The harsh impact of Covid-19 on children

The harsh impact of Covid-19 on children

Representative image. Credit: Getty.

A new Unicef report draws attention to the devastating impact that Covid-19 and the resultant lockdowns are having on children. In India, around 1.5 million schools were shut down to contain the spread of coronavirus. It has impacted 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools in the country, the report says, adding that this is in addition to the six million children who were already not attending school before the pandemic struck. Closure of schools has reduced access to education. Although online classes are being held, this remains a luxury as just one in four children have access to digital devices and internet connectivity in India. The impact of lack of access to education will be felt long after the pandemic is over. It has taken India decades to bring all its children to school. The school closures have driven many of them out. Children may not return to school after they reopen. All the gains India made with regard to literacy have been reversed. Things are challenging for children attending online classes too. We do not have much experience with online teaching, and most teachers are still learning to teach online.

Schools are not just for imparting education. They are spaces for children to interact with other children, learn from them and play with them. Our schools and anganwadis also double up to provide immunisation services and a nutritious meal. For those children facing abuse and violence at home, schools have been a welcome escape. For these children, not only has that space to escape shut them out now but they are also forced to remain cooped up at home with their tormentors.

Stress levels among children are said to have increased. They are struggling to adapt to online learning. Their academic performance, obviously, is falling and this is contributing to depression. Even before the pandemic, it was children who carried the burden of mental and emotional disorders; half of all mental illnesses develop before children reach the age of 15. Pandemic-resultant anxieties and depressions could increase these numbers. The full fallout of the pandemic-induced mental health problems will become evident only in the years to come. But we need to act now to prevent them from becoming unmanageable problems. Identifying emotional problems is not easy; children cannot articulate their insecurities in words. We need to become more sensitive to their silences and understanding of their tantrums. Mental health authorities should create awareness on identifying emotional and mental health problems among children.