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Children share lockdown experience
A major survey by the Children’s Rights Commission has shown the effects of the lockdown on children and young people in Flanders. The agency is calling on the authorities to use its results and keep children in mind when coming up with policies and communication for the next stages of the coronavirus crisis.
More than 44,000 children and young people completed the questionnaire, which asked them for their experiences of the crisis. Among the findings, the survey showed that one in three was scared of becoming ill themselves, and two in three were scared for friends and family. “These numbers show again the importance of correct information to reduce panic and fear,” the commission said.
The results also confirm indications by social workers that domestic violence has increased during the lockdown: half of those surveyed said there were more arguments in their home, and one in 10 said they had witnessed physical or verbal abuse. Of these children, the majority say violence has become more frequent since the crisis began.
Measures to prevent the spread of the virus have had an impact on the emotions and wellbeing of children and young people too, the agency said. “Boredom and loneliness are much stronger than before the crisis. Children are missing out on a lot in this period: most of all their friends, family and free time. Particularly if they are growing up in a situation with little space and with stress and violence, the impact of the measures is enormous.”
Following concerns raised by parents, teachers, youth workers and others, the survey was set up by the Children’s Rights Commission, the Children’s Rights Coalition and the Children’s Rights Knowledge Centre. They targeted children aged eight to 17, who make up 20% of the population of Flanders.
Children were asked for their views on home life, schoolwork, contact with friends, how they feel, what they are worried about and what would help them. The organisers want policymakers to take these views into account when deciding the country’s exit strategy and any future guidelines and has produced a report containing its recommendations. Representatives of the agencies, the Flemish Youth Council and a number of young people were due to present their findings to the Flemish Parliament on 28 May.
The survey also showed the importance of being in school: 70% of children and 45% of teenagers said they missed going to school, and almost half said they were experiencing more stress over their schoolwork. Stress levels increased with each school year. Almost half of those surveyed said they didn’t always understand the work they had been set to work on at home.
A committee of federal and regional representatives and public health experts has agreed that younger children can return to class in June. Nursery schools can reopen from 2 June and primary schools from 8 June. No nationwide decision has been taken on a return for secondary school pupils. Each of the three language communities can make its own decision, but the committee recommended that secondary pupils should only return for a few days before the summer break.
The Children’s Rights Commission is an independent body set up by the Flemish Parliament in 1997 to oversee the application of the UN convention on the rights of the child. The commissioner also represents children’s rights within the general public, examines government legislation and deals with complaints about breaches.
Photos courtesy Children's Rights Commission