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Mental health of one in seven children at risk due to covid-led lockdown: UNICEF

Closure of 1.5 million schools due to the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns in India in 2020 impacted 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. (Photo: AP)Premium
Closure of 1.5 million schools due to the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns in India in 2020 impacted 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. (Photo: AP)

  • Majority of schoolchildren worldwide rely on schools as a place where they can interact with peers, seek support, access health and immunisation services and a nutritious meal

NEW DELHI: At least 332 million children, or one in seven, have their mental health and well being at risk because of the pandemic-induced lockdowns, the UNICEF has warned.

The new analysis by UNICEF, which uses data from the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, identifies some of the most enduring lockdown conditions worldwide.

Also Read | India’s vaccine rollout changes gears

As per the covid-19: Stringency Index, under the tracker, India had one of the strictest lockdowns. The index is a composite measure based on nine response indicators including school closures, workplace closures, and travel bans, rescaled to a value from 0 to 100 (100 = strictest).

The pandemic, as it enters the second year, has taken a toll on children's and young people’s mental health and psychosocial well-being. For children experiencing violence, neglect or abuse at home, lockdowns have left many stranded without the support of teachers, extended families, and communities.

According to a separate UNICEF report, closure of 1.5 million schools, due to the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, in India in 2020, impacted 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. This was in addition to the 6 million girls and boys already out of school before the covid-19 crisis hit.

Till date in India, only eight states/UTs have opened classes from 1-12, while 11 have reopened classes 6-12, and 15 states have opened classes 9-12. Three have reopened anganwadi centers, with younger children losing out greatly on crucial foundational learning.

Online education is not an option for all as only one in four has access to digital devices and internet connectivity. Pre-pandemic, only a quarter of households (24%) in India had access to the internet and there is a large rural-urban and gender divide, the report highlighted.

Majority of schoolchildren worldwide rely on schools as a place where they can interact with peers, seek support, access health and immunisation services and a nutritious meal. The longer schools remain closed, the longer children will remain cut off from these critical elements of childhood.

The UNICEF has recommended reopening schools in a staggered manner in interest of children's mental health. “We know that the longer children stay out of school, the more vulnerable they become, with less chances of returning to school," said Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF India Representative. "Further, the mental health and well-being of children is a crucial concern. Psycho-social support from teachers, parents and caregivers is a priority."

Public health experts have said that mental health is an issue which requires urgent attention.

"Students are facing high levels of stress as a result of home-schooling and online learning. Almost an entire academic year has been lost to shutdowns and adapting to remote learning which has led to impact on 1.38 billion children worldwide," said Dr Sunil Mittal, senior psychiatrist and chairperson, Cosmos Institute of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences.

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