The Covid-19 pandemic and measures to prevent its spread have negatively impacted children in some predictable and some less predictable ways. The socio-economic struggles faced by children worsened during the covid-19 with some failing to access justice due to the restricted movement.
After more period in lockdown, issues such as food insecurity and economic hardships have become more obvious, but underneath these realities of the Covid-19 pandemic’s effect on Zimbabwe, lie the fears and anxieties of some younger voices in society.
Speaking during a Virtual Social Work Chat, Samuel Mahuntse Simbine a Social Work Educator with the Midlands State University (MSU), School of Social Work and focuses more on Research, Child Protection and Indigenous Knowledge Systems explored some of the challenges that children faced during the covid-19 induced lockdown.
“The socioeconomic challenges induced by Covid-19 include but not limited to, likelihoods options for the general populace were interrupted and some will not recover from the shock, at some point social services and social development related institutions could not operate fully due to travel restrictions, under 5 children were in danger as most clinics turned such children away from accessing monthly check ups as a measure to cut the numbers visiting hospitals, SRH services were interrupted hence high teen pregnancy being registered.
“In relation to access to justice for children the major changes include, late reporting of cases due to limited movement and in some instances child survivors of abuse were locked with the perpetrators who made sure children would not report. Late reporting especially for sexual abuse cases is dangerous in that it may cause HIV infections, unwanted pregnancies and destroying of forensic evidence required by the courts. In most cases children failed to access health services that should be administered in 72hours. It is possible that some cases were never reported.
“Another challenge was that of confidentiality. Children and their caregivers had to disclose abuse to uniformed forces manning roadblocks in most cases against their wish to be allowed to pass the roadblocks. Social work is all about human rights and social justice but it was difficult to uphold such during the lockdown period. The statutory instrument passed override all the other pieces of legislation and policies guiding child protection,” he said.
New HIV infections among young children have decreased by half in the last decade, however, service disruptions due to COVID-19 could reverse these gains. The number of new HIV infections is projected to nearly double if 100 per cent of the population loses access to treatment services over a six-month period, and the number of paediatric deaths will similarly soar
According to UNICEF as families lose their sources of income due to COVID-19 and the global economy has been plunged into a recession, more households are falling into monetary poverty. For the poorest families, including those who do not have access to social protection, the situation is dire. The global socioeconomic crisis caused by the pandemic could push 142 million more children into monetary poor households in developing countries by the end of the year, according to projections as of November 2020. The total number of children living in poor households globally could reach just over 725 million in the absence of any mitigating policies. Nearly two-thirds of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
This according to Elizabeth Makonese a social worker working for the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, has resulted in most children falling prey to sexual exploitation largely because of a multidimensional poverty that hit the country.
“Covid-19 caused child protection systems to be closed and this increased vulnerability of children. During the lockdown all deviant members of society were brought back into the community hence an increase in SGBV and child sexual exploitation and abuse. As I speak we have the highest number of teenage pregnancies, STIs and new HIV infections. The other challenge brought by covid-19 lockdown is multidimensional poverty which becomes a drive for child sexual exploitation as young people look for livelihoods. The police are currently overwhelmed by the number of statutory rape cases hence they are reluctant to open some of the cases,” she said.
The socio-economic impact of COVID-19 will be felt hardest by the world’s most vulnerable children. Many already live in poverty, and the consequences of COVID-19 response measures risk plunging them further into hardship. With most parents in Zimbabwe struggling to maintain their livelihoods and income, there is need for government and the civic society organisations to scale up social protection measures while also providing social safety nets and cash transfers, protecting jobs, working with employers to support working parents, and prioritizing policies that connect families to life-saving health care, nutrition and education.