Why Lockdown For Children Below The Age Of 10 Years Continues

India’s coronavirus lockdown has had many relaxations. Currently, in the Unlock 1.0, exemptions far outnumber the activities not allowed. The Indian Government has come up with several options to restore “normalcy”. However, all the Government orders, Central and State, are unanimous in one aspect:  The lockdown for children below the age of 10 years continues, i.e. they will stay at home.

Coronavirus is particularly lethal for the elderly. Hence, the Government advisory that persons above 65 years of age shall stay at home is logical and understandable. However, how and why the children below the age of 10 years are getting lumped together with the elderly. What is the rationale for the children to remain confined indoors?

I wrote why children parks remain shut in coronavirus lockdown when they should be the first ones to resume. As I thought more, I realized that it is not just about the parks. The issues and reasons are far more deeply entrenched, systemically and psychologically, that the Government keeps advising children below the age of 10 years to remain indoors without hardly any opposition to this hare-brained suggestion.

Infrastructure for children below the age of 10 years

Have you ever been to a public park with a children play area? Did you notice the size of the play area? Or, the number of slides, swings, see-saws, monkey bars, jungle gyms? I will tell you. We, my five-year-old twin daughters and myself, are frequent visitors to public parks. Children play area will have 2-4 slides, 2-4 swings, 1-2 see-saws, 1 monkey bar and 1 jungle gym irrespective of the catchment. These numbers are on the higher side, with a majority of them broken and non-functional.

Have you ever been to a Government Anganwadi in a city? Did you notice the size of the room and the number of children crammed into it? The same goes for Government schools. Poorly ventilated tiny rooms, dimly-lit or worse with no electricity, the unwanted saving grace being full attendance only at the time of meals; else minimal children.

Even the private schools, except for the top 10%, are plagued with limited space being jostled by a far higher number of children. This issue of apparatus not able to cope with the number of users, children, is chronically present in all the fields – zoo, museum, play-grounds etc.

Manpower for children below the age of 10 years

Children below the age of 10 years require supervision and monitoring. This requires trained and motivated manpower to be present all the time a facility is open for children. This is conspicuous by its absence in India, the numbers as well as the quality, in public as well as a private domain.

There are, of course, teachers, support staff, resource persons etc truly interested in the well-being of children. However, they are few and far in between. The institutional bandwidth devoted to their training and happiness is fairly limited and barely invested in.

Simply put, the manpower required to implement the coronavirus do’s and don’ts in public places for children below the age of 10 years is not present in India.

Mindset for children below the age of 10 years

The malaise runs far deeper. The infrastructure and the manpower can only be the manifestations. The driving factor is that children below the age of 10 years lack the consideration and attention they deserve.

For us adults, a child is seen only from the lens of school-induced existence. Rote learning and crammed lessons get accepted as education in our society. A carefree and playful childhood gets swapped with rat-race for grades and marks.

We cannot foresee children having fun and being themselves. A child has the right to be outdoors with nature is a completely neglected notion. An idea of learning for children when they interact with each other in a non-formal natural environment bereft of instructions does not appeal.

The underlying mindset: What is there to invest in children apart from preparing them for JEE/NEET?

 Summing Up

During regular times, the creaking infrastructure make did with jam-packed children. The manpower managed the show with middling results. Now, suddenly the coronavirus has laid threadbare the limitations of the Indian set-up.

India is not designed and prepared to keep the children safe and happy. The Government knows this, so the lockdown for children below the age of 10 years. The parents also know this, so no opposition to the Government.

Anyways, the coronavirus is not going to change our mindset. The Government is busy preparing for JEE/NEET. The Cabinet Minister for HRD and the private schools are busy with online education charade. Who cares if children below the age of 10 years cannot play outside? They were not supposed to, in the first place, in the Indian scenario.

#UnlockChildren.

Existential Questions Asked By Children In The Times Of Coronavirus

Children ask interesting questions. Coronavirus has ensured that their armoury increases further. Though, the areas that they venture into asking these questions are, at times, not easy to manage. Our twin daughters did ask about death and illness in their regular queries. However, in the times of the coronavirus, the existential questions raised by them have increased in frequency and intensity.

Needless to say, coronavirus has impacted our lives. Apart from us adults, it also affects young minds. We, as adults, try to comprehend and interpret what is going on around and try to be in control of the narrative. However, for children, I have no idea how their impressionable minds are trying to figure out the happenings.

Children fall ill, so do their parents and adults around. The mention of the diseases and medicines are limited to the sickness period in the house. It is not a subject that gets discussed daily for an extended duration. The coronavirus has suddenly changed this context. Even though everyone in the family is in sound health, the virus ailment gets spoken about daily.

Our soon-to-be six years old twin daughters have now been hearing about coronavirus for 4-5 months. They understand that people fall ill due to the virus and that it can be life-threatening. Out of the blue, their happy-go-lucky world has been turned upside down. No more parks, no more field visits with Dirty Feet team, no more outdoors.

Why people die because of the virus? Would people be alive if the virus was not there? Why death?

