Written by: Kavitha Vijarayaj, Manager End Child Poverty Knowledge Centre
The evolving context of the COVID-19 pandemic has detrimental economic and social consequences in most countries across the world. This is especially the case for countries in the global south where vast majority of the citizens live in poverty. As a result, families living in poverty tend to face different challenges, and are at high risk of experiencing multiple deprivations that overlap, this includes, deprivation of safe drinking water, nutrition, cooking fuel, sanitation, healthcare, and education. Among this, children living in poverty are the most vulnerable as they tend to suffer more due to the negative implications of COVID-19.
Impact of COVID-19 on Child Poverty in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has in previous years experienced devastating crises, however, the country has never experienced a pandemic before. This has put most communities in an emotionally fragile state. The pandemic has not only left Sri Lanka battling economic recession, but has left the country with social issues such as the increase in violence against women, children, and ethnic tension among diverse faith communities amidst the lockdown/curfew. There is an increasing concern around the safety and wellbeing of children who have been socio-economically excluded, who are deprived of basic needs like; food, healthcare, and education. These children are also at high risk of facing violence, sexual exploitation, child labor, neglect, maltreatment, psycho-social distress, physical and emotional abuse.
An increase in the rates of violence, sexual abuse and exploitation of women and children has already been reported during the first week of the Island’s wide curfew and it is feared that this may increase if necessary steps are not taken to protect children and women during curfew/lockdown. Similarly, unaccompanied children who are currently in quarantine centres, hospitals, or separated from their parents and caregivers, such as children living in institutions, are more vulnerable to experience emotional distress. In such situations, it is crucial for the government and necessary stakeholders to immediately and effectively amplify existing child protection and child-wellbeing services to ensure that all children are protected.
Response by Faith Leaders
It is important to mobilize faith communities to work collectively to prevent and mitigate the unprecedented challenges facing vulnerable children, especially those living in poverty at present and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Religious leaders play a crucial role in positively influencing millions of their followers to ensure that the vulnerable members of their communities like women, the elderly, and children are protected and their dignity upheld. This has proven to be effective in the past during the civil war, Tsumani, and floods where religious leaders engaged in humanitarian efforts along with communities and promoted the wellbeing of vulnerable groups such as women, the elderly and children.
In the current context of COVID-19, religious leaders have played an active role in guiding their followers to adhere to the COVID-19 preventive protocols, they also condemned the discrimination meted against COVID-19 patients and defused ethnic tension by sharing messaged of peace, solidarity and hope that stems from religious teachings. Religious leaders are collectively working with the government, mass media, and civil society organizations to promote the protection of children and ensure their wellbeing in the current context. Similarly, religious leaders have taken initiatives to distribute dry ration packs to underprivileged communities and have also supported in stitching Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) clothing for health sector workers and community members.
There are many examples of interfaith initiatives where religious leaders from diverse faiths are working together in solidarity for the betterment of all Sri Lankans. The role of religious leaders in the current context has been influential in building community resilience, spreading faith and solidarity, and has also set an ideal example for religious leaders across the world.
A Buddhist Monk stitching PPE clothing for health sector workers to wear during the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Source.
Buddhist monks distributing medical masks to commuters at the Fort Railway station in Colombo. Source.
A Buddhist Monk and an Islamic priest sewing face masks to circulate among people. Source.
Kollupitiya Jumma mosque distributes more than 4,000 family packs to the needy, affected by the spread of COVID-19. Source.