The Children of Nowhere
This film, by Kunal Purohit and Abeer Khan (biographies below) for Collateral Global, cuts to the heart of CG’s research agenda: understanding the enormity of the harms which lockdowns brought about among vulnerable populations in the Global South.
The education loss among poor kids in Low- and Middle-Income Countries has been nothing less than devastating, as Purohit and Khan’s film shows in gut-wrenching detail. Children who were learning and had a sense of a positive future were ripped out of education permanently and thrown into lives of hard labour with no sense of a more optimistic vision for their futures. Cases of child marriage soared, as parents found themselves without work or food and with a sense that they needed to marry off their adolescent girls before the costs became impossible. In sum, so many hundreds of millions of lives were shredded.
The data on this in India is despairing, adding context to the human stories which leap out of this film. Schools in India closed for almost 2 years, and yet only 8% of rural children in India were able to attend online classes, and 37% did not attend any classes at all. The reasons for this were made abundantly clear in the film: rural kids simply did not have the technology, the phones, and the money to buy enough data to make online study at all plausible as an outcome.
India’s is a disturbing story, but it is made all the more alarming when we realise that it is not alone. Schools closed for 2 years also in Honduras and Uganda. In Honduras, it’s estimate that the impacts set back education at least 5 years. In Uganda, 20% of schoolchildren never returned, meaning that an estimated 4.5 million schoolchildren were lost to education altogether. On the other hand, there were large rises in teenage pregnancies – effectively, young women were taken out of education and a sense of different potentials for their lives for good.
The connection between the closure of schools and the sexual health of young women is clear. One report in Latin America found that women’s sexual and reproductive health had gone backwards 30 years, owing to declining access to contraceptives and the way in which organizations which worked in this area had seen their services affected. When schools close in rural communities at a time of socioeconomic crisis, the impacts have proven to be catastrophic.
Moreover, beyond the extreme examples such as this, schools were widely closed across LMICs for at least a year. This was the norm in Latin America, and in many parts of the world. In Africa, In Angola, as the Gender Studies specialist Elsa Rodrigues pointed out in a CG podcast, children were not even allowed to leave their homes for the first seven months of the pandemic, where “remote schooling” was practised in a situation of overcrowded accommodation without electricity and running water. By July 2021, in South Africa it was estimated that half a million additional children were out of school, while younger grades lost a whole year of learning.
In Nigeria, a World Bank study saw a correlation of school closures with a near 7% dropout rate (9% for those aged 12-18), and increased child marriage with girls 10% less likely to recommence school than boys in north-western Nigeria. This confirmed a UNICEF report from March 2021 warning that school closures and poverty caused by the pandemic measures had placed 10 million additional children worldwide at risk of child marriage. When schools close, the pressure on adolescent girls became significant in poorer societies, and an October 2021 survey from the Global Schools Forum found that only three schools in Kenya (out of 22 surveyed) and 11 schools in Nigeria (out of 47 surveyed) reported that over half of their students had had access to learning during the previous 18 months.
Sometimes we hear people saying that the immensity of these harms “weren’t apparent” at the start – that we’ve only found out about them in the harsh light of hindsight. But this doesn’t take account of the report which UNESCO released on March 19th 2020 on the likely impacts of school closures. This laid out in clear detail how it would be the most underprivileged who would be the worst affected, how there would be impacts on nutrition and child protection, and how school closures could only immensely exacerbate inequalities owing to gaps in care caused by the stress and competing responsibilities provoked by this policy.
Policymakers knew. And we must therefore ask why they proceeded with this policy for such a long period of time, with such devastating consequences. As we move on from the immediacy of the pandemic, this analysis is going to require both data and stories. The data gives a sense of the overall picture, and how immense this is: but it is also individual stories which emerge in films like this one which help us to ask these questions with all the force at our disposal.
Directors: Abeer Khan and Kunal Purohit
Producer: Kunal Purohit
Research and Concept: Kunal Purohit
Editor: Abeer Khan
Director of Photography: Abeer Khan
Color Grade: Lilia Toledeo – Picture Post Studio
Conformist: Piyush Parmar
Sound: Rahul Kumar
Equipment: Kamlesh Pandey – Ultra Video
Drone Photography: Rahul Kawale
Transport: Pawan Bhange
Special thanks: Rahul Bais, Aarti Bais, Rima, Deepak, Vijay and Pintu.
Kunal Purohit is an award-winning independent journalist
Abeer Khan is a film-maker and photographer based out of Mumbai
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