Billions of Children are Being Punished by the Pandemic

Photograph Source: amslerPIX – CC BY 2.0

The Great Lockdown lingers month upon month. The virus continues its march across the world; the disease continues to infect people and take lives. Uncertainty grips all of us, unsure if the disease’s peak has been reached and if the Great Lockdown will soon slowly lift. In places such as Brazil, India, and the United States, the irresponsible and incompetent governments are eager to open things up to galvanize economic activity; they do not appear as concerned about breaking the chain of the infection. U.S. President Donald Trump said that he wanted testing to be slowed down, a dangerous statement that goes against all the advice from the World Health Organization. No sense in ending the Great Lockdown if such an opening is only going to continue to infect people and prevent a proper end to the pandemic.

There are immense casualties from this Great Lockdown. Incomes have collapsed for half the world’s population, while hunger rates are on the rise. But there are other casualties, other victims, often less remarked upon.

Digital Divide

Parents around the world have been confounded by the school closures. Their children have been at home, experimenting with different forms of home schooling. Schools have closed in 191 countries, with at least 1.5 billion students and 63 million primary and secondary school teachers out of the classroom. Where the internet is widely available, children have been able to do their schooling through web-based platforms, although the character of the learning is doubtful. Concentration has diminished, and the depth of the educational experience has become shallow.

Where the internet is not available, children have been unable to continue with their studies. A UNICEF study from 2017 showed that 29 percent of youth worldwide—about 346 individuals—are not online; on the African continent, 60 percent of children are not online compared to 4 percent of European children who are not online.

Many of these children can go online with a phone and with expensive cellular data; they do not have a computer or wireless internet connections at home. A UNESCO study recently found that half of the children who are not in a classroom—namely 830 million students—do not have access to a computer; more than 40 percent of children have no internet at home. In sub-Saharan Africa, almost 90 percent of students have no household computer and 82 percent cannot get online through broadband at home. The digital divide is real, and it continues to impact the educational opportunities of children during this pandemic.

There is no clarity that these children will be able to go back to school anytime soon. Creative ways to continue distant learning—such as the use of community radio stations and television channels—are being studied. But there has been no will to impose a mandate for educational programming on private television channels and radio stations.


In June, the WHO, along with other UN agencies, released a landmark study, “Global Status Report on Preventing Violence Against Children 2020.” Sadly, this study—like so much about the status of children in our time—has received almost no news coverage.

The data on violence against children—before the Great Lockdown—is shocking. One out of every two children aged two to seventeen experienced some form of violence each year. A third of students between the ages of eleven and fifteen have been bullied by their peers during the past month, while about 120 million girls have suffered from forced sexual contact before the age of twenty (it is important to note that there are no global numbers on the rates of sexual violence against boys). The report offers the first-ever global homicide number for children under the age of 18; in 2017, 40,000 children were victims of homicide. Laws exist in 88 percent of the world’s countries that forbid all these atrocities; yet, reporting rates are low, and in at least 47 percent of the countries, enforcement is miserable.

The WHO study says that violence rates against children have increased during the pandemic and such violence “is likely to have long-lasting negative consequences.” In many countries—such as the United States—there is a decline in reporting of child abuse cases to child protection services; this, the study’s authors argue, is because the “frontline providers in the community such as teachers, social workers, nurses, physicians—who under normal circumstances would recognize the signs of abuse—no longer [have] direct contact with children, and therefore [are] unable to report suspected abuse.” In the United Kingdom, calls to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children rose by 20 percent.

Movement restrictions, unemployment, isolation, overcrowding, and other factors, the report notes, “have heightened levels of stress and anxiety in parents, caregivers and children.” For those households where family violence is already a problem, this is a nightmare scenario. “Stay-at-home measures have limited the usual sources of support for families and individuals—be they friends, extended family, or professionals—further eroding their ability to successfully cope with crises and the new routines of daily life.” Writing in the Atlantic, Ashley Fetters and Olga Khazan say that this is “the worst situation imaginable for family violence.”


