MEMORANDUM SUBMITTED BY SAVE THE CHILDREN TO THE SENATE AD HOC COMMITTEE ON COVID -19 ON BEHALF OF KENYAN CHILDREN
Save the Children has been operational in Kenya since the 1950s, providing support to children through developmental and humanitarian relief programs delivered both directly and through local partners. Current programming focuses on child protection, child rights governance, education, health, HIV/AIDS, livelihoods, nutrition and WASH. In 2012, as part of a global reorganization process. We are the largest global independent organisation for children.
It is trite that Covid-19 is a global pandemic, which threatens children’s rights in countries around the world and exposes them to potential disruption to their education, healthcare, protection and wellbeing, including social interaction with family members, teachers and adult caregivers. Granted, children have been grossly affected with one death so far reported and a number still recovering after diagnosis. We have witnessed an increase in sexual violence cases, with children being affected.
Save the Children’s previous experience of responding to infectious disease outbreaks highlight major risks to children and their families that arise from the pressure on healthcare systems resulting in reduced access to routine health services (e.g. disruption of routine immunisation and antenatal care services). Further impacts include heightened exposure to child protection risks of neglect, abandonment, violence and exploitation through loss of or separation from primary caregivers. Children living and working on the streets those in care homes, juvenile justice and other detention centres are extremely vulnerable to infection. Cumulatively, there is an exacerbation of gender-based violence with profound psychosocial impact that may arise from the existing curfew, quarantine, isolation, stigmatisation and separation from or loss of caregivers.
As a multi-mandated organisation, we have identified serious concerns about the immediate and long-term impact Covid-19 and the ongoing response measures may have on the health and well-being of children, especially those most vulnerable.
Our five overarching concerns for children are:
1. Challenges on access to routine basic health services;
2. Increased child protection risks;
3. Disruption to education;
4. Lost family income/livelihoods and resultant food insecurity; and
5. Potential economic slowdown
To address these concerns, it is critical for this Honorable House to make proposals on an integrated approach that prioritises the needs and rights of children, especially those most vulnerable, and mitigates the long-term impact this pandemic may have on them, their families, and their communities, today and for years to come.
1. Challenges on access to basic health services
It is important to note that whereas the country’s healthcare systems are already responding to the pandemic, outbreak, the same system is expected to continue discharging its expectation of guaranteeing access to essential quality health services that are critical for child survival. However, our experience of responding to infectious disease outbreaks tells us that children’s health is often compromised during such responses with services such as routine immunization and antenatal care services being relegated to the back banner due to intense pressure on national healthcare systems. We are particularly concerned about reports of mothers who have been unable to access health care services during this difficult times. A case in point was reported in the Standard Newspaper (7th April 2020), where Catherine Twili from Mutei Village in Mbooni, delivered her baby alone, and she did not wake up the following day, she was found dead, the new born next to her. The baby survived. Kenya stands the risk of reversing the gains we had begun making on reducing maternal mortality and ending preventable deaths of new borns and children under the age of five years.
Health workers are very critical during this period. We have witnessed isolated cases of health workers threatening to “down their tools” after raising concerns over remuneration and failure to be provided with the requisite protective equipment necessary for the discharge of their duties. It is unfortunate to note that scores of health workers are reported to have contracted Covid-19 in line of their duty.
Noteworthy, children experiencing community and household quarantines, the loss of family members and friends, and increasing deprivations due to social disruption may experience psychosocial trauma. Caregivers experiencing significant stress may not provide appropriate care and protection for their children. Finally, children whose caregivers succumb to the virus, or whose families’ livelihoods are disrupted, will be more vulnerable to violence and exploitation.
It is in this regard that we appeal to this Honorable House in exercise of its oversight mandate as stipulated under Article 96(3) to Ensure that the provision of these routine child health care services is not compromised during this period.
Ensure that health workers, and community health volunteers, where possible are remunerated, empowered and supported. They must also have the right training, skills, equipment, resources and supplies (including personal protective equipment) to respond and stop COVID-19 in its tracks.
2. Increased child protection risks
We have significant concerns that the spread of COVID-19 and related response measures will drastically increase protection risks for children, in existing humanitarian crises, and for children already experiencing extreme poverty. This can increase girls’ and boys’ exposure to physical and gender-based violence, child labour, child marriage, and sexual exploitation and abuse. Stigmatisation also increases the risks of physical and emotional maltreatment, social exclusion, and distress for children.
Lost income/livelihoods, food insecurity, and closure of schools and day care centres will increase family stress and conflicts within the home. Especially where traditional gender norms are strong, this may lead
to increased domestic violence and children’s exposure to greater levels of psychological, physical, and sexual violence at home.
Hardships related to the loss of income/livelihoods may also push children and families to take up negative coping mechanisms, which increase girls’ and boys’ exposure to family separation, child marriage, child labour, and sexual exploitation and abuse.
Children without parental care—whether pre-existing such as living on the streets in urban slums or consequent of a parent’s/caregiver’s death, hospitalisation or quarantine—are especially in need of protection as they lack the means to survive in a crisis, can become targets for violence and exploitation, and may not receive timely information to protect themselves from the disease. Strains on public services during a pandemic can also result in the breakdown of referrals between health and child protection systems, and the weakening of child protection services.
