Impact of COVID-19 on children during lockdown: Cause of concern

Meijianthaipou Ruangmei (Francis) *

India is going through phase lockdown 3.0: day 5, which is we are already in 45 days in lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic. COVID 19 is going to stay with us for a very long time and this cause further uncertainty phases in the society. The cases of COVID-19 are on the spike and the numbers of positive cases are increasing, in which the increasing trend is of cause of concern.

We have learned and experienced and lived with it through this trial time so far; the countrywide school closures, factories and industries shut, company and business enterprises hit, college and university students in bleak about their career, mass exodus of migrant workers with no hope for return to work, unemployment rate shoots up, small traders and daily wage labourers are severely affected and stranded passengers and students.

What is more worrying is the condition of the poor children, those living in slums where no piped water to drink, and to follow preventive measures such as social distancing and handwash. This is a technologically transform world where learning happens exponentially and what we had learned is that this pandemic hits the country not just economically, nor just medically, nor anxiety, stress and depression.

It hits different section of our society and the most severely hit or worst hit is the impact seen on the poorest of our children. It has been reported that there are around 20 lakh street children India. This pandemic has pushed even further more. It is a disturbing reality to know that one in four street children go to sleep hungry. There has been no clean water to sanitize themselves or no masks being availed then.

Their condition during the lockdown is disturbing. Various concerns are being raised by UNICEF, WHO, and Ministry of Child and Family welfare, and other voluntary organisations to protect the children in need during this crisis.

NDTV has begun campaign on raising funds under the theme, ‘making the invisible visible’. It is a matter of serious concern on how as a responsible citizen can advocate for the most vulnerable, dependant, helpless section of Indian population. Their efforts would be in vain if every citizens of India don’t cooperate with their initiations.

Although children are not the face of this pandemic or much less infected by this crisis globally. However, this crisis has a profound effect on their wellbeing. Children of all ages, and in all countries, are being affected, in particular by the socio-economic impacts and other mitigation measures. This is a universal crisis and, for some children, the impact will be lifelong.

Although everyone felt the harmful effects of this crisis, this pandemic expected to be most damaging for children in the poorest countries, poorest neighborhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations. So to note to your attention that there was an incident in India in which 12 year old girl died on 150 km walk from Telangana to Chhattisgarh while making her way back home.

There could have been many more incidents, however it speaks volumes of how we have failed as a society and we have failed to protect our children in our society. It had been very disturbing scenario in which children are illegally employed in mines, factories and brick kilns were being abandoned due to lockdown. They were being starved, isolated and neglected by the owners as they are being scared of being booked.

Now our question is where will the children go? There must have been hundreds and hundreds that are being trapped and nobody knows how and what kind of situation they are living there.

In such situation what are more effecting children during this lockdown is another kind of pandemic which is ‘child pornography and online child sexual abuse’. Child pornography is on the rise and online child sexual abuse is a growing menace. This reality is brought to light by The Child Protection Fund who conducted a study and brought out their their reports on child sexual abuse materials.

According to them, ‘The nationwide lockdown to contain the COVID-19 outbreak has exposed a dark underbelly of our society – millions of paedophiles, child rapists and child pornography addicts have increased their activities online, making the internet extremely unsafe for our children. Data from Pornhub, the largest pornography website in the world, shows that traffic from India on its website has increased by 95% between 24th and 26th March 2020, as compared to their average traffic, pre-Coronavirus.

This increase has been fuelled by Pornhub making its premium content free during the lockdown. A significant segment of this spike can be attributed to the demand for child pornography content. This is substantiated by online website monitoring data during the same time period, which shows that search for keywords like ‘child porn’, ‘sexy child’ and ‘teen sex videos’ has also jumped, and is projected to spike further in the coming weeks. This presents a chilling reality of the extreme threat faced by India’s children during this period of lockdown’.

Because of children trusting nature the increased demand for online CSAM makes children more vulnerable to online sexual predators. As children spend more time online during the lockdown, they are often unsupervised.

International agencies like Europol, the United Nations and ECPAT are reporting that paedophiles and child pornography addicts have increased activity to target children online to ‘groom’ them - befriending them on social media, building an emotional connection and luring them to perform sexual activities through photos and videos. They may also record and store this content to distribute it, and use it to extort the child to commit further abuse and exploitation.

The sheer number of Indian men who actively engage in child sexual abuse online presents a deeply worrying reality of our nation. Some of the key findings of child protection fund could be mentioned. First there was a high monthly demand which showed an average of 5 million per month in 100 cities.

Secondly there was a specific demand in which the content such as ‘school sex videos’ and ‘teen sex’ where most individuals were interested in. thirdly there was an increase in demand for violent content which exhibited explicit intent for videos where children were choking, bleeding, tortured, in pain or screaming.

