Impact of COVID-19 on children during lockdown: Cause of concern

    08-May-2020
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Meijianthaipou Ruangmei (Francis)
India is going through phase lockdown 3.0: day 5, which is we are already in 45 days in lockdown due to COVID-19 pandemic. COVID 19 is going to stay with us for a very long time and this cause further uncertainty phases in the society. The cases of COVID-19 are on the spike and the numbers of positive cases are increasing, in which the increasing trend is of cause of concern. We have learned and experienced and lived with it through this trial time so far; the countrywide school closures, factories and industries shut, company and business enterprises hit, college and university students in bleak about their career, mass exodus of migrant workers with no hope for return to work, unemployment rate shoots up, small traders and daily wage labourers are severely affected and stranded passengers and students. What is more worrying is the condition of the poor children, those living in slums where no piped water to drink, and to follow preventive measures such as social distancing and handwash. This is a technologically transform world where learning happens exponentially and what we had learned is that this pandemic hits the country not just economically, nor just medically, nor anxiety, stress and depression. It hits different section of our society and the most severely hit or worst hit is the impact seen on the poorest of our children. It has been reported that there are around 20 lakh street children India. This pandemic has pushed even further more. It is a disturbing reality to know that one in four street children go to sleep hungry. There has been no clean water to sanitize themselves or no masks being availed then.
 Their condition during the lockdown is disturbing. Various concerns are being raised by UNICEF, WHO, and Ministry of Child and Family welfare, and other voluntary organisations to protect the children in need during this crisis. NDTV has begun campaign on raising funds under the theme, ‘making the invisible visible’. It is a matter of serious concern on how as a responsible citizen can advocate for the most vulnerable, dependant, helpless section of Indian population. Their efforts would be in vain if every citizens of India don’t cooperate with their initiations.
Although children are not the face of this pandemic or much less infected by this crisis globally. However, this crisis has a profound effect on their wellbeing. Children of all ages, and in all countries, are being affected, in particular by the socio-economic impacts and other mitigation measures. This is a universal crisis and, for some children, the impact will be lifelong.
Although everyone felt the harmful effects of this crisis, this pandemic expected to be most damaging for children in the poorest countries, poorest neighborhoods, and for those in already disadvantaged or vulnerable situations. So to note to your attention that there was an incident in India in which 12 year old girl died on 150 km walk from Telangana to Chhattisgarh while making her way back home. There could have been many more incidents, however it speaks volumes of how we have failed as a society and we have failed to protect our children in our society. It had been very disturbing scenario in which children are illegally employed in mines, factories and brick kilns were being abandoned due to lockdown. They were being starved, isolated and neglected by the owners as they are being scared of being booked. Now our question is where will the children go? There must have been hundreds and hundreds that are being trapped and nobody knows how and what kind of situation they are living there. 
In such situation what are more effecting children during this lockdown is another kind of pandemic which is ‘child pornography and online child sexual abuse’. Child pornography is on the rise and online child sexual abuse is a growing menace. This reality is brought to light by The Child Protection Fund who conducted a study and brought out their their reports on child sexual abuse materials. According to them, ‘The nationwide lockdown to contain the COVID-19 outbreak has exposed a dark underbelly of our society – millions of paedophiles, child rapists and child pornography addicts have increased their activities online, making the internet extremely unsafe for our children. Data from Pornhub, the largest pornography website in the world, shows that traffic from India on its website has increased by 95% between 24th and 26th March 2020, as compared to their average traffic, pre-Coronavirus. This increase has been fuelled by Pornhub making its premium content free during the lockdown. A significant segment of this spike can be attributed to the demand for child pornography content. This is substantiated by online website monitoring data during the same time period, which shows that search for keywords like ‘child porn’, ‘sexy child’ and ‘teen sex videos’ has also jumped, and is projected to spike further in the coming weeks. This presents a chilling reality of the extreme threat faced by India’s children during this period of lockdown’.
Because of children trusting nature the increased demand for online CSAM makes children more vulnerable to online sexual predators. As children spend more time online during the lockdown, they are often unsupervised. International agencies like Europol, the United Nations and ECPAT are reporting that paedophiles and child pornography addicts have increased activity to target children online to ‘groom’ them - befriending them on social media, building an emotional connection and luring them to perform sexual activities through photos and videos. They may also record and store this content to distribute it, and use it to extort the child to commit further abuse and exploitation.
The sheer number of Indian men who actively engage in child sexual abuse online presents a deeply worrying reality of our nation. Some of the key findings of child protection fund could be mentioned. First there was a high monthly demand which showed an average of 5 million per month in 100 cities. Secondly there was a specific demand in which the content such as ‘school sex videos’ and ‘teen sex’ where most individuals were interested in. thirdly there was an increase in demand for violent content which  exhibited explicit intent for videos where children were choking, bleeding, tortured, in pain or screaming.
The demand for this kind of content grew as much as 200% during the project duration. This indicates that Indian men are not ‘satisfied’ with generic child pornography and demand violent and exploitative content. The demand for  explicitly specific contents, child pornography are increasing  also highest in North in New Delhi, Ludhiana, Raipura, Lucknow, Chandigarh and in the East in Imphal, Guwahati, Kolkata, Howrah and Shillong etc and some other part of cities. As a society we must not only demand immediate action to crack down on perpetrators, platforms and internet service providers; but also educate our children to protect themselves, and identify and report sexual abuse. Every parent should be cautious and wise enough to not let children be engaged for a long time in access to internet. It is vital that this information should be consumed by every members of the society to protect children from falling prey into predators’ hands.
The United Nations had produced on how this crisis had affected the children in many ways such as falling into poverty, exacerbating the learning crisis, threats to child survival and health, and risk for child safety.
Almost all the countries had imposed country wide lockdown and 188 coun­tries have imposed countrywide school closures, affecting more than 1.5 billion children and youth. In addition to this malnutrition is expected as 368.5 million children across 143 countries that normally rely on school meals for a reliable source of daily nutrition must now look to other sources. The risks to child mental health and well being are also considerable. Therefore, every society must adhere to specific protections be put in place for vulnerable children including refugees, the displaced, homeless, migrants, minorities, slum-dwellers, children living with disabilities, street children, living in refugee settlements, and children in institutions.
At this critical juncture where United Nations and countries strive to protection of children in this crisis, one must also look into the psychosocial intervention and psychosocial care and support during this lockdown. India is vast country with approximately 44 millions of children and it is so demanding that a strategic appropriate action should be wisely planned and provides intervention measures during this lockdown and the coming post pandemic.
To be contd