While the Great Lockdown continues, no good solutions exist for either the digital divide or the violence inside homes. Without a robust public sector that invests in free and universal internet access and provides computers to each child, there is going to be no real breakthrough of the digital divide.

Similarly, unless governments transform their public health systems and social worker programs to have routine contact with households in communities, there will be no real way to identify cases of child abuse and protect the children.

No amount of privatization or philanthropy can solve the problems of the digital divide and of violence against children. What is needed are well-funded programs of a decentralized but robust state, with free Wi-Fi and neighborhood public health and social work offices. In a post-COVID-19 world, such policy demands should be at the tip of the world’s tongue. It is the only approach that will be able to provide children with protection.

More articles by:

Vijay Prashad’s most recent book is No Free Left: The Futures of Indian Communism (New Delhi: LeftWord Books, 2015).

Weekend Edition
August 07, 2020
Friday - Sunday
John Davis
The COVID Interregnum
Louis Yako
20 Postcard Notes From Iraq: With Love in the Age of COVID-19
Patrick Cockburn
War and Pandemic Journalism: the Truth Can Disappear Fast
Eve Ottenberg
Fixing the COVID Numbers
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Every Which Way to Lose
Paul Street
Trump is Not Conceding: This is Happening Here
Robert Hunziker
The World on Fire
Rob Urie
Neoliberal Centrists and the American Left
John Laforge
USAF Vet Could Face ‘20 Days for 20 Bombs’ for Protest Against US H-Bombs Stationed in Germany
Andrew Levine
Clyburn’s Complaint
Kavaljit Singh
Revisiting the Idea of Pigou Wealth Tax in the Time of Covid-19
Paul Ryder
Here Come the 1968 Mistakes Again
T.J. Coles
Fighting Over Kashmir Could Blow Up the Planet
David Macaray
Haven’t We All Known Guys Who Were Exactly like Donald Trump?
Conn Hallinan
What’s Driving the Simmering Conflict Between India and China
Joseph Natoli
American Failures: August, 2020
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid or One State: Has Jordan Broken a Political Taboo?
Bruce Hobson
The US Left Needs Humility to Understand Mexican Politics
David Rosen
Easy Targets: Trump’s Attacks on Transgendered People
Ben Debney
The Neoliberal Virus
Evelyn Leopold
Is Netanyahu Serious About Annexing Jordan Valley?
Nicky Reid
When the Chickens Came Home to Roost In Portlandistan
Irma A. Velásquez Nimatuj
The Power of the White Man and His Symbols is Being De-Mystified
Kathy Kelly
Reversal: Boeing’s Flow of Blood
Brian Kelly
Ireland and Slavery: Framing Irish Complicity in the Slave Trade
Ariela Ruiz Caro
South American Nations Adopt Different COVID-19 Stategies, With Different Results
Ron Jacobs
Exorcism at Boston’s Old West Church, All Hallows Eve 1971
J.P. Linstroth
Bolsonaro’s Continuous Follies
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
Right-Wing Populism and the End of Democracy
Dean Baker
Trump’s Real Record on Unemployment in Two Graphs
Michael Welton
Listening, Conflict and Citizenship
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump Is The Only One Who Should Be Going To School This Fall
John Feffer
America’s Multiple Infections
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Thinking Outside the Social Media Echo Chamber
Andrea Mazzarino
The Military is Sick
John Kendall Hawkins
How the Middle Half Lives
Graham Peebles
The Plight of Refugees and Migrant Workers under Covid
Robert P. Alvarez
The Next Coronavirus Bill Must Protect the 2020 Election
Greg Macdougall
Ottawa Bluesfest at Zibi: Development at Sacred Site Poses Questions of Responsibility
CounterPunch News Service
Tensions Escalate as Logging Work Commences Near Active Treesits in a Redwood Rainforest
Louis Proyect
The Low Magic of Charles Bukowski
Gloria Oladipo
Rural America Deserves a Real COVID-19 Response
Binoy Kampmark
Crossing the Creepy Line: Google, Deception and the ACCC
Marc Norton
Giants and Warriors Give Their Workers the Boot
David Yearsley
Celebration of Change