IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON CHILDREN IN RWANDA
Background to the Problem
The COVID-19 pandemic presents the greatest test Rwanda has faced since the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. Children are not the face of this pandemic, but they risk being among its big-gest victims. While they have thankfully been largely spared from the direct health effects of COVID-19 - at least to date – the crisis is having a profound effect on their wellbeing. All children, of all ages, are being affected, in particular by the socio-economic impacts and, in some cases, by mitigation measures that may inadvertently do more harm than good. Moreover, the harmful effects of this pandemic will not be distributed equally. They are expected to be most damaging for children in the poorest families, those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations.
This suspension of classes became a measure to slow down the spread of the virus. The number of children suddenly out of school or university is more than half of Rwandan population. Hundreds of thousands of students won’t be able to return to normal classes for for months, possibly longer, with many important exams postponed or cancelled altogether. This has become a heavy load to families, especially those with little knowledge on positive parenting, and a terrible disaster to the children within these families.
The effects of Covid-19 on children could be grouped into four parts:
- Falling into poverty: The physical distancing and lockdown measures needed to save lives and supress the transmission of the virus have resulted in a significant reduction of economic activity across all major economies and the resultant countrywide recession. Many parents have suspended or lost their business as result of the crisis and will therefore struggle to survive their families. At a household level, the collapse in income threatens the livelihoods of millions of families with children which leads to:
- Family conflict
- Malnutrition and stunting
- Risk of child labour for survival
- Child delinquency
- Number of children engaged in commercial and activities
- Disrupted education and child safety; School closures carry high social and economic costs for people across communities. Their impact however is particularly severe for the most vulnerable and marginalized boys and girls and their families. The resulting disruptions exacerbate already existing disparities within the education system but also in other aspects of their lives. These include:
- Increased exposure to violence and exploitation (Teenage pregnancies)
- Interrupted learning (not all children have facilities/access to distance and online learning
- Parents unprepared for distance and home schooling
- Gaps in childcare (ECD)
- Potential rise in dropout rates when schools reopen
- Exposure to inappropriate contents, online predators and other negative effects of growing digitalization (Online learning)
- Social isolation (Schools are hubs of social activity and human interaction)
Churches and other gathering being restricted, children will be victims of idleness and will not benefit from other learning/exchanging opportunities like religious and civic education in their village (Itorero). This will cause the misbehaviour of children and very often they will escape to the attention/vigilance of parents to engage in harmful activities that may even expose them to Covid -19.
All the above-mentioned concerns increase risks of physical and humiliating punishments to the children and they are rarely in a position to report such egregious acts due to limitation of movements.
- Expanding public education, awareness campaigns, hotlines, and other services for children at risk of violence in the home and community or online sexual exploitation;
- Providing economic assistance to low-income families to help them meet basic needs without resorting to child labour or child exploitation
- Putting in place specific protections for vulnerable children
- Providing practical support to parents and caregivers
- Increasing awareness on parental care and positive discipline.
- Prioritizing the restoration of child services as lockdown measures wind down
- Increased education on reproductive health for teenagers
- Increased information sharing/ action taking/ regular assessment through JOC at sector and District level.
- Continued collaboration / exchange between partners in child protection.
It is AJPRODHO’s appeal to the concerned government institutions, MIGEPROFE, NCC, MINALOC, MINISANTE, MINEDUC, NCC, RIB and other concerned institutions to discuss and find considerably option and take appropriate measures as per above recommendations.