SAVE the Children says it fears for the future of millions of children, as more than 120,000,000 children and students are currently out of school in West and Central Africa due to the pandemic Covid-19.
Almost all countries have introduced nation-wide school and university closures so far to contain the Covid-19 virus – the number is expected to rise as the virus looks set to spread further, said Mercy Gichuhi, Acting Country Director, Save the Children International, Nigeria.
Gichuhi said while the focus of the COVID-19 response has mainly been on health systems, the pandemic has started to have a devastating impact on children beyond that.
“In an attempt to maintain the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are closing schools across the world. This situation could further worsen the vulnerabilities of marginalized children within West and Central Africa and especially in the Sahel,” she said in a statement issued in Abuja on Saturday.
“Covid19 has affected my education through school closures, thereby making me stay at home rather than learning in school. Just before my school wanted to start my examinations, I went for classes and was asked to go home until further notice,” said Purity Oriaifo, Girl Champion, Save the Children International Nigeria.
“This put my classmates and me in a state of total confusion. Although it’s for our good to prevent the epidemic, that is why we are staying at home. But, this harms us. Most of the lessons my classmates and I received in school, and we cannot remember because we are not in a learning environment. I hope to see that the pandemic is no more and we are back in school,” Oriaifo added.
With COVID-19 pushing governments to confine populations and close schools, Save the children said it was concerned about the limited mechanisms in place to ensure children can follow an education from their homes.
The acting Country Director lamented that children are at a higher risk of abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation, and they, especially girls are more likely of dropping out of school completely with their education interrupted and not being in a safe place such as a school.
She noted that while some countries are better prepared to provide ‘learning at a distance’ for children during school closures, the most marginalized girls and boys living in rural areas or the suburb of the main cities will struggle to access distance learning.
This, according to her, includes children from low-income households, those with disabilities and children already affected by conflict and humanitarian crises.
National education systems in, DRC, Burkina, Mali, Niger or Northern Nigeria already face considerable challenges as a result of the on-going conflict and displacement and a critical lack of funding. COVID-19 exacerbates these already dire challenges.
“It’s heartbreaking to see the impact COVID-19 is having globally. I am increasingly concerned about the effect this will have in Nigeria, and specifically on children.
“While the close down of schools is necessary to control the spread of the pandemic, however, it means that millions of children will have their education disrupted, and those who have been out of school will have this condition prolonged.
“Education is a lifesaver for girls and at-risk children. Even as we carry out interventions to stop this health crisis,” said Gichuhi.
“Education needs to be integrated in the current response of the COVID-19 outbreak, as the future of millions of children is at stake. The disease may disappear over time, but children will continue to suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives”, said Philippe Adapoe, Regional Director for Save the Children West and Central Africa region.
“Managing the health crisis and containing the virus must be a priority of course, but so is ensuring that children can continue their education from home. So far, limited opportunities have been put into place to ensure the continuity of education for children at home.
This is a challenge that governments will have to respond to, with the help of the international community. If we relegate this continuity of education to the background, many children, especially girls may drop out of school all together. The Ebola outbreaks, even if it is a different epidemic, should be a lesson for us.” he concluded.
Save the Children called on governments and international community to ensure that measures are in place to mitigate the impact of school closing down.
It advocated that in Africa, where millions don’t have access to internet, tools such as radio programs and TV programs can help children access alternative education, adding that it is vital that governments support teachers and equip them with the skills to provide quality distance learning.
The charity organisation stressed that appropriate care and specific support should be made available for children, along with distance learning, as school closures will hit the most marginalized children hardest.
It said governments should ensure that needed measures are be put in place to mitigate the risks for children with the impact of school closures extends beyond disruption to education.
“Many rely on school meals to support their daily nutrition. In addition, children who are out of school are also at greater risk of being recruited into labour, abuse and exploitation, pay particular attention to the girls, who are more likely to face a disproportionately larger burden of caring for family members who contract the virus and taking care of younger siblings at risk of negative family coping mechanisms like child marriage.
“More governments need to put mechanisms in place to protect vulnerable girls, following the recent decision of Sierra Leone Government to lift the ban affecting pregnant girls from attending school.”