The demand for this kind of content grew as much as 200% during the project duration. This indicates that Indian men are not ‘satisfied’ with generic child pornography and demand violent and exploitative content.

The demand for explicitly specific contents, child pornography are increasing also highest in North in New Delhi, Ludhiana, Raipura, Lucknow, Chandigarh and in the East in Imphal, Guwahati, Kolkata, Howrah and Shillong etc and some other part of cities.

As a society we must not only demand immediate action to crack down on perpetrators, platforms and internet service providers; but also educate our children to protect themselves, and identify and report sexual abuse.

Every parent should be cautious and wise enough to not let children be engaged for a long time in access to internet. It is vital that this information should be consumed by every members of the society to protect children from falling prey into predators’ hands.

The United Nations had produced on how this crisis had affected the children in many ways such as falling into poverty, exacerbating the learning crisis, threats to child survival and health, and risk for child safety.

Almost all the countries had imposed country wide lockdown and 188 coun­tries have imposed countrywide school closures, affecting more than 1.5 billion children and youth. In addition to this malnutrition is expected as 368.5 million children across 143 countries that normally rely on school meals for a reliable source of daily nutrition must now look to other sources.

The risks to child mental health and well being are also considerable. Therefore, every society must adhere to specific protections be put in place for vulnerable children including refugees, the displaced, homeless, migrants, minorities, slum-dwellers, children living with disabilities, street children, living in refugee settlements, and children in institutions.

At this critical juncture where United Nations and countries strive to protection of children in this crisis, one must also look into the psychosocial intervention and psychosocial care and support during this lockdown.

India is vast country with approximately 44 millions of children and it is so demanding that a strategic appropriate action should be wisely planned and provides intervention measures during this lockdown and the coming post pandemic.

This prolonged home confinement leaves negative effects on physical and mental health of children, adults and the elderly. This evidence was reflected from recent and past health disasters (COVID-19 china, Ebola African countries 2014-16 and SARS-CO, Asian countries 2003). There are issues in children during lockdown such children are physically less active, unlimited screen time, irregular sleep patterns, less favorable diets, weight gain or loss, and loss of cardiorespiratory fitness and stressors in such as infection related fear, frustration and boredom.

Besides, absence of in-person contact with classmates, friends and teachers, personal space at home and outdoor activities. These psychosocial changes, adds vulnerability to poor psychosocial health and can lead to problematic and enduring effects on children and adolescents even on the productivity in adult years. Therefore, caring for the children and teenagers during lockdown is going to be extra task for parents; but it is of utmost importance.

Parents too are affected but it is important that they should have proper information, enhance self-care and hygiene, tolerance, acceptance, patience, reconciliation and forgiveness, and respect the ‘me time’ of everyone even under the same roof. It is utmost importance to be aware about the vulnerabilities of the children, their anxieties and activities.

Once parents are able to care and understand them, children eventually return to their normal functioning with consistent and constant support. This would help in channelizing their efforts to ensure minimal impacts on children and adolescent. During this lockdown it is imperative that parents have plans to channelize the physical energies of children properly, and communicate with them patiently and empathetically to reduce physical fights with siblings, anger outbursts and argumentative behaviours.

This experience is new to the children and to the parents and children might not know how to handle situations of seeing each other for a long duration, how to deal with routine boredom, frequent handwashing and forgetting to keep physical distancing and so on. It is important that parents should have some checks and discuss and negotiate for controlled internet based activities and not to resort to it alone.

Make sure parents fix a time for them and encourage them to pursue alternative interests and develop new healthy interests. Every members of society should pull our acts together to help children in difficult circumstances. Those children might be subjected to abuse (physical, emotional and sexual abuse). There are instances of exploitation and safety of the child should be ensured.

Children in difficult circumstances are not in a situation to redress their grievances therefore we should help them to get in touch with District Protection Team or CWC or help them to reach juvenile police units or police station. Above all children in institutional care are already having inherent effects of institutionalization.

They are deprived on psychosocial needs and high on stress level, substandard hygiene practices, difficulties of physical distancing, disproportionate numbers, and though visitors could be banned, the infected staff and caregivers could affect the children. Therefore the staff and care givers should recognize enhanced vulnerability and undertake necessary steps to prevent outbreaks and support children, increased monitoring and supporting of vulnerable children in families as well as institutions.

It is essential to avoid unnecessary family separation, see if children could be sent back to families during time/period in possible cases. Citizens of all colors should be extra vigilant to not let children fall into wrong hands and be made to suffer by our negligence.

* Meijianthaipou Ruangmei (Francis) wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Assistant Prof. at Department of Social Work at St Joseph University, Dimapur.
This article was webcasted on May 10, 2020.

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