Rising suicidal tendency among children in Kerala during lockdown causes concern

Violence faced at the hands of parents can be the most traumatic of all for children.

Thiruvananthapuram: At least 66 children have ended their lives in Kerala since the COVID-19 lockdown began on March 25. Unable to bear the unprecedented situation where schools are shut and friends are out of reach to share their woes, the youngsters are reeling under tremendous stress.

According to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, there has been an increasing instances of suicidal tendencies among children in the state due to various reasons, including parents scolding them over mobile phone use and failure to attend online classes.

This has prompted the government to launch a tele-consultation facility for children facing stress and also cautioning parents against hurting their sentiments while being concerned about welfare of their wards. It has also ordered a study into the issue.

"Among the children an increasing instance of suicidal tendency is being witnessed which will become an extremely serious social issue. Since March 25, when the national lockdown was imposed, 66 children, below 18 years of age, have ended their lives due to various reasons", Vijayan said.

A mother scolding her child for not attending the ongoing online classes, or a parent questioning a child for downloading a sleazy video on the smart phone or the constant rift between the parents were among the reasons which triggered the suicidal tendency, he said on Saturday. As the schools have not yet re-opened due to the lockdown, the children are unable to meet their friends and share their problems.

Vijayan said though the parents were intervening keeping in mind their child's welfare, it was essential to ensure that the young minds were not hurt in the process. To help the children facing issues relating to mental pressures, 'Chiri' a tele-counselling initiative has been started by the government under its 'Our Responsibility to Children' programme (ORC), a planned community intervention that connects with people between the age of 12-18 years. The state health department has also launched 'Ottakalla Oppamundu' (You are not alone, we are with you) programme to help children facing any kind of mental distress and to prevent the suicidal tendencies among them.

Health Minister K K Shailaja said under the psychosocial support assistance, her department has so far reached out to 68,814 children and 10,890 children have been given counselling. The changes in the behaviour of their children should be noted by the family members and if they find something amiss, the district psychosocial help desk should be informed, she said.

A 15-member team of Students Police Cadets will be constituted in each of the 14 districts to help the children needing any assistance, police sources said. Education should not be a competition, but a means to gain knowledge, Vijayan said.

A society's future lies with the children and it is the duty of the society and the government to ensure their physical and mental well being.

Taking a serious view of the situation, the state government has constituted a committee headed by Fire and Rescue Services DGP R Sreelekha to conduct a study on child suicides in the state. The aim of the ORC was also to create a multi-collaborative platform for government and professional agencies, parents and teachers to equip youth with appropriate know-how to face challenges, officials said.