[IRL] CHILD SACRIFICE in the TIME of COVID-19
By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
The Delta Variant surge has seen more adults in their prime stricken. Although children seem to have been more resistant to the disease, they are not immune. Since March 2020, the DOH has recorded approximately 120,000 children with covid, ages 14 years old and younger, and another 75,000 in the 15 to 19 years old age bracket. Many of these cases appeared starting January 2021. Thankfully, most are mild or asymptomatic and 92% have recovered.
However, Filipino children may never recover from the effects of the lockdown. During normal times, around 1/3 of Filipino children are already stunted or malnourished. This has been a constant whatever the population size, for at least the last hundred years, or ever since the American Colonial Administration implemented public health initiatives like weighing newborn babies and trying to prevent beri-beri. That disease is due to a Vitamin B1 or thiamine deficiency caused by the Filipino diet which consists mostly of over-polished rice. Due to persistent and recurring droughts, the Philippines began importing white rice from Vietnam, then known as Indochina, in the late 19th century. 150 years ago, Filipinos already preferred Vietnamese rice, as it was so much fluffier and whiter than the less polished rice Filipino peasants had to make do with to back then. Nowadays though, the healthier unpolished brown rice is more expensive and no longer affordable to peasants or to minimum wage earners.
In this century, instant noodles have joined white rice as the main staples of urban poor Filipino families’ diets. Both are highly processed foods, with practically zero nutritional value. Instant noodles do have an excess of salt or sodium, which aggravates hypertension. Even white rice and instant noodles are scarce, for the 25M more Filipinos—many of them surely children—who have fallen below the poverty line due to the government’s mismanagement of the pandemic response with its shamefully inadequate ayuda and anti-poor labor policies.
Apart from a lack of food, urban poor Filipino children also lack room to play. Ideally, an individual should have at least 25 square meters of living space. In the Philippines, that’s acceptable as the floor area of a low-cost house for a family of five to ten. Yet urban slum dwellers who have suffered the most under the lockdown have far less living space than that. With school play grounds and parks closed, urban poor children are practically imprisoned in their tiny unventilated hovels. Older children and teens make the wide streets their playgrounds during the curfew hours when vehicular traffic dwindles. Lockdowns deprive children, even adults, of healthy recreational physical activities in the fresh air, which would conceivably raise their immunity.
How can urban poor infants even crawl under these conditions? Malnutrition already blights their cognitive and physical development. The lack of space to go through the physical developmental milestones of human infancy further harms our children irreparably. Criss-cross crawling stimulates the corpus callosum, a band of nerve fibers, which facilitates communication between the two hemispheres of the brain. Babies who do not have the space or opportunity to crawl miss out for life. A decade or so form now, expect this generation of infants to perform even worse in those embarrassing international tests of academic knowledge and skills.
Recent intelligence tests of white American babies during the lockdown, none of them with disabilities, already showed an average 12-point decrease in their cognitive development. It was feared that if these relatively privileged and healthy white infants showed such a great lag, what more for the infants born in poverty, as in the Philippines for example. How much lower can we go? With the government pushing our children down, we may reach bottom yet.
Menchu Aquino Sarmiento is an award-winning writer and a social concerns advocate. IRL (In Real Life) are short verbal pagmumuni-muni, the essay equivalent of fast fiction--but in real life. She really wants more Filipinos to care, and to do something legal and non-violent about it, preferably together, so that we act more like a civilized country, a mature democracy.