The Jakarta Post
Parents and the government must pay more attention to children’s health and education as the pandemic casts a shadow over the lives of Indonesian children, the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) has said.
The pandemic has constrained some children’s rights to play, get an education and access health services, while others who have experienced abuse have been unable to report the violations, KPAI deputy chairwoman Rita Pranawati told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.
These rights are protected under the 2014 law on child protection.
“If these [rights] are ignored, the child could be neglected and the child’s best interest of having a proper upbringing could be jeopardized,” she said.
She urged parents to follow health protocols, educate their kids about the policies and ensure that children had their nutritional needs met. The government must also provide health services, she added, and spread COVID-19 awareness among children as they were among the most vulnerable age groups.
Rita is one of many advocates who have warned about the dangers of neglecting children’s rights to health and education in COVID-19 policies as attention and money shifts towards mitigation.
Neglecting children’s health rights, in particular, could cost lives. Aid group World Vision International said in a report on April 6 that the lives of up to 30 million children could be at risk as a result of the pandemic’s secondary health impacts, such as diseases like malaria, a lack of immunizations and exacerbated malnutrition.
“We are wrong if we think this is not a children’s disease. Experience tells us that when epidemics overwhelm health systems, the impact on children is deadly. They are the most vulnerable as other diseases and malnutrition go untreated,” World Vision International president Andrew Morley said in a statement.
The Indonesian Pediatric Society (IDAI) recommends parents continue their children’s immunizations at home and advises health services to offer the immunizations with appropriate infection control.
The current consensus holds that young people and children usually have the lowest risk of COVID-19 infection, mainly because they represent a small fraction of confirmed cases in many countries.
But the IDAI said illnesses and deaths among children as a result of COVID-19 were relatively high. IDAI data shows that as of May 18, at least 129 children out of 3,324 child patients under surveillance (PDP) had died, although no details were given regarding the cause of death. PDP refers to people with COVID-19 symptoms who have not been confirmed to have the illness.
The organization also noted that 584 confirmed COVID-19 patients in the country were children and 14 of those children had died from the disease.
“These findings show that child illness and death as a result of COVID-19 is high in Indonesia, and it proves that it is false that the age groups are invulnerable to COVID-19 and will only suffer from mild illness,” the IDAI said in a statement.
Government data shows that children under 5 years old account for 0.9 percent of the total COVID-19 deaths as of Thursday, while the figure stands at 0.6 percent for those between 6 and 17 years old.
About 2.3 percent of all people found to be COVID-19-positive in Indonesia are children under 5 years old, while those aged 6 to 17 account for 5.5 percent.
The two age groups have both the lowest fatality rates and the lowest infection rates of any age group.
But health concerns are not the only problem. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) global monitoring platform showed that more than 68.26 million students in Indonesia had been affected by nationwide school closures as of Thursday.
A recent KPAI survey also shows that nearly 80 percent of respondents have not had direct interaction with teachers other than receiving and submitting homework during online sessions. Over half of the respondents did not have internet connections at home.
Over three fourths of them were also “unhappy” with long-distance learning, the survey found.
Critics have said that the nation’s digital divide has weighed heavily on schools, which have been expected to shift to online learning with little to no preparation. But many are concerned that opening schools prematurely could endanger students and teachers. The government has begun discussing the implementation of a “new normal” policy in schools.
Overall, Indonesia has fared worse than some of its Southeast Asian neighbors in the protection of children’s rights. It ranks 110th out of 182 countries on the 2020 KidsRights index by Dutch NGO KidsRights.
To address the problem, the Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry and Wahana Visi Indonesia – or World Vision Indonesia – launched guidelines on Thursday for Community-Based Integrated Child Protection (PATBM) volunteers to encourage public participation in upholding children's rights.
The guidelines instruct volunteers and the greater public on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among children and how to counsel children who need support, among other policies.
Valentina Gintings, assistant to the ministry’s child protection undersecretary, said her office had issued four other protocols on how to handle victims of child violence, raise children, assimilate former child convicts into society and manage child data during the pandemic.
“If we do not understand or care about them, then who else will? Adults provide the places where children can get protection,” she said.