Thursday, June 4, 2020

Children will pay the biggest price of Covid-19 in Botswana

The economic hit of the lockdown on children should never be underestimated.Yet that is what we are seeing among our leadership.When they brief the nation on what interventions the government is coming up with to cushion families against losses of income as a result of covid-19, minister after minister would say Government would ensure that no citizens die of hunger.This casual statement has become a boilerplate kind of response. And there is no evidence to suggest that any official honestly and sincerely believes in what they are saying.These clichés (and they are indeed clichés) are anchored on old misnomers from another generation when Botswana used to have a strong family structure, strong welfare system and a wealthy government.

None of those are true today. And many people die of hunger which sadly either go unreported or classified as other causes.In fact, many families barely survive beyond hand to mouth kind of existence.There is no doubt that the pandemic will deliver a blow to many of Botswana’s children.As a matter of fact, the pandemic has brought into public glare the limitations and total inadequacies of the much-touted welfare systems in Botswana.Just when they mattered most, the safety valves proved as weak as to be non-existent.It all started with the closure of schools.In Botswana schools provide not just education, which has lately become more and more mediocre, but also food and nutrition for many of the children.Outside of the education framework, a majority of children in Botswana revert to all the frailties and vulnerabilities found in their homes.

Schools are now not just for education and sport. They have become holy grails of nutrition and with that survival for many children.When schools are open, many children can count on schools to deliver them three hot meals a day – well balanced and without fail.Now schools have been closed for more than a month.  As UNICEF has observed, school closure as a result of Covid-19 and the restrictions that come with lockdown has “upended” the lives and routine of children and their families.Stresses on families are now at new heights. Today there are relatively few cases of covid-19 in Botswana.It can still go either way. If, God forbid Botswana ends up where other countries in Europe and north America are where large numbers of parents will become absent because they are hospitalized, then the toll on children will reach a breaking point.This means that the primary source of food for many children is not there.This has placed extra burden on families that are themselves weak even during the best of times.

At the moment authorities are more obsessed with numbers of confirmed covid-19 cases and less with how children can be protected, maintained and fed while their parents are affected.In a few weeks, Botswana will be in the middle of winter, and the situation for children will become dire.If ministers are waiting for a statistic that a school going kid has died of hunger, they will not get it.Any death will be attributed to other causes.For these kids, when schools were closed, it was not only an afront on their leaning but also on something more crucial – food.As people worry on when schools will reopen, for many kids it is when will they once again access their livelihood.Just a few weeks before lockdown UNICEF called the editors of mainstream media to brief them on the general state issues pertaining to children in the country.

That meeting has over time proved prescient.Botswana’s underinvestment on children is glaring.And given the country’s deteriorating public finances, there is simply no how the country is going to catch up; post coronavirus.If anything, the situation will deteriorate, especially in the rural areas and also in those districts where poverty and schools’ results have traditionally been the worst in the country.The country’s western belt – from down south to the north is almost irredeemable, even without covid-19.Poverty and poor school results go hand in hand.The size of the family is also directly proportionate to the quality of life led by that family.We are seeing all those at play today.  There is a way out.Deliberate public intervention provides that way.This is certainly not the time to be pessimistic, but it is very unlikely that the children in Botswana will be seeing any surge in the quality of their life soon.Botswana may be ahead of its peers on taking care of children.

But it is the best among the worst cases, and thus really not much to brag about.Botswana needs to invest more on children, including strengthening children’s defence and protective mechanisms in a crisis.

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