Concern over Covid-19 pandemic’s toll on children

Tuesday, August 24th, 2021 00:00 |

Children rights advocates have expressed concern over the number of minors and youths dropping out of learning institutions, and calling for urgent practical strategies to address the growing challenge.

Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI) Chief Executive Officer, Patrick Onyango said  COVID-19 has increased suffering of children from vulnerable communities through missing school due to lack of money among other inequalities.

Onyango who was addressing a virtual press conference ahead of the 6th Regional Psychosocial Support Forum in Maputo, Mozambique - slated for October 13-15, 2021 - said school closures due to Covid-19 and lack of resources for e-learning among other negative outcomes, has exposed children to concerning levels.

The other challenges the children are exposed to include, loss of caregivers or family members, loss of family income, increased violence at home and a lack of access to child protection services.

“If children fail to return to school, cases of unsafe sexual practices, early and unintended pregnancies will increase,” he noted.

According to UNICEF in Kenya, early marriages constitute 4 percent of children who are sold to suitors at the age of 15 and 23 percent. In other studies by Child Marriage Around the World and Girls Not Brides say child marriages constitute 18 percent of children given out as wives to elderly men.

Some of the negative effects on young girls arising from the current situation, Onyango said include being less informed on nurturing care; struggling with stigma and exclusion.

“Pregnant adolescents often lose their social networks, are rejected by family, religious networks and their partners,” he added.

Unfortunately, he noted that girls, boys and youth face some of these challenges without receiving adequate psychosocial support and access to mental health services.

“Stakeholders should invest in psychosocial support interventions to promote the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of children and youth,” he said.

Other stakeholders who addressed journalists said the upcoming forum in Maputo is aimed at promoting awareness on the importance of psychosocial Support and Mental Health to girls, boys and youth.

Divina James Kabalo, a psychosocial support expert said 10 young people will be selected from various youth networks in the 13 countries under REPSSI jurisdiction to participate in the largely virtual conference.

“At the forum, participants will share innovative practice and latest research data that impact on the provision of Psychosocial Support and Mental Health to girls, boys and youth,” she said.

The Forum will also promote awareness and understanding of the importance of integrating psychosocial support (PSS) in humanitarian emergencies, early childhood development, sexual and reproductive health and protection & livelihoods in order to help children and youth thrive and become productive citizens.

Themed, ‘Innovate. Integrate. Thrive’, the Forum will be hybrid – combining physical and virtual interactions and will bring together over 300 delegates drawn from a wide range of partners in the region and internationally, representatives from the regional economic blocks, national governments, civil society, academia, international cooperating partners, practitioners, children and Youth.

“As the pandemic continues to affect socioeconomic development, claim lives, cause fear and the isolation; the mental health and psychosocial wellbeing of individuals is adversely affected,” Kabalo said.

This forum is happening in the context of COVID-19, which has caused an unparalleled public health crisis not seen in recent history.

Other key partners involved include Sweden, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, RIATT ESA, APSSI, The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Terre des hommes (Tdh) Germany, World Education Initiative and Global Social Service Alliance.

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