As many as one million South African children under the age of six have been left alone at home due to their parents having to return to work, and creches and early childhood development (ECD) centres remaining closed under alert level 3 lockdown.
This is severely compromising the health and welfare of toddlers, according to a report released by two academics on Tuesday.
On the impact Covid-19 had on children, Professor Servaas van der Berg and Dr Nic Spaull of the University of Stellenbosch’s economics faculty, found the reopening of the economy while creches and ECD centres remained closed, left children without an adult caregiver in the house.
Should all industries be reopened, allowing for all employees to return to work, Van der Berg and Spaull predicted that there would be would be more than two million children aged 0 to 15 years, who would be without an older sibling or an adult caregiver to look after them.
Van der Berg and Spaull warned: “It is our view that keeping children out of school is not in the best interests of the child. The profound costs borne by small children and families as a result of the ongoing nationwide lockdown and school closures will be felt for at least the next 10 years.
“Of highest concern are the almost one million children below the age of six who have no other adult caregiver in the household, except a working parent. Hundreds of thousands of these children would be left home alone in households without an adult caretaker if their employed caregiver was forced to return to work to earn an income.”
The researchers found the ongoing disruptions to children’s care, education and health, was “no longer justified”.
They argued: “Given the large social and economic costs of hard lockdowns and wholesale school closures we would strongly caution against future nationwide lockdowns or school closures, even in the presence of a surge in Covid-19 infections.
“School closures, lockdowns and increased financial stress are likely to have increased the risk of child abuse, mental health breakdowns and the emotional exhaustion of caregivers, together with rising rates of depression and anxiety.
“Recent surveys of children in Nicaragua, Indonesia and a number of other countries have shown that children are at higher risk of lasting psychological distress.
“Children’s routine immunisations, testing for HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and health seeking behaviour when children seem sick, are all likely to have decreased as a result of the lockdown and school closures.
“The National Institute for Communicable Diseases reports a 48% reduction in TB testing.
“Any delays in the diagnosis and treatment of HIV in either pregnant mothers or new-born children is likely to have long-term consequences.”
Based on government’s current education plans, the researchers said that by the end of the second term (7 August 2020), South African children would have lost between 25% and 57% of the “normal school days” due to Covid-19 disruptions.