MAGAZINE Voices Pushpesh Pant Anand Neelakantan Anuja Chandramouli Ravi Shankar Sathya Saran Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev Buffet People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment NEW DELHI April 25 2021 SUNDAY PAGES 12 The Covid Generation India's children stare at a grim and desperate future By Noor Anand Chawla and ayesha singh S urviving a catastrophe requires resilience of the spirit, not just the body. Studies on the effect of the coronavirus wave on the Covid-19 generation—children conceived, carried or born in the world around these times—portend an alarming future for the new bunch. The template for the emotional and social wellbeing of these children is already being formed as alienation, parental job losses, deaths of family members, educational disruptions, domestic violence, forced home confinement, sexual violence, trafficking, child marriage, excessive digital exposure and warped human interactions have plunged the children of India, and humanity as a whole into an almost insurmountable crisis. A UNICEF report in March projects that when audited, India will have the highest number of Covid-19 related deaths among children under five, and the highest number of maternal deaths in South Asia in 2020; 29,0000 such mortalities have already occurred in the region. “The number of children who are hungry, isolated, abused, anxious, living in poverty and forced into marriage has increased. At the same time, their access to education, socialisation and essential services, including health, nutrition and protection, has decreased. The signs that children will bear the scars of the pandemic for years to come are unmistakable,” says a worried Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. What kind of India has the Covid-19 generation been born into? CHILDLINE 1098, the 24-hour toll-free helpline of NO CHILD’S PLAY the Ministry of Women and Child Development for children in distress, saw a 50 percent increase from regular call volumes in 2020. It received 4,60,000 calls in 21 days from March 20 to April 10, pleading for protection. Of these, 6,355 calls concerned child marriage, and 898 of these were averted despite the lockdown, as reported by the ministry Sixteen-year-old . Sunita Kumari did not receive help on time. Her father summoned her back to the village when he learnt about the worsening pandemic situation in Delhi. She was married off to a much older man within a week. In two weeks, her husband lost his job as a construction worker. He took away Kumari’s money—all of which she had saved working as domestic help. He took to alcohol and began losing his temper. One such episode of domestic violence left Kumari with A paper published in the Indian Journal of Practical Paediatrics points out several alarming factors affecting children Lockdown prevents scheduled immunisations from taking place, leading to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. ossicular chain damage. She cannot hear from one ear now. The Cage Syndrome Covid-19 has impacted relationships and social interactions among children and adolescents the most. Dr Anuneet Sabharwal, psychiatrist and founder of The Happy Tree, a de-addiction and mental health hospital in Delhi, has dealt with two separate cases of attempted suicide by adolescents who broke up with their girlfriends during the lockdown. He blames the lack of social interaction that makes children feel caged up at home. Even babies and toddlers are keenly feeling the effects of their parents’ mental breakdowns. Neha Arora confesses to having had more than one meltdowns in the recent past that she took out on her six-month-old baby It was not . in her control, she says. “My husband, a merchant navy officer, is mostly away from home. My in-laws are in a different city I was hugely . dependent on my mother, who lives close by, for my children’s care needs. But since they’re both in their 70s, we decided to not visit each other given the rapid spread of the virus. I am now left with two demanding babies, a house to clean, food to cook, and a huge emotional vacuum,” shares Arora, who resides in Delhi and works as a secretary at an embassy (that she didn’t want to name). She then spoke to a psychologist friend, who taught her stress-management tools. It’s been three weeks and Arora has been less impulsive. The risk of postpartum depression for new mothers has always been high but has grown substantially during the pandemic. The anxiety, burnout and acute loneliness they feel are transmitted to their children. Language or speech impediments or delay in developing appropriate social skills are becoming increasingly common. Dr Ruchi Sharma, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Manipal Hospital, Dwarka, Delhi, says it is important to be aware of maternal mental health issues. This can only be done by giving mothers special attention after delivery, and looking out for abnormal behaviour changes while extending tacit support. Several e-platforms have been launched by the government to make education accessible to everyone, but these may not cater to children with special needs. Medical access and treatment of chronic and acute medical/surgical non-Covid conditions is hampered. The Learning Crisis Noida-based 17-year-old Aviral Chowdhury (name changed) goes to a boarding school far from home. School shut due to the pandemic, and once back with his family, the restrictions put a full-stop to physical activity and social interaction that were the fulcrum of his life. Ironically, studies, never Aviral’s strong suit, were the only outlet to interact with the outside world since going online. Over time, the teenager grew moody and anxious, refusing to study . His mother, Simar, consulted a Reiki healer without his knowledge, to help him focus on his studies and deal with his anger issues. She feels he is calmer now. Delhi-based certified healing practitioner Anisha Dutt has seen many such cases since last year. By setting positive intentions and clearing negative energies, she has helped several children to concentrate better on online lessons, deal with screen fatigue. While some believe in the power of alternate healing, most parents choose to consult mental health Children living on the streets are deprived of access to food and healthcare. “Parents’ separation leads to tremendous emotional tension inside the child’s mind, which results in behavioral, and in some cases, even cognitive problems.” Priyanka Joshi Founder of Sanity Daily, a mental health portal professionals like Sinchita Bhattacharya, consultant psychologist and wellness coach based in the national capital. She says parents too are experiencing mental health disorders arising from the pandemic. “There is more domestic violence, with fathers drinking excessively to reduce stress,” she says. An ORF study found that the closure of 1.5 million schools and lockdowns in 2020 brought chaos to the lives of 247 million students of elementary and secondary schools. More than six million girls and boys were already not attending school before the pandemic. Since only 24 percent of Indian households have internet access, online education serves the needs of only one in four children. But a study published in April 2020 in the prestigious medical journal Lancet had estimated that by closing schools, Covid-19-related deaths could be brought down by two to four percent. India closed down schools on March 16, 2020, and adopted online learning. However, an April 2020 survey of 23 states among schoolchildren in Class I to XII found that only 43.9 percent of them had access to smartphones, another 43.9 percent to basic phones, while a significant 12.0 percent did not have access to either smartphones or basic Turn to page 2 There has been a significant increase in child abuse.
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