Gambian children, including young students, have been bored at one place since the declaration of stay-at-home order by the government as a way of controlling the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country.
The instruction came with emergency regulations which support the State of Public Emergency which has been repeatedly renewed since March. Schools and children playgrounds have since been closed as well.
A 16-year-old student, Mariama Njie, described it as the worst experience of her life.
“It’s a trauma for me. The stay-at-home has affected me in different ways. I’m totally restricted. I’m not allowed to meet my friends or go on my normal outing,” she told Xinhua.
According to her, aside from meeting friends in school, her domestic work has also been increased. “I was not doing much work at home. But now, I can’t do anything to avoid doing house chores,” she said.
Mama Secka, also a student, said that the pandemic has affected her so much, especially when the stay-at-home order was declared.
“I can’t go about my normal activities anymore. In fact, I can no longer trust even my friends and I have no choice but to stay at home,” she said.
The Director of Social Welfare, Jankoba Jabbi, said that due declaration has denied the children their right to move and play with their friends. “This will affect them psychologically, because they are denied their free movement. It’s their right, but it’s restricted,” he told Xinhua.
“They should be compensated by providing toys and other materials that they can entertain themselves with, because if they don’t have these facilities, they are going to be affected emotionally,” he said.
Jabbi believed that child abuse may increase due to close and constant interactions between children and adults, even sexual, physical and emotional abuses.
“I think parents should be tolerant, they should understand that this is a situation that nobody was expecting. They should treat children with love, care and provide them with all their needs, since their movements have been restricted,” Jabbi said.
National Coordinator of Child Protection Alliance (CPA) Lamin Fatty said that the closure of schools and child care centres have effectively excluded children from basic services.
According to him, the stay-at-home has resulted in exposing children to multiple forms of violence and abuse, including sexual violence, child labor exploitation, physical and humiliating punishment.
“COVID-19 has disproportionate adverse impact on children, especially those with disabilities, children living on the street and child domestic workers,” Fatty explained.
He added that while at home, girls, particularly, are at heightened risk of early marriage, female genital mutilation and gender-based violence.
A psycho-social worker, Jim Jobe, told Xinhua that social restrictions and school closures are causing feelings of anxiety among children, with many at risk of lasting psychological distress, including depression.
“Children may struggle with boredom and feelings of isolation. Feeling helpless, loneliness and fear of being socially excluded, stigmatized or separated from loved ones are common during the COVID-19 epidemic,” he said.
Jobe disclosed that prolonged stress, boredom and social isolation, as well as lack of outdoor play, can lead to a higher number of mental health conditions among children. “Children being unable to play outside with friends or fears of falling behind education, feelings of anxiety and deprivation could affect their mental health status,” he told Xinhua.
Gambia has seen an increase in new cases with the total confirmed COVID-19 cases up to 41, including two deaths.