By Sola Ogundipe
As Nigeria plans to fully reopen schools after the easing of the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions, the Federal and State governments have been urged to build social safety nets and strong health and nutrition systems for the most vulnerable and marginalised households towards preventing shocks from future pandemics.
Governments are also tasked to urgently provide resources for positive parenting programmes to ensure children have access to inclusive protection services during and after lockdowns where they can be supported if they’ve fallen victim to abuse, violence, or exploitation.
Making the calls in Abuja, the Country Director, Save the Children International, SCI, Nigeria, Mercy Gichuhi, called for improved support for children’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing.
Her words: “As the Nigerian government plans to re-open schools after prolonged closures, it is necessary to think about how to build a resilient education system to withstand future shocks, and also to ensure that an emergency education plan is mainstreamed into the contingency plan of the entire country.”
Gichuhi, who spoke following a new, large global survey conducted by Save the Children to generate evidence about the impact of COVID-19 on children, said the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the education of children from poorer backgrounds.
She worried that the impact is widening the gap between rich and poor, and boys and girls, while the most vulnerable children have disproportionately missed out on access to education, healthcare, food, and suffered the greatest protection risks.
Save the Children said children who fall behind in their education run a greater risk of dropping out completely and falling victim to child labour, child marriage, and other forms of exploitation.
Consequently, it is urging governments to ensure all children have equal access to learning after schools reopen.
Purity Oriaifo, Save the Children International Nigeria Girl Champion, said: “Due to school closures, so many children can no longer retain what they’ve learned in their previous classes. Even when schools re-open, there will not be sufficient time for revision of what we have learned and missed in the curriculum. That’s a big challenge.”
The findings launched in the report titled: Protect A Generation, say the pandemic has caused the largest education emergency in history, with some 9.7 million children not returning to school this year.
The survey found that the COVID-19 pandemic has widened inequalities along wealth and gender lines, with poorer households more likely to suffer income losses (82 per cent) than those not classified as poor (70 per cent).
The survey also showed that nine in 10 households that lost over half of their income due to the pandemic reported difficulties in accessing health services even as 45 per cent of respondents from poor households reported having trouble paying for medical supplies during the pandemic.
Less than 1 percent of the poorer children interviewed had access to the internet for distance learning. Among households that classified themselves as non-poor, it was 19 per cent.
According to the findings, girls are more heavily impacted than boys, by the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, 63 percent of the girls said they are doing more chores around the house and more than half (52 percent) reported they were spending more time caring for siblings.
Among boys, that was 43 percent and 42 per cent respectively. 20 percent of girls reported that they have too many chores to do to be able to learn, compared to 10 percent of boys.
The survey also found that more than 8 in 10 (83 per cent) of children reported an increase in negative feelings;
Almost two-thirds of the households (62 per cent) found it difficult to provide their families with varied, nutritious food during the pandemic; 19 per cent of households in which children reported violence had lost any of their income due to COVID-19, compared to 5 per cent when there had been no income loss.
Aisha Idris Nakano, Nigerian Girl Advocate said, “School closure has a direct impact on us, the children. As plans are ongoing to re-open the schools for us to continue learning, I suggest that the Nigerian Government should ensure that preventive measures are put in place for children in schools. Overcrowded classrooms should be avoided; maybe the schools should be split into morning and afternoon classes.”
During the survey, done online and over the phone, Save the Children interviewed 8,069 children between 11 and 17 years old and 17,565 adults across 37 countries, all beneficiaries of Save the Children. Most of the interviewed children were in Asia (45 per cent), followed by East and southern Africa (20 per cent), Latin America (14 per cent), the Middle East (10 per cent), and West and Central Africa (8 per cent).
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