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Chanakya National Law University, Patna

 

The coronavirus pandemic presents one of the exceptional tests the world has faced since World War II and children risk being among the biggest victims.

The COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions have brought about a sense of fear and anxiety which will lead to short term as well as long term psychosocial and mental health implications for children across the globe. Moreover, the catastrophic effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally. They are expected to be most damaging for children in poor socioeconomic groups, who are already vulnerable and disadvantaged.


Child trafficking during the pandemic

As per the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929[1], a male of age less than 21 years is called a child and a female of age less than 18 is called a child. Child trafficking, when children are lured or forced to leave their homes and then exploited or sold, can occur in several ways. Sometimes, parents sell or hand their children over to work so they can earn money. Other times children are lured with fake promises. Some of the children rescued from traffickers say they have experienced physical torture, others describe being forced to work in a hazardous atmosphere.


As governments across the globe are trying to fight the biggest health crisis in human history, child trafficking is taking a back seat. COVID-19 is having a catastrophic effect on states like Bihar, where thousands of the vulnerable, especially women and children, have been pushed into a void of emptiness and despair. It is proven by studies that children in economically unstable families are more at risk of exploitation and trafficking. According to a study ‘Effects of Covid-19 on Nutrition in Bihar’ conducted in July 2020 by UNICEF and Population Council Institute, after India went into complete lockdown in March 2020, many families in Bihar lost their source of income. Many migrant workers returned to their homes during the lockdown and traffickers exploited this situation by targeting these vulnerable families and disturbing reports of children being sold off for money soon began to surface.



Impact of Covid 19 on the Education of Children

The pandemic has led to the closure of educational institutions across the globe. In India alone, it has affected the education of approximately 290 million children. Approximately, 6 million children dropped out of school and this number threatens to go up due to the economic tension in their families.


The closure of educational institutions has pushed educators towards a digital style of teaching. However, this has led to serious problems for students, especially those from low-income families as they have limited access to the internet, laptops and smartphones. While some schools may already have strong online systems, smaller schools may struggle with the technology. Some students also don’t have internet access and they struggle to participate in online learning. This gap can be seen across income brackets within the country.


According to the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) survey, only 1/3rd of India’s schoolchildren are accessing online education out of which only 32.5% are doing live online classes. 11% of the overall students enrolled in both private and government schools were using online classes and only 8.1% of children enrolled in government schools were using online classes across the nation.


Girls’ education has been significantly impacted by the pandemic, especially for girls from low-income families. According to UNESCO currently, over 89% are out of school because of the closures. This figure includes approximately 743 million girls out of which over 111 million girls are living in the world’s least developed countries. Thousands of girls have been pushed by their desperate parents into early marriages. A report by UNICEF called COVID-19: A threat to progress against Child Marriage, warns that closures of schools, parental deaths, the economic crisis will lead to an increased risk of child marriages for the vulnerable girls and over the subsequent decade, up to 10 million more girls will be at risk of child marriage as a result of the pandemic.


Health issues and safety

Loss of jobs and reduced incomes will force vulnerable families to cut back on essential health and food expenditures. The effects on the mental health of the children is another cause for concern as children today feel pessimistic about the impact of the pandemic on their lives and uncertainty regarding the future. Acute stress and depression can impair their cognitive development and trigger longer-term mental health challenges.


Children living in slums, orphanages may face higher infections rates as they live in close proximity with other children which is likely to facilitate the spread of the virus. Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services are also at risk of getting disrupted by the closures, the consequences of which can be deadly. According to UNICEF, because of diarrhoeal diseases due to lack of appropriate WASH services, over 700 children under age five die every day. This is especially alarming given the major role of hygiene in preventing and controlling the spread of the coronavirus.


Home is a source of security and safety for most children. However, violence by caregivers is one of the most common forms of violence experienced. Nearly 243 million women and girls aged between 15 to 49 across the globe have been subjected to sexual and/or physical violence by an intimate partner in the year 2019. Emerging data show that violence against women and girls has increased since the outbreak of the pandemic as such acts of violence are more likely to occur while families are confined at a place and experiences acute stress and anxiety. Children are often witnesses to domestic violence against women and this can severely affect their mental health.


Conclusion

COVID-19 pandemic will have long-term impacts on children worldwide. That challenge is made greater by the economic effects of the lockdown as it could lead to compelling children from low-income households into child labour and child marriage. Loss of income will force vulnerable families to cut back on essential healthcare and food expenditures and this can lead to acute deprivation in nutrition.


Lockdowns unfortunately also present an opportunity for child abusers to harm children. Yet, at a time of increased need, they are rarely in a position to report such horrifying acts. With closures of schools and increased rates of dropout, an increase in teenage pregnancy can also be anticipated With the online mode of education, children are less likely to catch up on learning and there is a genuine prospect that it can permanently alter their lives.

To build back better, the imperative is for the governments, healthcare organisations, children's welfare organisations across the world to work together in mitigating the negative impacts of the pandemic on children in the post-COVID-19 era.



References

[1] The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929, § 2, No. 19, Acts of Parliament, 1929 (India).



 

(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Child Rights Centre.)

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Maneesh BSN
03 янв.

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