Recalling 2020: How COVID-19 impacted kids

2020 was a topsy-turvy year and the new normal kept us away from a lot. As the year comes to a close, here’s a look back at the fears Indian children had to undergo

By Puja Marwaha
Published: Tuesday 29 December 2020

India entered into a countrywide lockdown nine months ago to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and our life hasn’t been the same since.

A year ago, as we were preparing to welcome 2020, the virus was a negligible patch of cloud in the distant corner of the sky: A mysterious, flu-like ailment was making rounds in China. A couple of months later, we came across the first signs of the ‘new normal’ awash with guidelines telling us to stay indoors, use face masks and hand sanitizers and wash hands.

Things changed pretty fast after that: The lockdown came with rules without a filter: The society’s crème de la crème, the marginalised, the elderly, the young, and the children were all equally hit.

While initial reports suggested that the virus did not infect children as much, the pandemic certainly left social, psychological, economic as well as educational impacts on them.

Children have missed out on a year’s summer and winter. With schools shut, they have not been able to meet friends. More importantly, they cannot enjoy the freedom to run around in the open and play — one of the most important factors contributing to their growth and development.

Parents were spared from fetching their young ones from the playground or being angry at them for dirtying their clothes or bruising their knees, but they saw their children’s right to a happy childhood, filled with fun and play, recede into the horizon.

What has it been like for children to live in a world of uncertainty for close to a year? As an adult, that would be a difficult question to answer.

CRY donned the childhood hat and tried to figure out what children must have missed the most while coping with the sudden changes ushered in by the pandemic. Here’s what we found:

Missing out on school

The children did not only lose a year of education. Schools are not only about books and classrooms, neither they are about giving exams and getting promoted to the next class. They are also about sharing stories and lunchboxes. It’s a place that nurtures the overall emotional growth and development of every child, just like a home does.

Missing out on friends

Meeting friends outside of home took a backseat due to COVID-19. Face-to-face meetings with friends were soon replaced by video calls and virtual meet-ups. Hugging each other was out of the question.

Going out to play / inaccessibility to open spaces

They were confined to their homes and not allowed to access open spaces / playgrounds, another vital factor that contributes to their growth.

Impact on mental health

One of the main reasons that made children feel stressed / anxious was a lack of basic freedom to move out of home. They felt ‘trapped at home’.

 Impact on physical health

It would be incorrect to not mention that the ‘stay at home’ norm would also significantly impact children’s physical health. Children’s outdoor activities have already reduced due to lack of playgrounds and a heavy dependence on digital screens. The lockdown only made it worse.

Post COVID-19, the challenge would be to reduce screen time and ensure they get back to their routine outdoor playtime to undo these adverse effects.  

Missing out on immunisation

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in April 2020 released a statement saying “as COVID-19 continues to spread globally, over 117 million children in 37 countries may miss out on receiving life-saving measles vaccine”.

As stepping out of home was restricted, Anganwadis shut down and nurses were diverted to COVID-19 duties. Infants missed out on their usual dose of vaccines.

Missing mid-day meals

For a significant chunk of India’s children — particularly the underprivileged and marginalised — the source daily meal was mid-day meals at school. When schools were shut, children missed out on their daily dose of nutrition served at school and stayed and slept on empty stomachs.

Impact on menstrual health and hygiene

Just like MDM, girls in rural / marginalised areas found it significantly challenging to take care of their menstrual health and hygiene due to inaccessibility of sanitary napkins. Low stock in stores, lack of supply due to movement restriction and lack of income to afford sanitary napkins aggravated the situation.  

Coping with the new world of digital education

Going digital was the only way out to maintain normalcy. From office work to meets to events, everything shifted to the e-world and education was no exception. Though there have been many challenges about accessibility, reach and benefits about online classes, children adapted to the new world of digital education.

However, virtual learning made them miss out on the classroom ambience, physical presence of a teacher and other students.

This year taught us that humankind is resilient and can fight back with all its might, anything that poses a threat. It restored our faith in kindness and humanity, in courage and solidarity.

What I will also remember is how wonderfully children adapted to the new normal, and how beautifully they stood beside their own, lending a helping hand and reaching out to those in need. Being with CRY I get to hear such heart-warming stories every day.

As adults, we need to step up our game. Let’s resolve to replace the fear of missing out with joy. And let’s help our children make the most of this slowdown by finding joy in little things, counting our blessings and reaching out to the ones on the margins.

Puja Marwaha is CEO, Child Rights and You

Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth 

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