We have no idea what to answer and how to answer. We cannot shoo them away, we cannot engage in a discussion with them, we cannot bluff our way out. I keep mumbling about numbers, hygiene, masks, social distancing and they do not get any hang of it. They keep asking and then they get busy in their play leaving us with their unanswered questions.

Unexpectedly, they pop up a question if they/us are going to get affected by the virus. Either one or both of them look at us expectantly to hear that they will be fine, all of us will be fine, all the people they know will be fine, all the people in the world will be fine. It is extremely difficult to face these moments that pop up out of nowhere.

A below incident happened 4-5 weeks back and it makes me wonder about the impact of the coronavirus and the discussions thereof on the small minds.

During Lockdown 2.0, one of the girls developed a certain medical condition. We spoke to her paediatrician and sent him the videos of the child. He told us to see a super-specialist ASAP and helped us get an appointment the very next day. With the help of a family friend, we worked out the logistics to and fro.

Suddenly, the kid said that she will not come to the hospital. Going to a hospital is a routine affair for us; the girls are used to the medication as well. Why would she refuse all of a sudden? We kept asking her but she would not answer. Finally, she said that with the coronavirus around, we should not venture out during the lockdown. She was afraid that if we go out we might catch the infection, and she was scared. She was too scared.

We kept explaining to her that we will take all the precautions and hopefully, we should be fine. Also, the visit to the super-specialist cannot be postponed for her health was at stake. She just would not listen and kept on crying that she does not want to go out of the house. It was so terrifying that thinking about this incident even now brings tears to my eyes.

She did not say in as many words, but we could hear her saying that she did not want to die. It was so terrifying for us. The fear of coronavirus had crept into her thinking and would not let her go.

(PS: We did manage to convince her. The super-specialist cleared her of any serious issues that would require medical intervention).

This keeps me thinking about the impact of coronavirus on young minds. What are they thinking about it? How is it impacting their behaviour? What is going to be the future consequences in their lives? How will they be able to soak in the new normal of living with the coronavirus? And, again making a change to their routine when the vaccine/medication finally arrives.

I fear that the coronavirus has hastened the exit of childhood from children. With all the existential questions clouding their minds, the virus is fast-tracking children to sullen adulthood, much before they should.

I have no idea how to answer their existential questions and help them deal with this frightening phase of life.

Do help with your thoughts in these trying times.

Coronavirus Lockdown: Why Children Parks Remain Shut?

India’s coronavirus lockdowns have had several iterations. From Lockdown 1.0 to Lockdown 4.0, as cases rise, so have the relaxations. However, as far as children are concerned, two aspects have remained constant. The first aspect is the push, rather the shove for online education/learning. The second is the continued closure of parks – open green spaces to play for children.

When I refer to parks, I neither mean the places with rides nor the places with slides/swings. The park might as well have these things. However, I mean parks as a place where children can chase squirrels, collect twigs, leaves, seedpods etc, roll and slide over the grass, snoop on the centipedes, and more. All these activities happen under the shade of trees accompanied by the light wind to ensure that there is no sweat even in this weather.

I fully respect the lockdown measures imposed by the Government. At the same time, I also feel that the easing of relaxations pertaining to children is not getting the importance it deserves.

A plethora of relaxations, but not one for the parks

The industries have resumed. All sorts of offices have started functioning. Trains, flights, buses, taxis, autos have started. All the shops are open. Resumption of liquor outlets grabbed the national headlines. However, the parks remained shut and continue to remain shut till day.

For reasons beyond my understanding, parks are spoken about by Government in the same breath as malls, theatres, religious places, restaurants, educational institutions (barring conducting of examinations) etc. All these places are closed and congested. Majority of them are air-conditioned. All of them require disinfectants to get rid of the coronavirus and all the other organisms.

In comparison, the park is open to air place. It gets sufficient sun-light as a natural disinfectant. There is enough and more place to maintain social distancing norms. Even then, a park is nowhere getting mentioned as a candidate for immediate re-opening.

A multitude of options for other relaxations, but not one for the parks

The Government has come up with social distancing norms for offices, factories, shops, public and private transport etc. In some states/cities, shops follow odd-even dates for opening. There is a safety SOP/protocol for almost everything. However, none exists for parks.

Similar to other relaxations, the parks could have also had their recommencement protocols. The park could have different time-slots for children of different ages. A time-slot of 6-8 am for children below 8 years, time-slot of 8-10 am for children from 8-10 years and likewise. The parks could have odd-even dates, odd for children with parents, and even for the elderly.

I mean, if there is a will, there could be a way for re-opening of parks. Just that, the Government does not seem to consider a park as an essential service.

The push for online learning, but not one for the parks

The Honourable Minister for Human Resources Development, Ramesh Pokhriyal, has been unequivocally prescribing online learning for children of all ages so that they do miss out on their valuable education. Every private educational institution has logged on to virtual classrooms for their students.

