Covid-19 lockdown: The social impact on children

Saturday June 27 2020

Children of Namirembe Primary School

Children of Namirembe Primary School take part in a sports activity at their school last year. PHOTO BY SHABIBAH NAKIRIGYA 

By Desire Mbabaali

Almost 20 metres away from Entebbe Road at Zana is a building that is home to about three families.

In one family is Moses Kayongo Junior and his father, mother and three sisters. From the way the 10-year-old Kayongo expresses himself when he welcomes me, a total stranger to his home, it is easy to tell that he is warm, confident and undeniably talkative.

The only other neighbours they have bordering the establishment is a hotel on one side and a commercial building on another that has a number of shops and a pharmacy. For the last three months of the lockdown, Kayongo has been confined in this place, with a compound barely a quarter an acre big, and only one companion - the neighbour next door’s eight-year-old daughter, with whom they play.

When introductions were made, and permission granted by his mother to talk to me, my conversation with Kayongo started with a question of why a Primary Four learner like him was home on a weekly day.

“We are in lockdown!” he answered, a bit surprised that I didn’t know this already. When I showed no sign of knowledge of what he was talking about, the added: “It is quarantine, we were forced to stay home so that we can avoid coronavirus and wash our hands with soap.”

He went on to explain how schools were closed, and how he had hoped this would only be for a while.
“I feel bad in my heart because I can’t go to school. Martha (the neighbour’s daughter) doesn’t know how to play football, so I miss my friends. My best friend cannot even visit and I cannot go to his home; my mum won’t let me. School is like a big home with many children to play with but when you are also learning,” Kayongo says, his face lighting up.

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For a long time, the school has been a crucial social agency where children get to meet and interact with their peers and many believe it is next to a family in importance. Today, with the lockdown extending and children confined to home environments (many of which don’t even allow for play) to be shielded against this invisible enemy, the social impacts of this lockdown have started to manifest, causing concern to a number parents.

Limited activity
Obviously, with a limited variety of things to indulge in at home, school is all the more missed.

“I wake up at 8am or earlier because I am tired of sleeping, I brush my teeth and bath and have breakfast. We then read the Bible with my family and do housework. Sometimes I do school work and after, I either watch television or go and play,” Kayongo explains.

He is not allowed to move out of the gate, so, when he gets bored of playing with his only companion, the only place left for him to go is indoor to either watch television or sleep. “I am not allowed to play in the house because I may destroy things,” he confides.

However, Kayongo is only one in billions of children living in the same or even worse restrictive conditions worldwide.

According to Unicef statistics, 99 per cent of children and young people under 18 worldwide (2.34 billion) live in one of the 186 countries with some form of movement restrictions in place due to Covid-19.

Sixty per cent of all children live in one of the 82 countries with a full (seven per cent) or partial (53 per cent) lockdown – accounting for 1.4 billion young lives, with all children, of all ages, and in all countries, being affected, in particular by the socio-economic impacts of the restrictions.

However, while we are focused on how to avoid the virus, the social impacts of these restrictions now manifest in restlessness in children, who are tired of staying home due to boredom and/or anxiety and feelings of isolation.

According to a May report by Save the Children, following surveys in a number of countries, almost one in four children living under Covid-19 lockdowns, social restrictions and school closures, is dealing with feelings of anxiety, with many at risk of lasting psychological distress, including depression while prolonged stress, boredom and social isolation, as well as lack of outdoor play, can lead to a higher number of mental health conditions in children.

An anxious child
Azida Namanda, a mother of three, shares that although two of his sons have little concern for the lockdown, his six-year-old second born in Primary One has been hit hardest.

“He shares a very special bond with one of his teacher and being in boarding school, he would spend a lot of time with her. Now, he cannot do that and that is one of the major effects he has suffered not being at school; he misses his teacher,” she shares.

Additionally, he is also worried and concerned that since he is not going to school, he will be forced to repeat his class.

“Every after a week or so, he comes to me and asks, ‘mummy, can’t we now go back to school? I will be made to repeat Primary One and the children will laugh at me’. I think he is also threatened by the virus, so he always has a lot of questions like; ‘how do sick people look like? how do they feel when they get Covid-19,’ and since I told him that one of the symptoms of the disease is a fever, he is always touching his forehead to feel his temperature and then asks whether he now has the disease,” Namanda elaborates.

She adds that this has further made her son very hesitant and reserved in interacting with other children in the neighbourhood and he is always looking out for signs of the disease from his siblings.
As a mother, this has left Namanda worried for his son.

Furthermore, parents now have to put in double the time and effort to attend to the ever-present children and teenagers.

At the beginning of the lockdown, the rule for Grace Kamukama’s four children was simple: no going outdoor. To this effect, she created more space indoor to allow them more play and gave them more toys.

Overtime, she allowed them to play from outside because the burden was getting too heavy.

“There were no activities to have them engaged outside the home, we couldn’t travel to the village or visit relatives, and they started asking more questions on when they will go back to school, so I allowed them to play outside,” she confesses. But that too is taxing.

It comes with more responsibility that they don’t interact with many people, not to mention the sibling rivalry cases and disputes she has to solve.

For someone like her, who also has to work from home, getting the necessary concentration and time for her work has become equally hard.
“So, I have to work in the wee hours of morning and late in the night when they are asleep, which is no easy task,” Kamukama says.

More activity does the trick
Nonetheless, the lockdown story is not all gloom and doom. With enough activity and engagement, children can be kept optimistic.

Josephine Zhane Omunyidde, a mother of two, has occupied the social void with extracurricular activities such as music. Her Primary Six son plays the piano and guitar, while her Senior Five daughter plays piano and the violin.

She also spends time doing her art and fashion design sketches. Both of them also belong to a mentorship programme (Engender girls’/boys mentorship programme) which gives them activities to interact on Zoom meetings with peers.
Luckily for them too, family interactions have not been negatively affected, if anything, the lockdown has availed them more quality time with cousins, family friends and grandparents.

“The children have also started business projects, for example, a rabbit project, cleaning of windows and washing of cars for the community we live in and they earn from it. We are also doing a lot of baking for home consumption while learning kitchen chores,” Omunyidde notes, adding that they have also done inspirational videos in making detoxes and cooking healthy, which they share with their peers. This leaves them little time to miss socialising at school.

“Of course the home budget has gone up but I am an optimistic parent and being a busy single mother; for me, this has been bonding time. As for work, while I am on my laptop, they are also on theirs doing schoolwork or research in a relaxed environment and when we finish, that is when the extracurricular activities come in,” she says.

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