The world is now well aware about the possibility of death and physical impact of Covid-19. However, the lingering psychosocial impact on children because of Covid-19 is often ignored, particularly in the developing country like Bangladesh. Depression, frustration and even suicidal tendencies at the extreme condition are now visible among the children during the pandemic and post pandemic situation.
Saima (not real name) is a 10 years old girl from a well off family in Dhaka. Her parents noticed sudden change in her as she became silent and scared without any reason. After putting lots of effort, her parents got to know that she became a victim of online sexual harassment as she used to spend most of her time on digital platform, while she was at home quarantine. Shila (not real name), a 10 years girl from Sirajgonj from a vulnerable family; committed suicide because her father rebuked her when she asked for food during lockdown. Thus, children are being severely impacted psychosocially irrespective of their financial background and social status.Study reveals that suicidal behaviour is strongly associated with poverty and unemployment intensified by the Covid-19. Limited or inadequate access to basic amenities like food, water, cloths may lead to feelings of frustration. A recent study conducted by World Vision Bangladesh (WVB) among 12, 713 people from 24 district shows that desperate negative behavious is triggered among parents and caregivers by the loss of incomes among households. 35% among them punished their children by aggressive behaviour or physically.
Unlike the adults, the physical impact of Covid-19 on children has not been severe in most cases. However, children were hit harder psychologically by Covid-19. Closure of school for a long time deteriorated their mental health. Besides, school is not only educational hub for children. Schools offer window of freedom and scope of interaction with fellow and seniors. Required facilities for attending online class, are often inadequate in Bangladesh, particularly for the low income communities. Thus, most of the children will not go back to school. Consequently, learning gap and rate of drop out children; child labour and child marriage will increase. Particularly, the rate of drop out of children among the low income communities is predicted to be quite high. Eventually, loss of parental care, economic crisis, school dropout will exacerbate sexual exploitation and increase the rate of teen age pregnancy.
Besides, lifestyle of the children changed for being quarantine at home for a long time including dietary and sleeping habits. For children, quarantine promotes sedentary lifestyle and longtime exposure to smart phone and television screen. Though social media has positive aspects like connecting children with the friends and learning new things, this becomes detrimental when sleep, exercise or any other healthy behaviour is replaced by the increasing use of social media. Like the case of Saima, adulteration of online contents that violets child right, are on the rise. Moreover, frontlines like doctors’ children’s are detached from them due to quarantine. Altogether, this condition results in stress, anxiety, distress and insecurity among most of the children. Thus, the mental health of children is often at stake. They do not know from where to seek help. There are very few options available in Bangladesh for ensuring children’s easy access to psychological support online.
Simultaneously, children are being misled from the inaccurate and easily accessible information available in the social media. As children are treated as minor by the parents and caregivers, adults are usually unwilling to share the authentic information related to COVID with children. Study suggests that post-traumatic stress symptom for children may be associated with the lack of clear reasoning and information.
Recently, WVB conducted online assessment to explore the psycho-social and mental health condition of children and adolescents at home during the Covid-19 lockdown. 70 out of 100 children reported that they did not like on line classes. 40 children went through corporal punishment at home. Most of them opined that staying home for long time was not easy. They started to blame themselves as they felt inferior. With increased tension, suffocation and punishment, some of them even thought to commit suicide.
There is no denying of the fact that ensuring health support and reducing mortality rate of the Covid-19 victim is the top most priority for all. However, psychosocial aspect should not be ignored, as this is predicted to have a remaining impact on children.Parents and caregiver should share all the authentic information with the children about the virus. At the same time, parents should limit exposure for children to frightening news and stories on social media and TV. Caregivers should consult with other adults or counselors to overcome their own anxiety and fear.
Easily accessible psychosocial counselling for children and parents by the licensed counselor should be initiated. WVB already facilitated psychosocial counselling for 151483 children and their families to deal with the stress and reduce violence against children.
In addition, hot lines should be super active to reduce the domestic violence against children. Parent should promote a free space to discuss with the children what they see on social media which does not reflect reality. Social sites should be more vigilant to prevent online sexual exploitation of children. Efforts from the concerned authorities are vital for reducing drop out in the post pandemic situation. Internet service and audio-visual ga¬zettes should be available for promoting online education at all levels. Increasing community based strategies and engaging faith leaders to increase resilience and psychological vulnerability of children is important. In a word, psychosocial aspect of children should be treated with increased attention as we cannot afford to lose any more children like Saima or Shila out of depression.
The writer is the National Coordinator- Strategy, Innovation and Knowledge Management, World Vision Bangladesh