Childhood interrupted


The lockdown imposed by the Indian government was an absolute essential to keep the Coronavirus at bay. But, the effect it has had on children has been heart-rending and dramatic, says Mamta Gupta.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit nations brutally. Coronavirus sneaked into our lives and exploded right in our faces to disrupt lives in a most unprecedented manner. It has not only shaken the biggest of economies, but changed the very face of earth and the way humans live life and socialise now and in the future. Besides the health impact of the infection on adults and children, often the psychological effects of COVID-19 on adults has been discussed widely. Sadly, children, the most vulnerable in times like these, have been left out of this discourse.

According to a recent survey conducted by Child Rights and You (CRY) among parents to understand the effects of the ‘home quarantine’ in effect due to the COVID-19 lockdown in the country – 88 per cent of the respondents said exposure of their children to screens had increased during the lockdown; 45 per cent reported their children’s exposure to screens increased ‘to a great extent’ during the lockdown; while 43 per cent said they were constantly supervising the child whenever he/she was logging time ‘online’.

Survey helps understand the impact

The survey brought out very important facts and observations that help in understanding the impact of COVID-19 crisis on children. It also reported ‘more agitation, a change in eating pattern and increase in the screen exposure time’ among children during the national lockdown imposed to control the spread of the Coronavirus in the country. On the positive side, the uninterrupted and stress-free quality time with children resulted in an ‘increased bond between the parents and their children’.

With the availability of time where parents and children do many things together, such as household chores, watching television, playing indoor games, reading together, eating together, etc. has helped families come closer and form a stronger bond with their younger ones.

When the lockdown was announced, no one had anticipated the period of home quarantine would last this long. A period of two weeks in the beginning seemed like a lifetime. And then, there was Lockdown 2.0, Lockdown 3.0 and more. So families prepared for a limited quarantine time initially. Now, they don’t know if life will ever revert to normalcy. In fact, they have been left with little option but to adopt a new normal itself.

Life not less than dramatic

For children, life has been dramatic so to speak. No longer can Vadodara-based eight-year-old Swati chat with her building friends in the compound – an activity that she would look forward to every evening back from school. Now Swati not just cannot go to school that has been shut since March end, she stays cooped up at home all the while with her tab. And, she isn’t happy at all.

“In the beginning, she would sit for hours on her tab, watching videos on YouTube and share links with friends despite our yelling and hollering to drop the gadget and join us,” says mother and accountant Vaishali Shah. “Her personality underwent a drastic change after the first fortnight of the lockdown. By mid-April, she would sit for hours listlessly and follow me around everywhere at home. She would refuse to let me out of her sight and if I did, she would throw a tantrum,” recalls Vaishali.

The behavior isn’t unique to children exposed to such situations, feels Chennai-based general Reiki practitioner Ms. Venkataswami. “There seems to be a lot of insecurity among humans owing to the unpredictable nature of the virus and what it has fetched us…an unpredictable lockdown. Children, naïve and unable to voice their fears, tend to react in odd ways,” she adds.

So, in the beginning Swati would fight for hours when resisted from going to the building compound ‘only to chat’ but soon relented when she realised that all her friends too were not allowed to come out of their homes. “She is so sensible and understands that there is the fear of contracting the virus. She even tells us to take us to wear our masks and wash our hands each time we collect a parcel from a food delivery or grocery agent. But, something seems to be really off for her,” says Vaishali. “Why, just the other day, when her younger brother didn’t pass her the TV remote, she broke down inconsolably. I am so worried for her,” recalls Vaishali, blaming the authorities for “being so strict with the lockdown.”

Some children have given up

Going to a park a block away, even if it were for a bit, meant the world to five-year-old Roli. So, when the lockdown nipped the activity in the bud, she wailed at first feeling that, unable to watch her cry, her granny would relent and take her out to play. Granny did, unable to take Roli’s tears, but took her to the terrace. Roli wasn’t amused and turned cranky for days on end. Now, all of a sudden, Roli has stopped crying and become quiet. “After days on end of throwing a fit to be taken out, she has given up,” says sexagenarian Madhuri Hegde, equally irate and waiting with bated breath for the lockdown to end.

Now, almost two months later and more to go, Roli talks of her visits to the Park fondly but with a sense of resignation to the fact the she can’t go there again. Now, each time she asks her mother, “When will I go to the park again,” her granny struggles to stop her tears. “This lockdown is robbing our children of their childhood,” says the Mumbai-based retired bank employee. “How long will they sit at home? It just isn’t fair. Not fair for the young, not fair for the elderly like me. If it wasn’t for her, I’d get absolutely no exercise at all,” she says.

Rules too odd to follow

“To worsen things are rules like you cannot go to your own terrace and if you do, you break the lockdown rules and risk being jailed,” says Nagpur-based pharmacist and father to two Piyush Jain. “It really makes no sense preventing members from going up the terrace if they manage to maintain social distancing. Simply banning them from using open spaces especially when you have children, who need to spend their energy, is cruel to say the least,” he adds.

The lockdown imposed by the Indian government was an absolute essential to keep the coronavirus at bay. But, the effect it has had on children has been heart-rending to say in the least. Like the elderly who have developed medical issues owing to lack of exercise in the open, its effect on children has been nothing less than dramatic.

Some slip into depression

While some have conceded with a sense of dejection, others have taken it really badly and slipped into abject depression. The effect, the lockdown has had on children through their forced dependence owing to the surge in screen time – a move that may become synonymous with their lives considering the dependence on online classes, is unavoidable yet drastic. The State in general, through policy, the schools, through processes and parents, through sensitised approaches, have to tackle this scourge.

Children not just lose their childhood, risk losing their innocence, land in trouble on the internet even develop medical issues with the new scheme of things. And, that will have to be addressed.

Mamta Gupta

Mamta Gupta is a Research Associate with Maverick – A DraftCraft International initiative to further reach, accountability and the law in Pre-Primary, Primary, Intermediary and Secondary Education.