Children who have lost or at risk of losing parental care are under great risk and danger during the COVID- 19 crisis. This is due to challenges such as lack of access to adequate basic needs, increased cases of abuse and inadequate support to families and communities to provide for their children. There is need to ensure that the safety and protection of children in alternative care in not compromised.
We call upon this House to take a particular interest in emerging reports on violence against children, and in particular ensure that adequate resources are allocated to the Department of Children Services and the National Council for Children Services to popularise the National Helpline Toll free line 116 as a reporting mechanism for any violations of child rights.
The National Council for Children Services and the Area Advisory Councils at the county and location level are revitalised and utilized as a follow up mechanisms for such cases.
3. Disruption to education
The impact of school closure extends beyond disruption to education and carries multiple, secondary risks to children from low-income households because children may rely on school meals to support their daily nutrition intake and access protection services through school. There is overwhelming evidence that the longer children are out of school, the risk of them never returning increases significantly.
We applaud the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development and the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation for the ongoing interactive radio instruction. However, we call upon Senate to ensure that the Government puts in place easy-to-use distance learning tools, ensuring technologies used do not exclude the poor, disabled or marginalised girls and boys.
Parliament develops policies that require other private media houses, particularly community radio stations to consider engaging learners using their media houses during this period.
The Ministry of Education is challenged to think about innovative solutions for the most poor and vulnerable children.
4. Lost Family Income/Livelihoods & Food Insecurity
Covid-19 impacts essential livelihoods programmes/activities. As markets close and income generating opportunities shrink, those most vulnerable in savings groups will have even less or no income, affecting their ability to save and repay loans either to savings group or microfinance institution. Those who live in slums and depend on informal markets and daily wages for income will not be able to trade for income due to movement restrictions. In the most fragile contexts, households do not have reserves to support themselves, forcing many families to rely on external aid in order to survive.
Disruptions, including movement restrictions, are also likely to compromise parents and caregivers’ ability to make a living and meet their families’ basic needs, particular impacting women. COVID-19 will take away resources that women need, as their burden of care increases and their paid livelihoods suffer losses.
Whereas we applaud the appropriation of an additional Ksh 10 Billion to the elderly, orphans and other vulnerable members of our society to cushion them from the adverse economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. We ask that Non State actors that have been involved in cash transfer programmes especially in “hard to reach areas” should be involved to support the scale up the interventions during this pandemic.
Further, the Senate, in upholding its mandate under Article 96 of the Constitution should ensure that County Governments make allocations to respond to this crisis.
We appeal to Parliament to consider enacting a substantive legislation that will comprehensively address issues of Covid-19 as opposed to the current approach where Regulations are developed. Such a legislation will deal with emerging issues in a holistic manner, and will avail Parliament an opportunity to robustly engage with the Covid-19 response. The proposed stimuli programmes, health interventions and the attendant institutional frameworks will derive their legitimacy and existence from the proposed legislation.
5. Potential economic slow down
It is already evident that the pandemic will have a negative impact on the economy as income earning sectors in Kenya including tourism, manufacturing and agriculture have been severely affected due to shutdowns in major markets and the disruption of the global supply chain. It is worth noting that the three sectors accounted to over 40% of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2018. The proposed tax cutting measures meant to cushion the populace from the vagaries of the pandemic, will cumulatively slow down domestic resource moblisation efforts by the Kenya Revenue Authority, thus resulting to a smaller resource envelop for the Government. Overall, the country’s GDP could be affected downwards by 10 to 25%.
We urge Parliament to work very closely with the Treasury on at least three fronts.
First, the Government should explore the possibility of re-negotiating bilateral loans that are due to be paid this year to be paid in the medium term, thus freeing the much needed resources to address the on-going pandemic. This is in tandem with
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) plea on international bilateral creditors to suspend debt payments to give developing countries including Kenya time to absorb shocks of coronavirus pandemic.
Secondly. This House should urge the Treasury to robustly engage bilateral creditors on the need to waive interest on the debts due. According to UNCTAD, such a waiver will avail USD 44 Billion to African countries, including Kenya, which will certainly go a long way in helping African Governments to mitigate the effects of Covid-19.
Finally, this House should unanimously support sections of the international community, that are spearheading calls for debt cancellation. Writing off developing country debts, based on need rather than bargaining power, is very critical. UNCTAD has been unequivocal on this by noting that “…the wall of debt repayments about to hit a large number of developing countries is unsustainable.”
Save the Children is grateful for the opportunity availed by this Honourable House present this memorandum for and on behalf of Kenyan children and reassures all children, parents, caregivers, the Government of Kenya and other stakeholders of its unwavering commitment to be involved in both preventive and response initiatives as shall be practically possible. We are available to offer any clarifications on this memorandum, and welcome an opportunity to make an oral presentation upon request. Together we shall overcome the threats of COVID-19.
Signed by ………………………………………………………………….
Wang Le, Country Director
For more information, please contact
Ibrahim Alubala, Child Rights Governance and Advocacy Technical Specialist,
Save the Children, Kenya Country Office
Tel No. +254722378582