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Children 'suffered' under Covid-19 lockdown: Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu

Children have been exposed to adult content during the lockdown, deputy social development minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said on Monday.
Children have been exposed to adult content during the lockdown, deputy social development minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu said on Monday.

South Africa’s children have been forced to “look after themselves” under lockdown. They have been victims of and witnesses to gender-based violence, watched as their parents were forced into a “unsupervised detoxification” and exposed to cyberbullying as they've spent more time online.

This was the frank admission from deputy social development minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu. She and minister Lindiwe Zulu spoke during the launch of Child Protection Week on Monday.

Covid-19 and the lockdown “brought a number of challenges for children”, she said, adding that with the ban on alcohol under lockdown, many parents were forced into “unsupervised detoxification”.

“Let me share what I have picked up in the support that we had to give to children,” she said.

“Children had to look after themselves, because as South Africa we are a country that abuses alcohol. And with a lot of abuse of alcohol came the removal of alcohol and unsupervised detoxification. A lot of families went into detox.

“Parents were present physically, but they were shaking, sitting on the couch, crying - all of what represents detox. And they could not look after their children. Children had to look after themselves.

“A lot of children told very difficult stories.”

Bogopane-Zulu added that children “were exposed to a lot of gender-based violence, where mothers and fathers just could not coexist”.

“A time that was supposed to be a family time, even though it was the virus that was forcing us to be together - but a lot of children were exposed to violence in the places where they were supposed to feel the most safe: the home,” she said.

“So we had to now intervene and interfere in that which was supposed to be the best of family time because parents were fighting.”

The deputy minister said children have been spending more time online, which posed its own challenges.

“We experienced an increase in cyberbullying. It also said to us that there is a lot of policy and there's a lot of education that needs to happen, in terms of parents understanding what kind of content their children are exposed to from the phones we buy them and the time that they spend [on devices],” she said.

“That's what lockdown showed us: the time that our children spend in front of the television watching shows and content that are not child-friendly. And that as parents, we subscribe to a lot of the nice DStv channels, but actually we don't understand the issue of parental control and the importance of why parental control needs to be in place.

“So we saw a lot of children being exposed to a lot of content that are not really child-friendly.”

Children were also “out in the streets”, said Bogopane-Zulu, because their houses were too small.

“When the adults were in the house, the children had to go outside and had to play outside - sometimes without warm clothes in the cold, without masks on their faces - even though we said it's important that we have a mask,” she said.

Covid-19 has also been particularly brutal on children, with disabilities as caregivers could not get to their homes because of the lockdown.

“We also saw a lot of disabled children were left without caregivers.”