In some of our partner countries measures effectively reduced the first Covid-19 wave, while other countries had to deal with second waves or clusters outbreaks. In looking at the Covid-19 mortality and morbidity rates, not all our partner countries seem to be affected very strongly. But in all countries our target communities have been affected by lockdown and other measures heavily.
Heightened risks and reduced resilience to child labour
The root causes of child labour have worsened in virtually all our communities. Community savings and individual household savings are often depleted as the result of the pandemic. In many households, child labour is referred to as a coping mechanism for families to earn income to ‘survive’ the pandemic.
Important pre-conditions for people to be able to send their children to school and keep them out of child labour are hugely influenced by the pandemic. Access to quality education has been reduced significant as schools have been closed for long periods. In communities where schools have reopened it is reported that not all children are coming back to school.
In most partner countries children have become more active in the private sector. In some countries it is reported that private sector companies need children to survive and make up for time lost during lockdowns. Also, lockdowns and reduced focus of governments on childcare have negatively impacted children. Enforcement of existing policies is less effective due to reduced capacity at government agencies and the need to focus on other aspects of the crisis. Development of improved policies has therefore also often been delayed or stalled.
Updates from our partner countries
Through reoccurring assessments partner countries have updated on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country and communities of implementation.
In India more than 1 billion people have been infected with Covid-19. Two vaccines against Covid-19 have been introduced and an immunisation campaign has started from the 16th Jan 2021. Frontline workers are being vaccinated first.
Our target communities have been severely affected by the pandemic. The pandemic has resulted in widespread migration of families from urban settings to rural areas. Many parents have lost their livelihoods due to the pandemic. There have been several cases of deaths due to starvation. Ever since the lockdown was announced in March 2020, schools have been closed. From Bihar the following is reported about our target populations:
‘Most of the families are on the verge of starvation and arranging their one-time meal. These poor people are wandering here and there to get rations of food (grains) as being distributed by the government. The food schemes (social security, food security, financial aid etc.) as declared by the state government amid Covid-19 do not reach the poorest people.’
Since schools are closed children are deprived from their mid-day school meals. This has led to a fall in their nutritional status. Moreover, since the Anganwadi Centres were also not operational for a large period of time, children of pre-school age (3-6 years) were not able to get nutrition and pre-school education.
This obstructs our work so dramatically that country partners suggest that the programme gears funds towards some essential strategies to help people survive. Assistance in getting access to basic needs, cash and Covid-19 sensitization in these communities is a pre-condition to combat child labour and help children come back to school. It also helps to monitor the situation children find themselves in during and due to the pandemic.
Although Uganda largely managed to keep the virus out in the first part of 2020, at the end of 2020 the country has witnessed intense and widespread community transmission of Covid-19 in nearly all districts and with occasional and emerging hotspots. In our community of implementation in the Karamoja region there is very limited specific data with regard to the outbreak. Communities continue to adhere to the measures to prevent the spread. The health systems have been under significant stress during this period.
Restrictive measures that were in place in the first part of 2020 are now relaxed or lifted. Various sectors have resumed operations and people have been able to go to church, access public transport, markets and banks. Other restrictions remained such as the curfew, social distancing and masks. Most notably for our programme is that schools remained closed for most children with the exception of candidate classes and finalists at University. There are plans to reopen the schools in March. Uganda country partners continue to report that the closure of schools has contributed to the increased number of children in child labour and increased reports of abuse and violence against children, especially girls. Economically and socially, Covid-19 has impacted negatively on the household economy. Children’s nutrition, education and safety are all affected. Households and care givers of children who are in the mining industry depend more heavily on mining as the source of income for their families.
Mali’s first wave was relatively small. Covid-19 has seen an increase since the end of November and the number of positive cases at the height of the peak was between 20 and a 100 cases per day in November. This meant that the health system was overburdened. The government introduced measures like gathering limited to a maximum of 50 people and closure of cultural centres. The entire population is asked to continue to observe social distancing.
The WNCB target community has not been directly hit by Covid-19 itself. But the crisis affected market prices (transportation and costs of goods) and individual households are struggling financially which makes children more vulnerable to child labour and impacts our livelihoods strategy. Schools have been closed for long periods of time (also due to teacher strikes) and local partners have observed that child labour is on the rise. Children work to increase the family income. Children particular work in gold panning sites and agriculture.
After decreasing Covid-19 contamination rates from the first wave, Côte d’Ivoire witnessed a second wave towards the end of the year which has been brought under control more slowly. In general, the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic was contained within the project implementation area. Nevertheless, communities have been affected by prevention measures such as movement restrictions, and additional expenses related to the purchase of masks and hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
The community was also affected economically. Community members reported difficulties in selling their crops due to restrictions on the movement of people, others complained about the continued presence of children at home due to the closure of classes. When classes resumed teachers noted that a number of children (girls and boys) did not come back to school.
As the pandemic is currently under control, children’s learning hasn’t been much further affected after the first breakout. But the existing impacts of the first wave of Covid-19, accompanied with the following floods, exacerbated children’s pre-existing vulnerabilities to abuse, violence, and exploitation.
Vietnam has suffered from unprecedented floods in the Central Region. This affected our target population significantly as the ongoing drought, water shortages and saltwater intrusion posed a significant risk to over two third of a million people in the Mekong Delta region. Of 63 provinces, 13 were affected, including Dong Thap (one of the programme areas).
The closure of schools prevented all children from accessing education services. Although the government provided alternative distance learning alternatives, the children in the refugee camps are not likely to have access to such services. Their parents, mainly working in the informal sectors or daily paid workers, have been hugely affected and lost income.
Out of work and back into school is key in breaking the cycle of poverty
As an Alliance our work on providing access to quality education for all children, including girls remains extremely important. Further Covid-19 developments and the impending economic crisis could ask for mitigation measures gradually or even very quickly.
It is proving to be essential for us to keep track and monitor and research the negative impact of the pandemic on child labour carefully. We have to keep addressing the impact of the crisis, and see how we can get children out of work and back into school as soon as possible. It remains of highest importance that children are supported to go back to school and prepared to enter decent youth employment. This is key in breaking the cycle of poverty and bringing a brighter future perspective for the generations to come.