KAMPALA – The recent lockdown and other ongoing restrictions have led to the depletion of household incomes and erosion of livelihoods that are threatening the wellbeing of the children in Uganda, a new report by UNICEF, Uganda country office dated 9 September says.
The report titled; “The socio-economic impact of Covid 19 on children” says the COVID-19 pandemic has had severe social, emotional and academic repercussions on children no matter the country.
The report signed by the UNICEF country representative Dr Munir Safieldin says that the Covid 19 pandemic has not only exposed inequalities affecting the rights of children but has also had heavy impact on the lives of children-their well being, safety and future, through the continuous disruptions including lockdowns.
“The recent lockdown has worsened pre-existing challenges with regard to childcare and learning, as nearly 15 million learners are locked out of school and it has also elevated child protection concerns, and compounded risks of malnutrition and poor child health,” reads the report in part.
The report adds that the recent lockdown and other ongoing restrictions have led to the depletion of household incomes and erosion of livelihoods and that the plight of the working poor has deepened, with a disproportionate impact on children.
The report is one in a series that discusses the impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID19) on children in Uganda with the main objective to highlight key concerns around the impact of the pandemic on children, and the resultant bearing on the attainment of the third National Development Plan, Vision 2040, and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Dr Julian Abeso, a pediatrician [Mbale national referral] said as COVID-19 continues to spread, children and families are facing new and increased stressors, resulting in increased risk of injury, physical, sexual and emotional abuse; neglect; exploitation (including child labour and sexual exploitation); and stigma.
She explained that these traumatic experiences have also substantially affected children’s physical, psychological and emotional health across the country.
“As with any emergency, children are often disproportionately affected, especially by the secondary effects and this requires urgent attention,” said Dr Abeso.
Mr Joseph Weyusya, former Community Development officer at Manafwa district and now director at African rural Development Initiatives [ARDI} said the vast majority of children are reporting an increase in negative feelings due to COVID-19 and that this has increased with the duration of school closures.
ARDI is an NGO catering for child mothers from the districts of Manafwa and Namisindwa.
UNICEF country representative Dr Munir Safieldin said more than ever, the pandemic has demonstrated the necessity of child sensitive social protection to reduce poverty and vulnerabilities caused by job loss, depletion of household savings and assets, and restrictions in movement and trading activities as witnessed during the recent lockdown.
The report adds that a considerable size of informal and small-scale enterprises has folded, and many big businesses are also distressed and that this will have a knock-on effect on the size of tax revenue to be collected in the current fiscal year.
It says further that with under performance of domestic revenues amidst a surge in expenditure related to the pandemic, the need for additional financing, including through domestic and international loans has heightened.
While the discussion in this report/ bulletin includes the impact of the pandemic since its onset, the main emphasis is on the 42-day lockdown in June and July 2021 and it also focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on the macro-economy through a child rights lens.
The report in this regard, examines how underperformance of the macro-economy, as a result of the lockdown, is having a knock-on effect on household incomes, debt situation, public finance investment in social sectors, and ultimately on child well-being.
“By taking a deep dive into child-specific issues, this report/bulletin aims to complement joint and aggregate analysis by the Government of Uganda and other agencies including the United Nations in Uganda,” reads the report in part.
The Report/Bulletin adds that through a UNICEF U-Report survey, majority parents reported that their children are not learning at home and that It is estimated that only 10 per cent of primary and secondary school children have access to some form of alternative schooling, including online schooling.
Dr Muhammad Mulongo says that the situation is compounded by the fact that many children do not have access to alternative learning opportunities via radio, television, the Internet, and community/home -based interventions.
The report adds that according to the 2019/20 Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS), the share of people in formal employment decreased from 57 per cent before COVID-19 to 47 per cent after and that results from a recent U-Report survey by UNICEF showed that 30 per cent of sampled parents lost employment in 2021 because of COVID-19.
“Many women could not look for alternative employment because they had to take care of children who were at home following closure of schools and some of the people who lost employment have resorted to subsistence agriculture, hence the increase in the proportion of the population dependent on subsistence agriculture from 41 per cent before to 52 per cent during COVID-19,” reads the report.
“Before the recent lockdown (June-July 2021), it was estimated that 2.9 million workers were already temporarily or permanently laid off due to the pandemic, with close to 1.6 million employed by small firms which impacts on children,” says the report.
Dr Jonathan Wangisi DHO Mbale says the report makes an important contribution to our understanding of how children have experienced the COVID-19 pandemic and which factors increase their vulnerability in times of crisis.
“I think decision makers should pay more attention to the well-being of parents – particularly mothers – of school-aged children because of the close link between mothers’ and children’s well-being and negative emotions,” said Dr Wangisi.
Dr Wangisi explained that in addition to communicating with children about the virus in an understandable manner, the government and parents should communicate restrictions that affect children in a positive way so that children can see the benefits of these restrictions for their safety and well-being.
Mr Weyusya said all people ought to adapt to existing reporting and referral mechanisms for child protection, equipping frontline workers to respond to children affected by violence, and ensuring alternative care for children deprived of parental care through digital technologies.