Child ambassadors speak out on Covid-19 impact

Child ambassadors speak out on Covid-19 impact#COVID19 Child Ambassadors say children have been left to fend for themselves while parents struggle to make ends meet(File photo)

Child Protection Week kicks off with child ambassadors sharing their lockdown experiences.

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From child abuse to poverty, and e-learning; child ambassadors have shared their experiences as the South Africa grapples with Covid-19 and restrictive measures put in place to flatten the curve.  

These child ambassadors have also come up with suggestions to include children in programmes aimed at minimising the psychological effect that they face during this period. 

“We have seen the statistics of gender-based violence (GBV) and the number of cases of abuse that have been reported since the lockdown started but we have not seen the statistics on… child abuse,” says Siviwe Mboyana, a child ambassador from KwaZulu-Natal. 

According to her, child neglect cases have also increased as many children have been left to fend for themselves while parents struggle to make ends meet. Children have also been left vulnerable to malnutrition. 

“People are starving and not everyone is able to receive a food parcel. Children who rely on meals from the school feeding schemes have been left vulnerable, especially those who are from child headed homes. 

The ambassadors also spoke in unison about the challenges brought on by e-learning, where data costs and the availability of resources were a common problem. 

“We are expected to access learning material on the internet but we don’t have data. And most of the e-learning sites are not zero-rated, making it difficult for us to use them, says Limpopo child ambassador, Tshepang Mahladisa. 

Simamkele Jack from the Eastern Cape shares the same views as Tshepang when it comes to challenges of access to resources faced by many children. 

“Children from the Eastern Cape are mostly affected with no access to data and devices. Many schools do not have clean and safe water, while others are still using pit toilets. We are requesting for a speedy provision of resources in our province. 

Electricity supply has also contributed to the challenges that they face while learning from home. “Electricity supply has been an issue due to load shedding so how can we study online while there is no electricity?” asks Tsholofelo Sehume, a child ambassador from the Free State. 

Some learners haven’t had access to online classes in the Northern Cape due to poor connectivity says Ceyszar Lymburgh, an ambassador from that province.    

Despite the technological challenges brought about by e-learning, there has also been some benefits. 

“Because of online learning, we have been able to adapt to the fourth industrial revolution,” says Freddy Ramonyai, the Nelson Mandela Children’s Parliament (NMCP) president. 

Otshepeng Babeile says, “With the pandemic, online learning has given learners enough time to go through their learning material. 

While Alessio Marcus adds “the lockdown has allowed me to self-study with the support of my parents but I feel concerned that other children might have not had the same opportunity”. 

The social development minister, Lindiwe Zulu says that the virtual meeting is governments way to show that children have not been forgotten during the pandemic. 

“We thought that the voices of the children must be heard and we thought that you (ambassadors) should be a part of the conversations and the solutions. We want to show you that we took the manifesto that you gave us last. We will depend on all of you [ambassadors] to carry the message out there. 

Zulu adds that the rights of children and their protection should be done 365 days a year, as the department declared last year during child protection week. 

The child ambassadors also say that they are looking forward to returning to school provided that there were resources and their safety is guaranteed. They also believe that returning to school will offer relief to many children who have been stuck in abusive homes. – Health-e News  

For more information on Covid-19 in South Africa, you can call the toll-free line on 0800 029 999, or you can send a message that says “Hi” on WhatsApp to the number 060 012 3456. You can also visit the  SA Coronavirus website.