Human Rights experts have appealed to states to boost child wellbeing and protection measures to help safeguard the welfare of millions of children worldwide, who may be exposed to violence, sale, trafficking, sexual abuse.
In his presentation on the “Psychosocial wellbeing of Children during and post COVID-19 context in Uganda”, Patrick Onyango Mangen, the CEO Regional PsychoSocial Support Initiative (REPSSI), said the levels of depression in younger children are high.
“We need to enumerate this to understand its effects on children,” said Mangen Thursday during the “2020 National Virtual Learning Event on Child Wellbeing” organised by the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development.
According to Mangen, Covid19 pandemic has affected the family and school environment yet the family setting is the best place for the child where emotional strength and care is derived.
He said at first, kids and parents were excited to be home until stress started sinking in.
As such, families experienced difficulties in livelihoods/income and relationships whereby children started realising they aren’t connecting to their peers at school, friends and places of learning.
According to Mangen, parenting an adolescent is difficult. Parents are worried about what their children are doing especially in urban centres.
He said home learning and online learning was a breakthrough for adolescents who were in a much better position than the younger ones who couldn’t get a phone.
Parents are now trying to cope with the situation which involves unguided internet search and children freely accessing inappropriate information on different sites.
“Depression and conduct disorders have grown up. Parents must engage children who are always moody or aggressive all the time. There is no access to immediate support,” he noted.
He said refugee camps have highest levels of suicidal tendencies for the adolescent age group that thrives on relationships with their peers in schools and communities since emotional bonds have disrupted.
“We should plan a way forward with the view that Covid19 isn’t going anywhere soon. We need to do surveys and assessments to understand the magnitude of Covid19 effect on children.”
Mangeni suggested regular conversations, interpersonal group therapy bringing children together to engage for example on WhatsApp where they post questions and get answers.
According to World Vision, the school environment is impactful on child wellbeing. The COVID-19 has gravely disrupted the learning environment as such, the teacher-children bond will most likely affect the learning outcomes when schools open.
According to Child Fund Uganda, there is need to creatively come up with strategies of supporting children with difficulties and biological changes to cop considering that most of the schools don’t have psychosocial support services.
As part of the implementation of the National Child policy, integrating psychosocial child wellbeing approaches across the multi-sectoral, is key.
Some of the observations made during the presentations hinged on the fact that an unregulated, unmonitored and unskilled social doctor is extremely dangerous to service users especially the children regulating social work practice and skilling the social work force at service delivery level is key to effective service delivery.
There is for need systematically planning for continuous professional development of social workers and other axially social workers through innovative mechanisms – skills development, learning and assessment.
Role of stakeholders
Speaking at the same forum, the Commissioner of Children and Youth Affairs in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Mr Francis Mondo Kyateka, said the ministry will get stakeholders involved to ensure regional dissemination of the policy [on children] and implementation plan.
“We have to go to boardrooms of partners to disseminate,” Mondo said Thursday in his welcoming remarks.
He said the policy provides robust dissemination framework at national level which should be able to show achievements.
He said the ministry will ensure establishment of the national child wellbeing steering committee at both district and national levels composed of representatives from ministries, departments and agencies of government, civil society organisations and private sector replicated at local government and national levels.
Rosette Sayson Meya, Human Rights, Safeguards, Gender and Social Inclusion Advisor, CIG UKAID, cited a dysfunctional relationship between government ministries which is making protection of children difficult.
There is high expectation by the population and children aren’t adequately protected, she said, noting that cooperation and coordination is more theoretical than practical hence still weak in practically working together.
“It’s not clear who wants the funds and who gets them. The attitude of what does government give us?” she cited some of the challenges, urging stakeholders not to “sing a song but see how to change this”.
She said government has a new national child policy and talk shows hence enforcement in terms of planning and budgeting will be a big opportunity.
“Globally, child protection remains a priority. Let us tap into private sector and development partners,” she noted.
Role of social service workforce
On the essential role of the Social Service Workforce in Child wellbeing during and beyond COVID-19 in Uganda’, Dr. Janestic Twikirize, a Senior Lecturer, Department of Social work and Social Administration, Makerere University, said there is need to creatively come up with strategies of supporting children with difficulties and biological changes to cop considering that most of the schools don’t have psychosocial support services.
The government attitude towards children is key, Dr Twikirize pointed out.
Dorah Musiimire, Specialist in child protection, child-led advocacy and empowerment, said in her presentation that children feel safer at school than at home and would like schools to re-open.
“Children have been married off. Many children are still not able to access reading materials. Child advocates still reach out to their fellow peers and form support groups in communities,” she noted.
She added: “Children are doing a lot of work that amounts to child labour. Children have no one to talk to since most parents are fed up of children being at home and have no money.”
She said the Children’s Agency monitors performance and accountability in child protection systems NOT individual incidents of violence.
It engages children between the ages of 13 and 17, works with children who are in and out of school, thrives on supportive child-adult relationships and collaboration and ensures capacity building across three pillars of assessment, analysis and action.
It teaches young people about child rights, child protection and violence prevention as they map and analyse the performance of the child protection system, starting at the local level as well as identifying child protection actors.
She suggested Child Rights Clubs, weekly/monthly School General Assembly, Peer to peer outreach in school and communities, Online engagements, social media and mass media; Radio (live and pre-recorded, TV), Print media especially in COVID-19 period.