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Support vulnerable children and families during COVID-19 crisis

OPINION
By Chege Ngugi | June 10th 2020
Chege Ngugi, Country Director, ChildFund Kenya

As the world continues to grapple with the Covid-19 nightmare and its effects on the economy, we must not forget about the most deprived, excluded and vulnerable – women and children.

The pandemic has brought to the fore urgent humanitarian needs requiring responses from all stakeholders. Inequality is a major challenge as almost 80 per cent of Kenyans are either income poor or near the poverty line. Poverty is most widespread in the arid and semi-arid lands and urban informal settlements.

According to Kenya National Bureau of Standards Economic Survey 2020, 83 per cent of Kenyan workers are in the informal sector, which most often is insecure. Most have low access to social protection services, much less for women, youth, and persons with disabilities.

Now, with people required to work from home, it means there is no income at the household level, creating stress for children and limiting their access to food, water and hygiene facilities. Forty one per cent of the population lacks access to safe water and 71 per cent use poor sanitation facilities. This presents a huge challenge in management of the virus.

Households are likely to adopt severe coping mechanisms due to shortage of food and lack of disposable income. Hunger puts children under five years at risk of malnutrition, pneumonia and other stresses. Health facilities are already over-stretched with health workers focused on the pandemic response.

Other vulnerable groups such as people living with disabilities, elderly and people living with HIV and Aids who already are dependent on the household heads are also having a difficult time. A recent poll by InfoTrack Research and Consulting showed that 75 per cent of Kenyans are worried about the coronavirus situation. This has been evidenced by increased stress at the household level through cases of gender-based violence, child abuse by foster caregivers and relatives, et cetera.

In order to address these emerging issues, we need to meet the immediate basic needs of vulnerable families and communities, in collaboration with the government and other stakeholders. One may assume that by now, Kenyans are aware of the virus and how to battle it. However, you would be surprised to learn about the misinformation flying about. People still need more information on Covid-19 prevention measures.

ChildFund is leveraging on existing structures such as youth and women groups, community health volunteers, local administrators and vernacular radio stations to disseminate key messages. We are also working closely with our partners to promote good hygiene practices and ensure communities have access to fixed and portable hand washing facilities, soaps, jerry cans, and  water.

With loss of income, safety net programmes need to be activated and expanded to ensure families can meet their basic needs. ChildFund is disbursing stipends to 4,000 most vulnerable families in 26 counties via cash transfer for a period of three months.

Communities must also be on the front line to protect children from any form of abuse during this period. They must report any abuse cases to elders, Nyumba Kumi and the police.

Let us also ensure children continue to access education through the available mechanisms such as radio and TV broadcasts and other child-friendly formats put in place by the government.

There have been discussions at the national level regarding the school calendar and effects on national examinations. It would be worth considering how the candidates are prepared for the assessments which would mean that the government could adjust the midterm and August holidays to cover lost time to cover the syllabus. At the household level, this pandemic presents an opportunity for parents to bond with their children and to provide nurturing care.

They should train children to wash hands properly with soap and running water, feed them with nutritious foods to strengthen immunity, set aside time to interact with children while being aware of their stress signs such as sleeping difficulty.

The pandemic provides an opportunity for reflection as a country on how we can improve existing systems so that we make the lives of our children better. Let’s continue to support the vulnerable. They need us now more than ever before.

Mr Chege is the Country Director, ChildFund Kenya

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