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COVID-19 Awareness and Child safeguarding issues during Lockdown: Rapid Assessment

COVID-19 Awareness and Child safeguarding issues during Lockdown: Rapid Assessment

As the coronavirus emerged as a global threat, Mercy Corps Nepal began taking steps to ensure the safety of its staff and partners, ensure continuity of program activities and proactively engage with the government’s effort to contain the spread of COVID 19. 

Mercy Corps Nepal formed an internal taskforce on February 21st to adapt with the current crisis and to effectively coordinate between the country staff and its partners and serve as a focal point to the MC global team, government stakeholders and other peer organizations. The taskforce is active on developing contingency plans for all MCN activities, work on risk communication community engagement activities and responding to the crisis. 

In this regard, Mercy Corps Nepal education project – Supporting the Education of Marginalized Girls (STEM-II) – has already started work at the community level in province-7. The program has been immediately adapting its activities after the shutdown of schools from March first week while developing contingency plans for the continuity of project activities. Currently, STEM II is focused on disseminating awareness information through radio and online platforms while conducting assessments for the wellbeing of its participants as well as developing adaptive measures to achieve the project goals. Some of the project schools have also been transformed as quarantine centers due to an increased threat of COVID-19 in Kailali and adjoining districts.

Rapid Assessment: 

Respondents: 58 STEM II participants (33 In School Girls/ 25Out of School Grils)

Location: Kailali District, Sudur Paschim Province

Objective: Understand awareness level on COVID-19 and Child Safeguarding issues

The project has recently (w/c 27th March) conducted a rapid survey (some face to face, and some over telephone) with IS and OOS girls to assess their living conditions, health and hygiene practices, knowledge/awareness around Covid-19, safeguarding and psychological stress, access to resources, changes in their daily lives, their safe spaces and support and coping mechanisms which will be analyzed and shared to the program team for immediate action and adaptations. The team has reached out to 58 girls for the survey, randomly selected from a mixed group of IS and OOS girls from rurbal, semi-urban and urban areas.

The survey included 58 participants of MCN STEM II education project where 11 participants had to be interviewed via phone due to the curfew issued in Dhangadhi starting 2 o’clock Tuesday, March 23rd, 2020, followed by a nationwide lockdown. The participants, mostly school girls of the MCN education project showed a high level of awareness of the issue.

Key Findings

Awareness on the COVID-19 and its Prevention Measures:

The Rapid Assessment conducted with 58 project participants – In School girls and Out of School girls – revealed that everyone was aware of the covid-19 pandemic while most of the girls were informed about the pandemic and its preventive measures. 

  • More than 90 % participants responded that the basic ways to prevent getting the disease was by washing hands frequently, isolating oneself as much as possible and wearing masks to avoid getting infected with the virus. 
  • Only 53 percent thought that coughing into tissues and handkerchiefs or using their elbows was essential to prevent or transmit the disease. Similarly, the majority of the girls were aware about the symptoms where most of them said that fever was the most indicative symptom with dry cough and flu like symptoms, while only 47 percent said that difficulty in breathing was one of the symptoms. 

This indicates that the overall participants showed general awareness on the issue and were mindful about the symptoms and preventive measures. 

Information Channel:

Despite the advancement in technology and popularity of the internet skyrocketing, the majority of the girls 83 percent feel radio is the most reliable news source. 

  • Only 62 percent of the girls answered TV as a reliable source of news while 53 percent said they would have access to information on health updates in which 31 percent stated they would have access through radio. This indicates radio as one of the most trusted and popular means in the region as a mass media to disseminate information and conduct awareness campaigns. 

Child Safeguarding:

Meanwhile despite all of the participants saying they have been impacted by the lockdown, the majority of the participants said that their daily lives haven’t been affected drastically but there have been prominent issues that have sprung up.

  • 69 percent of the participants said that psychological distress was one of the major risks apart from the ongoing health risk. Few of the respondents 5 percent have put down protection risk as one of the major risks during lockdown indicating risks of child abuse.
  • 60% respondents stated that fear of death was one of the major concerns while only22% feared inaccessibility of health services
  • A small portion of the respondents 10 % stated that the influx of migrant workers from abroad and one of the biggest entry point from India located in their district are few of the many problems faced by people in their communities.
  •  Having said that, the majority of the respondents said that talking to their parents was one of the existing support mechanisms while the respondents stated that they felt safe at their own house.

Monitoring Plans  

Similarly, the project plans on conducting weekly conversations with randomly-selected project participants and stakeholders via telephone, starting w/c 12 April. For this, 15 female and 5 male project staff will contact on average four different stakeholders per day, including girls to parents, headteachers, teachers, cooperative members, VT partners, and local government members. While the female staff will reach out to girls, parents, teachers and head teachers, male will reach out to cooperative members, VT partners and the local government.

This will give us a better picture of the current scenario for all these different stakeholders. The weekly trends from the information collected from 400 stakeholders will be discussed in the weekly STEM team meeting, and to assess the feasibility of adapting activities based on the changing context. Different stakeholders will be reached each week.

Conclusion

The assessment at a glance indicates that people are more or less aware of the situation and the various preventive measures of the disease yet there is need for additional awareness programs to provide the required information to the communities. There has been scarcity of masks and hand sanitizers while people still have access to basic essentials.

Access to hygiene and sanitation, a high priority to prevent the disease, is not a threat as people have access to water and sanitation kit. The rapid assessment is also indicative of psychosocial distress among children while shows the need of awareness on how to manage and behave with children during such crisis situations. It also indicates general fear among