Social worker and human rights activist Alsoona Boswell-Jackson. Image: Bobie-Lee Dixon
BOBIE-LEE DIXON

Social worker and part-time parenting educator with Families In Action, Alsoona Boswell-Jackson says serious infringements on the rights of a child are occurring due to the fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an interview with Guardian Media, Boswell-Jackson said, the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented measures to contain its spread were disrupting nearly every aspect of children’s lives including their health, development, learning and education, economic security, protection from violence and abuse and the positive consequences of play and recreation—all stipulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child to which T&T is a signatory and have ratified the convention.

With the recent observance of World Children’s Day still relevant she related: “When you ponder upon World Children’s Day, you have to ask yourself if our children are honestly enjoying all the rights they are entitled to?”

She said at the fore was children’s right to education which was currently under attack.

“This crisis and school closures have exposed immense inequalities in the ‘education for all’ mantra sung by our politicians.

“Children with disabilities, those who live in remote locations, others with no or unreliable internet access, as well as those with no devices are experiencing limited or no education, or falling further behind their peers,” lamented Boswell-Jackson.

She said the long periods out of education could have a lasting impact because it was not just the missed opportunities for learning that needed to be considered but one can anticipate a regression in lessons already taught.

“Children will begin to forget what they already know and such a regression will be much harder to remedy.

“Additionally, those children who are now accustomed to not being in a learning environment and decides to not go back to school will form the generation that has been robbed of formal education, what kind of economic future awaits such a child?” asked Boswell-Jackson.

She is also worried about a rippling effect: “Schools are not only places of learning, they provide daily social protection, nutrition and emotional support that are life security for the majority of our children.

“Without, this cushion, our children especially, younger children and adolescents are at greater risk, as high levels of stress and isolation can affect brain development, sometimes with irreparable long-term consequences.

“They no longer have that sense of structure and stimulation that is provided by that environment, and now they have less opportunity to be with their friends and get that social support that is essential for good mental well-being.

Boswell-Jackson’s concerns were endorsed by Head of the Psychiatric Unit at Mt Hope Hospital, Professor Dr Gerard Hutchinson who said society should note the possibility of increased occurrences of self-harm and even suicide as well as substance use problems, occurring amongst children, all stemming from these fallouts.

Hutchinson explained, because of the pandemic and the various restrictions, society will see an evolution of social norms that may further distinguish this generation from previous generations with the potential for conflict—the value of formal education; group activities, narrowing of local social networks but the expansion of virtual social networks; further inequality informed by the internet and device access.

However, he offered hope, saying the environment in which the child lived was crucial to surviving this era successfully. One such environment should be nurturing, supportive and most of all safe.

Amid all the challenges and adjustments, with this type of environment, Hutchinson said, a child would be able to negotiate them with resilience and insight, reducing significantly, negative long-term effects.