COVID-19’s impact on children’s mentality
Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) is creating immense psychosocial disturbances like other pandemics and emerging disease outbreaks. The disease involves an unfamiliar threat that is difficult to detect and challenging to distinguish from more benign illnesses. Due to the lack of pharmaceutical interventions, it has dramatically upset everyday bodily habits, social interactions and economic exchanges.1
According to WHO, “A child is a person 19 years or younger”.2 The COVID-19 crisis has a potentially far-reaching, long-term negative impact on children around the world. The impact is likely to be devastating, even though children who contract COVID-19 appear to have less severe symptoms and lower mortality rates than other age groups. More than 1.5 billion students are out of school. Widespread job and income loss and economic insecurity among families are likely to increase rates of child labor, sexual exploitation, teenage pregnancy, and child marriage. Stresses on families, particularly those living under quarantines and lockdowns, are increasing the incidence of domestic violence. As the global death toll from COVID-19 increases, large numbers of children will be orphaned and vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.3
The intense social isolation, stress, and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 are shaping up to be its mental health pandemic. For many children, the COVID-19 crisis will mean limited or no education or falling further behind their peers. More than 91% of the world’s students are out of school, due to school closures in at least 188 countries. In recent surveys by Save the Children of over 6000 children and parents in the US, Germany, Finland, Spain, and the UK, up to 65% of the children struggled with boredom and feelings of isolation. The crisis has exposed vast disparities in countries’ emergency preparedness, internet access for children, and availability of learning materials. Although much focus has turned to online learning platforms, many public schools are not set up to use them or do not have the technology and equipment to provide online teaching. Nearly half of the world has no internet access.3-5
Child abuse is less likely to be detected during the COVID-19 crisis, as child protection agencies have reduced monitoring to avoid spreading the virus, and teachers are less able to detect signs of ill-treatment with schools closed. Experts estimate that the global total of COVID-19 deaths could eventually reach 10 to 40 million, which will inevitably leave many children without one or both parents or other caregivers. Orphaned children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and other exploitation, including sexual exploitation, forced begging, selling goods on the streets, and other child labor. Older children often drop out of school to try to support younger siblings. The COVID19 crisis also heightens the risk of online child sexual exploitation. As the COVID-19 pandemic overwhelms health systems, children may no longer receive immunizations or have access to lifesaving basic health care.4.
Human Rights Watch urges governments to take urgent measures to protect children’s rights, including by
- Prioritizing efforts to continue education for all children, using all available technology;
- Providing economic assistance, including cash transfers, to low-income families that will be hit first and hardest, to help them meet basic needs without resorting to child labor or child marriage;
- Minimizing disruptions in children’s access to essential and life-saving healthcare services;
- Increasing efforts to identify children orphaned by COVID-19 and expanding networks of extended family and foster care;
- Expanding public education, awareness campaigns, hotlines, and other services for children at risk of violence in the home or online sexual exploitation;
- Transferring children deprived of liberty to family-based care and ensuring suitable accommodation and sanitation for refugee, migrant, and internally displaced children.
A rights-respecting response to the COVID-19 crisis will not only alleviate potentially far-reaching harm during the pandemic but can also benefit children over the long term, Human Rights Watch said. Expanding internet access for children will generally increase children’s access to information, and their ability to organize and express themselves. The economic crisis linked to COVID-19 may prompt governments to strengthen guarantees of economic and social rights and social protections for poor communities and vulnerable families. Such steps can, over the long term, improve food security and reduce rates of child poverty, child labor, and child marriage.4
- Schoch-Spana,Monica. 2020, March 20. Retrieved from URL: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/covid-19s-psychosocial-impacts/ [Last accessed on 2020 May 13].
- Definition of key terms-World Health Organization. 2013. Retrieved from URL: https://www.who.int/hiv/pub/guidelines/arv2013/intro/keyterms/en/ [Last accessed on 2020 May 14].
- COVID-19’s Devastating Impact on Children. 2020, April 9. Retrieved from URL: https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/09/covid-19s-devastating-impact-children [Last accessed on 2020 May 14].
- Minchillo, John. 2020, March 19. Retrieved from URL: https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/04/17/covid-19-mental-health-and-well-being-for-ourselvesand-our-children/ [Last accessed on 2020 May 15].
- Children at risk of lasting psychological distress from coronavirus lockdown’: Save the Children. 2020, May 7. Retrieved from URL: https://reliefweb.int/report/world/children-risklasting-psychological-distress-coronavirus-lockdown-save-c [Last accessed on 2020 May 15].
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