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The pandemic beggars our children

This is the point where, as if lost in a forest, you get the feeling that after walking the whole day, you see familiar events and signs. Isn’t this like the first lockdown starting March 16 a year ago? Isn’t this the same rush to stock up on essential items? Aren’t these the same checkpoints with the same guards that we have to go through? Aren’t these the same lines we had to endure to obtain travel papers? Aren’t these the same officious barangay officials that control behavior in your little community space?

But this new, open-ended round of combat with COVID-19 may be different. Maybe this is when we realize that the reassurances of the national government of being in control is mainly sheer empty bravado. Household heads need to step up to the plate. Stop complaining. Stop whining. Go into problem-solving mode.

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Households with children are alarmingly at increasing risk, as shown by a comprehensive rapid assessment report on the “Impact of COVID-19 on Children and Their Families in the Philippines” by World Vision (https://www.worldvision.org.ph/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/WVDF-COVID-19-Rapid-Assessment.pdf), issued in June 2020. The report, based on a survey of 423 adult and 422 child respondents from 20 provinces and 48 municipalities and cities, provides a holistic view of the pandemic’s impact on livelihood, market access, food security and nutrition, education, health and hygiene, child protection, and access to critical information.

The report says 5 million people were added to the 2.3 million unemployed recorded in April 2019. In the study areas, COVID-19 had already affected 92 percent of the surveyed households, 61 percent of which were severely affected. Only 32 percent of households reported to have “fully met” their food expenses, 40 percent their cooking expenses, 25 percent their health care, 7 percent their loan obligations, and 4 percent their rental expenses,

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Families tried to cope by reducing the quantity and quality of their meals (24 percent), borrowing from neighbors (24 percent), using their savings (24 percent), loaning through formal institutions (2 percent), and some other ways (15 percent). Some respondents sent their children to beg (0.47 percent), work (2.6 percent), or stay with relatives (1.18 percent) or institutions (0.71 percent). Families with savings stretched their food budget for 81 days. Female respondents made the money last longer than males (88 vs 17 days).

The average weekly food expenses of households dropped to P1,185 from P1,797 before the pandemic. Only 61 percent of surveyed households had adequate 1-2 week food stocks, while 22 percent of households had no food stock. Some households borrowed money (19 percent) or food (16 percent) from friends or relatives to meet their food needs, and 13 percent reduced the amount of food for adults or mothers so children could have more food. Reduced food exacerbates pre-COVID-19 problems: stunting (42 percent), wasting (14 percent), and underweight (23 percent) among children.

Police records show there was a threefold increase in online sexual exploitation of children during the lockdown period. Only 78 percent of surveyed households were fully capable of handling changes in children’s behavior. While 99 percent of the surveyed respondents used encouragement, negative disciplinary measures were used: shouting (33 percent), name-calling (10 percent), shaking (3 percent), spanking (11 percent), hitting on the body (6 percent), and slapping on hands and face (10 percent).

Apart from dealing with hunger, poverty, unemployment, and health issues in the next two or more years of COVID-19, parents must be sensitive to the nonphysical needs of their children. Self-absorbed in our own frustrations and worries, we may not have noticed that there are things to attend to. These include mitigating family stressors—separation of parents, unemployment, poverty, poor health, sickness, recent adverse events; controlling exposure to stressful media such as television, radio, newspapers, social media, and the internet; giving kids a sense of responsibility through chores and exposing them to stories and exemplars of resilience; providing structure in dealing with emergencies—hotline numbers, first responders, etc.

Read up and treat this area of children’s welfare under pandemic conditions as critical information to act on.

In facing the pandemic, the national government and the local government are no longer solely in charge; parents are, too. Don’t let barangay officials and checkpoint guards rule your behavior. For the sake of your kids, get over feeling lost and seize the day.

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TAGS: children, pandemic, Romero
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