A safer world

This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for adults – now imagine how much harder it has been on the children.

Adults have choices, even in the shadow of COVID-19. They can make the decision whether or not traveling outside their home is worth the risk. Seniors have more restrictions, but even they have options unavailable to children – especially the option to be vaccinated. In contrast many children have been confined to their immediate surroundings for the better part of the last 16 months.

When I wrote about the youth this time last year for International Youth Day, I said that while children are associated with the future, we must not forget they are already in the world, already have present needs and present rights. The way the world’s systems and institutions are built, children have very little say in the way the world is run and have few avenues to make their voices heard.

One of the reasons Greta Thunberg and her movement have been so effective at garnering attention to their cause is because people are shocked to see the youth making themselves heard, and part of the reason she receives such intense push-back from the establishment is because they reject the very idea that children have agency. They are not used to having to listen to children, and they do not believe that children can say anything they need to hear.

Anyone who has hands-on experience with children knows that this is wrong. I’ve learned so much from my daughter, Emma, even as I was teaching her the basics of words and movement. Even as infants they can communicate their needs loud and clear, and any adults who truly believe that children are the future must consider those needs to be of paramount importance.

What they need right now is for us to work harder at creating a way to let them safely leave home.

As a mother, I understand keenly the desire to keep children completely and utterly safe, the urge to surround them with an invincible shield and prohibit them from leaving it. But as both a parent and a daughter, I also know that safety must be balanced with opportunities for growth. It’s why we let our children go to school, why we let them form friendships outside the family, why we let them pursue interests and subjects that may be alien to us, in spite of our fears and anxieties.

COVID-19 is terrifying, and the Delta variant makes it even more so. We need to keep our kids safe, and at the moment the safest place for them from the virus – until they can be vaccinated, or a greater percentage of adults have been vaccinated – is at home.

But even if a lockdown protects them from COVID, too much isolation exposes them to other dangers in turn, and these dangers grow the longer they are kept in lockdown. Studies in other countries have shown that lockdowns can have harmful effects on the mental health of children, increasing feelings of anxiety and loneliness. The closure of schools is causing a continuing educational crisis whose effects we cannot fully contemplate, and we know that here millions of children failed to enroll in the previous school year and nearly half of all households surveyed by the ADB report that they have children who are not attending school due to the pandemic.

Even their physical health – what the lockdowns are intending to safeguard – can be impacted: children are getting less exercise, getting fewer checkups and opportunities for general medical care, and they may be incurring an immunity debt that leaves them more susceptible to other illnesses. And as always, children who are more vulnerable – those from poorer households, or those with pre-existing medical or mental conditions – will have it even worse.

Let me be clear – this is not a call to immediately resume face-to-face learning or remove restrictions from children during quarantines. But as we go into another round of ECQ in Metro Manila and other parts of the country, this is a call not to believe that keeping kids at home is any sort of long-term strategy.

We cannot shove our children in a box and pretend that we have kept them safe. Children must grow, for their own sake and for the sake of the future, and limiting their horizons limits that growth. Not every child has access to the internet, not every child can speak to their friends and teachers remotely, not every child will be able to grow in maturity and empathy when surrounded by the same small group of people every day.

More must be done to expedite the study of the effect of vaccines on children, not only of the mRNA vaccines, but all vaccines proven safe and effective for adults – and if any of these are found to be similarly safe and effective for children, all efforts must be exhausted to vaccinate children as well.

More must be done to study the effects of ventilation and masking on the spread of the Delta variant, in order to come up with proper guidelines for school re-openings, even if these occur after children are vaccinated, since we know that while vaccination will stop most infections, it won’t stop them all.

As UNICEF has stated: “As the pandemic continues to affect communities, we must find better ways to manage it together. Children and their communities should be consulted and an evidence-based rationale for measures that affect them should be developed and communicated transparently. We need to take into full account the needs and rights of children, while we continue to protect them and all members of the public, from the increased risk of COVID-19 infections.”

The children are not all right. Not even if they have been insulated from the worst of the pandemic, not even if they are digital natives who do not feel removed from those they can see and speak to online.

If we want what is truly best for our children, the focus should not be keeping them safe from the world. It should be making the world safer for them.

Credit belongs to : www.philstar.com

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