During disease outbreaks it is always the most vulnerable and marginalized children and their families who suffer the most. According to The Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action, beyond the immediate health impacts, a disease outbreak also presents secondary risks to children’s well-being and protection. It is therefore vital that every measure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic considers children’s safety and security as well as upholding their rights.
The situations of children vary greatly. Children with disabilities, children living in institutions, girls married before 18, children who live on the street or are economically and/or sexually exploited, indigenous children and those without birth certificates are just a few examples of children deprived of their basic rights. They are the ones who are going to be disproportionately affected by this pandemic.
Based on what we know so far, children have the lowest risk of COVID-19 infection, but they can still contract the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-COV2, and also die from the novel coronavirus. The case numbers updated daily by the Health Ministry are not disaggregated for age and sex. The only complete age- and sex-disaggregated data of COVID-19 patients published on the worldometers website is from China. It shows that only 0.9 percent of COVID-19 patients were 0-9 years of age and 1.2 percent were aged 10-19 years. No death from COVID-19 has been reported among children below the age of 10 and only 0.21 percent of the patients aged 10-19 have died.
In Indonesia, kawalcovid19.com presents sex- and age-disaggregated data of COVID-19 cases, but in many cases age and sex are not identified. Only nine cases of children aged 0-18 years were identified as of March 31.
Tragically, two children aged 12 and 13 from Belgium and the United Kingdom, respectively, were infected with the novel coronavirus and have died.
Beyond fatalities, the pandemic is affecting children worldwide and in Indonesia in other severe ways. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, more than 1.54 billion learners or 89.5 percent of enrolled students in 188 countries have been affected by either full or localized school closures. In Jakarta alone, more than 8,000 schools, including community learning centers and special schools for disabled children, are either fully or partially closed.
Moreover, children risk getting neglected when primary caregivers are quarantined as patients or health workers. A teen with cerebral palsy in China reportedly died when his father was in intensive care and the social worker failed to feed him for several days. There is also a risk to children’s health as a result of closured community health centers (Posyandu) in several cities, such as Bandung and Depok.
With millions of people now confined to their homes for weeks or months, we hear about a rise in cases of domestic violence. China and France have reportedly seen an increase in domestic abuse since lockdowns were put in place. Children can become caught in the middle and even become victims of abuse. When the livelihoods of their parents or primary caregivers are disrupted, children may suffer social and psychological distress, not to mention failing to get their daily nutrition.
In Indonesia, parents have expressed their struggle to help children learn at home, especially when fathers still work. This could lead to child abuse if parents feel too stressed.
The Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone forced girls to become primary caregivers as well as frontline health responders for sick relatives, they became more isolated due to school closures; they were forced into sex work, and they experienced sexual assault by community members.
Meanwhile, a disruption of already weak sexual and reproductive health services led to 60 percent of girls aged 15-19 years in some communities becoming pregnant. There was a lack of humanitarian response catering to girls’ specific needs. We cannot allow that to happen here in Indonesia.
Save the Children has several recommendations to fulfil children’s rights to survival, development and protection in Indonesia’s COVID-19 response. In terms of health, immunization and antenatal care for pregnant women should remain available despite Posyandu closures.
Mental health and psychosocial support are crucial for children and caregivers, especially for frontline workers. Health workers must also be trained to safeguard children. It is vital that children receive family-based care with parenting and psychosocial support when their primary caregivers are in quarantine as patients or health workers.
Children who are in facilities including orphanages and juvenile prisons should be protected by limiting visits by outsiders yet still being connected with their families via online communication.
Child-friendly information must be distributed to children explaining the current situation. In education, it is important to ensure virtual distance learning is accessible by all children and teachers, including those without internet, or other alternative home-based learning should exist for them.
Boarding schools must take children home, unless the situation is unsafe for them to do so. For the business sector, private companies must enact a flexible work-from-home policy, so that both men and women can support children’s home-based learning and monitor their health. The government must extend social protection schemes for families who might lose their income as a result of this unprecedented crisis.
Save the Children Indonesia is supporting the government to prevent the spread of the disease especially among vulnerable groups of children through promotion of a healthy lifestyle that leads to behavior change. These cover washing hands with soap, maintaining self-health and hygiene, the dissemination of home-based learning materials, positive discipline training for parents and children, violence management training for social workers, and psychological first aid hotline more than 100,000 current beneficiaries and public at large. This is the time for all of us to support each other, to show solidarity with those less fortunate. Together, we can beat COVID-19, because no one is safe until everyone is safe.
Policy advocacy specialist at Save the Children Indonesia
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.