However, not one of them has advocated/spoken up even once for opening up of the parks. Seemingly, for them, the learning for the students happens only in the confines of the classroom, physical or virtual. They would not even consider parks as a recreational option for their students; else even for that the Cabinet Minister/educational institutions would stand up for its re-opening.

To be honest, even in the best of times, hands-on experiential learning in the lap of nature for children below 8 years was never an option in Indian educational context and it is not even now. Similarly, for children above 8 years, reinforcement of their classroom learning never happened in the outdoor context and it continues to remain so.

In nutshell, well-fed online education has many parents, promoters and care-takers. In comparison, a park is a mal-nourished orphan and continues to remain so.

Parental decision

The detractors of opening up of parks can say that children can contact the coronavirus in the park and pass on to their parents/grandparents. Why should they be put at risk? Spot on. For that matter, why should an adult go out for work, contact the coronavirus and put their children/parents at risk? Well, the adult has to work, everybody agrees. Well, the children have to play in open green spaces, nobody agrees.

There is every probability of things to go wrong, which anyways are going wrong, even without opening up the parks. Moreover, it has to be parents who have to decide whether it is safe for their children and them to go to a park. Why a nanny state is needlessly getting into these minute details and deciding on behalf of parents? This has lesser risk vis-a-vis much other stuff that the state has already opened up and put the entire nation at risk.

Summing Up

Coronavirus lockdown could have been an opportunity to resurrect the importance of parks in the growing up years for children.

Just that, there is no entrenched lobby to speak up on behalf of the children or the parks.

Coronavirus: Life Learnings For Children

Dearest Daughters

We, the humans, thought, believed and acted that life is to be lived in a certain manner. We had notions about living a life, learnt and perpetuated from seeing the world around us. Majority of us scorned and scoffed at the idea that we need a change from what we know as life. And, then came the coronavirus.

We believed that we were the masters of our planet. Our leaders were guiding us on the path to economic glory. We paid lip-service to nature and dis-regarded climate change. We called our planet Mother Earth and abused her in all way possible. There was just no stopping to us – the invincible humans. And, then came the coronavirus.

The coronavirus up-ended our living and brought unthinkable changes to our life (even if temporary), what we have called “life” till now. We reasoned that humans could not live in any other way than what we consider as “life” and surprise of surprises, all of us are still alive.

The Rush-hour

We believed that unless we are a part of the rush hour, we have missed out on life. If we do not see people rushing around us and if we too do not dash ourselves, we are losers. We took pride in being hustlers. We jostled and toppled, pushed and shoved, and felt uneasy when not able to do so.

The coronavirus showed us that life can exist in a slow-lane too. The world moves not because of the people moving around us and self, rather it is independent of us. Now, each one of us is at home, literally. Though, figuratively, we are hustling even now, just that it has become long-distance.

The learning for you – Life can exist without being a part of the rush hour.

The Academic Rat-race

We were taught to believe and we believed that children are an extension of us, adults. If adults are in a rat-race for money and fame, children should be in one too for marks and grades, the academic rat-race. We believed that children cannot exist without the shackles of schools and the current educational system.

Lo and behold. The coronavirus threw the children out of schools. The children are left without the exams and tests, their raison d’etre. Now, the adults are ensuring that the children remain in the academic rat-race with on-line learning. Long live the schools, just that it has become long-distance.

The learning for you – Children can exist even without schools if they live life with their parents.

The Self-sufficiency

In India, we have the tradition of maids and cooks and servants and all. Indians strive to be a developed country but cannot live without the maids and helpers around them. Even the NRIs and OCIs, who are self-sufficient in doing household chores abroad, become third-world citizens when in India, in this regard.

The coronavirus ensured that all the trappings in our lives were removed. In a very different way, coronavirus has made us a developed country. Do we appreciate this? Can we remain like this? Nah, we are itching to get back our maids. We want to be first-world but want the frills of the third world.

The learning for you – Life can be lived independently without anyone to pick behind.

The Pollution-free Environment

The nose is used to breathe polluted air. The ears are used to hear large decibel honking. The skin is used to artificial lighting throughout the day in the confines of closed rooms. The eyes are used to the rapid movement of people and vehicles. The taste-buds are used to eating multi-course meals.

Now, suddenly the coronavirus has turned everything upside down. In every other learning till now, the mankind is trying to ensure that s/he lives in the same way, as earlier, with no perceptible changes – work from home for them, on-line learning for children, somehow to get maids to turn up. But, in this particular case, coronavirus is winning hands down.

The learning for you – Life can also be lived in a pure and unadulterated environment.

A Little Bit Less Is A Whole Lot More

Coronavirus has shown that a little bit less of what we termed as life till now, results in a whole lot more of what life might be and could be. As children, life can also be about picking up stones, nature walk around the house, hearing the chirping of birds and also, being with one’s own family.

Once the coronavirus threat retreats, mankind will press forward with vengeance. We will have to make up for the lost time. Bad habits die hard. I am sure the coronavirus will also fall off the thick-skinned and self-centred humans.

The learning for you – Live Life Sustainably and Sensibly unlike the previous generations before you.

Quit the race.