– Above: The report on the effects of Covid lockdown on children, Counting the Cost: COVID-19 school closures in South Africa and its impact on children.

Two faculty members at the Stellenbosch University Department of Economics, Prof Servaas van der Berg and Dr Nic Spaull, have recently completed a report titled “Counting the Cost: COVID-19 school closures in South Africa and its impact on children”.

Selected findings from the report:

  • 1 million children under 6 left “home alone”: The researchers believe that there are up to   1 million children aged 0-6 years who are left “home alone” because the economy has re-opened while creches and ECD centres have remained closed. These children have no other adult caregiver in the house, except for a working parent.

“Our analysis shows that if all employed workers return to work, there would be more than 2 million children aged 0-15 years without an older sibling (15 years+) or an adult caregiver to look after them. Of highest concern are the almost one million children (974 000) below the age of six who have no other adult caregiver in the household except a working parent. It is highly plausible that hundreds of thousands of these children would be left home alone in households without an adult caretaker if their employed caregiver was forced to return to work to earn an income and sustain her family. Even though most sectors of the economy have re-opened, ECD centres or crèches remain closed.”

  • “After reviewing the evidence presented in this paper, it is our view that keeping children out of school is not in the best interests of the child. Consequently, all children should return to schools, crèches and ECD centres without any further delay. The profound costs borne by small children and families as a result of the ongoing nationwide lockdown and school closures will be felt for at least the next 10 years.”
  • “Millions of South African children’s education and mental health have been compromised in this initial period of uncertainty. Given what is now known about the mortality rates of COVID-19, we believe that the ongoing disruptions to children’s care, education and health are no longer justified.”
  • “Given the large social and economic costs of hard lockdowns and wholesale school closures, we would strongly caution against future nation-wide lockdowns or school closures, even in the presence of a surge in COVID-19 infections.”
  • “Based on the government’s current plans, by the end of term 2 (7 August 2020) South African children will have lost between 25% and 57% of the ‘normal’ school days scheduled up to that point as a result of COVID-19 school closures.”
  • “Although initially there was considerable uncertainty about the number of deaths that COVID-19 would cause in South Africa, and there is still some ongoing uncertainty, existing projections from almost all analysts do not show more than 48 000 deaths from COVID-19 in South Africa. We argue that the relatively low mortality risk from COVID-19 needs to be contrasted to the significant additional mortality risk from acute malnutrition and associated mortality in children (especially pneumonia, diarrhoea and HIV/AIDS) arising from the lockdown.”
  • Data show that “at least 50% of learners are in classes that exceed 40 learners per class. Widespread overcrowding makes practicing social distancing in most classrooms in the country practically impossible. “We believe the Department of Basic Education should acknowledge that it is not feasible for most South African schools to practice social distancing within the classroom.”
  • The researchers explain that children are at risk of lasting psychological distress as a result of the prolonged lockdowns and school closures.

“School closures, lockdowns and increased financial stress are likely to have increased the risk of child abuse, mental health breakdowns and the emotional exhaustion of caregivers together with rising rates of depression and anxiety. Recent surveys of children in Nicaragua, Indonesia and a number of other countries have shown that children are at higher risk of lasting psychological distress.”

  • “Children’s routine immunisations, testing for HIV and TB, and health seeking behaviour when children seem sick are all likely to have decreased as a result of the lockdown and school closures. The NICD reports a 48% reduction in TB testing. Any delays in the diagnosis and treatment of HIV in either pregnant mothers or new-born children is likely to have long term consequences.”