The lockdown measures have increased the risk of children becoming victims of domestic violence, bullying and other forms of abuse.
Many countries are reporting sharp rises in domestic violence. Calls to domestic violence hotlines have increased dramatically globally. There has been a string of humiliating and degrading punishments meted out to children and young people at home. Children are shedding silent tears while bearing the effects of aggressive behaviour patterns from adults with whom they are locked down at home.
The lockdown measures have created extra stresses for many parents. Apart from the crisis brought about by the psychological impact of confinement and fear of contracting the virus, a number of parents are disturbed by the uncertainty of the future of their financial wellbeing, while some are already suffering from the pain of complete loss of source of income.
Frustration is setting in the lives of many adults while some are already experiencing it. While this is the case, a number of people are not in touch with their inner disposition and consequently unaware of their unstable emotional and mental health. People are going through crisis and possible depressive moments as a result of the lockdown. Children are not left out.
They are also restless. Being children, they are confused at what is happening in the world. Nothing like this has happened before and was never anticipated. They are not spared from experiencing the psychological impact of the pandemic, even though they may appear lively and active. They feel helpless when they notice that the adults, they look onto are overwhelmed by the situation.
The stress and anxiety over health risks of the virus, isolation, school closures and uncertainty of the future is telling on them. There is unexpressed confusion in the heads of children from the information they are receiving from social media and television. How many parents have taken time to explain to their children what is happening in the world? As a right, children need to know what is going on.
The situation of some children has been made worse due to violence from the adults with whom they are locked down at home. Children are assaulted both physically and psychologically during this lockdown more than any other period, mostly by adults who are not able to handle their own lockdown emotional stress. Adults get irritated and mad at their children at any little provocation, and sometimes without justifiable reasons.
The outcome of consistent yelling and beating on children, in addition to the confusion of the lockdown, is the feeling of insecurity. A child who is consistently under threat feels unsafe and withdrawn. Those who have access to the internet will take refuge in the net and spend their time online where they are exposed to other forms of abuse such as cyber bullying and online sexual exploitation. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown has brought about a serious crisis in the protection and rights of children.
Domestic violence and abuse of the rights of children is quite high this time. I have listened to parents who complained about what they called unbearable or unruly behavior of their children and I came to discover that most of the problems, after hearing from the children, are coming from the parents who are not in the right frame of mind to make a balance judgment on their children's misdemeanor. The situation of those children already living in violent family situations has worsened, while some adults who have not been violent are becoming violent.
Children are often the hidden victims of any crisis and this one is no different. While the virus is apparently deadlier for the elderly, children still suffer in other untold ways that nobody remembers to give attention to. The worst still is that the adults that children look up to for answers to the so many questions going on in their heads are the ones who are the sources of the abuse, thereby adding to their woes. They are the ones making the already bad situation worse.
Needless to say that when it comes to domestic violence on children and child abuse incidences, the girl child suffers more; she is always at a very difficult situation. We are told by experts that violence on children have severe long-term effects on their mental health and development.
Home should be a safe place for children. Parents should ensure their children do not become victims of the effects of the measures taken to contain COVID-19. Frequent emotional outburst on children may be a sign of tensions arising from lockdown. Avoid any corrective measures that involve inflicting physical pain on the child.
Any form of punishment including shouting and yelling should have the aim of making the child a better person. Discuss the COVID-19 and the lockdown with the children, as often as possible, to help them digest all the information surrounding the pandemic. When this is all over, we expect that every child should be able to return to normal life (school) with minimal distress or trauma.
Many children will need counseling and psychosocial support after the pandemic. School heads and school guidance and counselors should be aware of this and get ready to address it.
There are so many scripts circulating on the media giving detailed directives on what schools should put in place and how they should prepare to receive students, as well as the guidelines on the lifestyle in school upon resumption. Sadly enough, none of these write-ups has said anything about how to rehabilitate the children who are coming back to school emotionally broken and with psychological injuries. School management, teachers and parents, should ensure that adequate provision is put in place to attend to the special needs of this category of children as they come back to school.
Rev. Ifeanyi Mbaegbu is the Principal, Marist College, Yangoji, FCT Abuja.