Protecting our children

Tomorrow, November 20, will be observed as World Children’s Day, which was established in 1954 as Universal Children’s Day and is celebrated each year “to promote international togetherness, awareness among children worldwide, and improving children’s welfare”.

The United Nations recently observed that this year, the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a child rights crisis, noting the cost of the pandemic for children are immediate and, if unaddressed, may last a lifetime.

In The Bahamas and elsewhere, the pandemic has underscored the inequities in our education system.

On New Providence and other islands where virtual school is mandated, many children are being left behind. 

Because some live in households that do not even have electricity, the idea of virtual learning is remote. Others who have electricity, do not have internet service.

Recently, when The Nassau Guardian highlighted the plight of a grandmother raising three children in a dilapidated home, corporate partners stepped up to ensure those children have internet access to do their work.

Others donated tablets and other critically needed school supplies, but the need is great.

We are happy to see so many corporate partners, many of them suffering from substantially reduced revenues due to the pandemic, coming forward and assisting children from low-income communities to have access to an education during these difficult times.

We also applaud those teachers who are going beyond the call, some of them even visiting students to check their progress. These educators are among the unsung heroes of our society.

Even in households where students have internet access and have devices, they are still challenged as many parents, especially in single-parent families, do not have the luxury of staying at home to guide their children’s online learning. 

Others do not have the skillset to do so.

While there are no new figures on the level of poverty in the country, anecdotal evidence suggests the pandemic has pushed significant numbers of people into poverty or very near the poverty line.

As in most countries, there is a negative relationship in The Bahamas between educational level and the risk of poverty.

Children and the elderly are those most at risk in circumstances when an already strained financial situation worsens.

Children who are left home alone or in the care of neighbors or other irresponsible individuals are also at a higher risk of abuse. Because they are not in the direct care of their teachers, it is easy for signs of abuse to be missed.

Those who had already been facing horrors in the home are likely being exposed even more.

In June, Social Services Minister Frankie Campbell reported that his ministry had received increased reports of domestic abuse and child abuse since the start of the pandemic.

This is disturbing, but not at all surprising.

Many schools, in particular public schools, do not have the resources to welcome children back in a safe environment. On Monday, students from The Meridian School and its sister institution, Windsor School at Albany and at Fort Charlotte, returned for in-class learning.

They did so due to a special exemption from the competent authority.

The schools’ director said her team had undertaken substantial measures to significantly minimize risks, and felt it was important to offer in-person learning as the children’s emotional needs needed to be met.

Parents of children attending those schools still have the option of keeping their children home if they want as a hybrid system has been put in place.

Thousands of other children who must be educated by the state are likely not having their emotional needs met in a COVID environment.

While the virus impacts people of old ages, children are seldom talked about when responses to the pandemic are discussed.

Many parents are overwhelmed by the increased economic pressures created by COVID-19, but they must be constantly provided with access to resources necessary to expose and address abuse.

They themselves need access to mental health resources so they are better equipped to provide the best protection for their children at this time.

The challenge in meeting the needs of our children must be addressed at a community level. Even while adhering to necessary health protocols in our ongoing battle against COVID-19, community assistance programs must remain active. Community policy must also be active and effective.

Mahatma Ghandi aptly observed, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”

The protracted COVID-19 pandemic repeatedly proves the potency of this adage. 

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