The Financial Express

A silent, but grim, fallout of Covid-19

A silent, but grim, fallout of Covid-19

A grave phenomenon related to the one-and-half-year corona ravages in the country appears to have gone largely unnoticed. With the whole country and the authorities concerned remaining busy with covid-19 tests, vaccination and health guidelines, few have sensed the insidious creeping of a harsh reality into society. Even the ever-watchful socio-economic observes seem to have failed to detect the grim development. The phenomenon involves a universal rule --- the growth of children. In a tropical country like Bangladesh, babies grow into boys and girls faster than those in the winter-dominant regions. Commensurate with this process, boys and girls reach their adolescence, and then step into the stage of youth, and, later, manhood and womanhood. It continues at the dictates of nature.

In a casual look, this progress doesn't warrant a special attention. But the time in question has been one of a pandemic prompting hundreds of restrictions. The most debilitating of these prohibitions was the one slapped on the primary and secondary schools. Schools were declared shut for indefinite periods, with the closures extending from time to time. Regular students, many serious with their studies, suffered the most from this unexpected halt to their school attendance. Due to parental poverty, many of them couldn't think of a smart-phone to attend online classes. Compared to their urban counterparts, the children in villages, especially the female ones, were found caught in a different impasse; it would finally emerge as inescapable. With the normal physical changes altering their looks, the girl-children kept being overtaken by the early beckoning of adolescence. These physical changes in the pre-teenage stage of girls have been occurring in the rural areas earlier than in the cities. The changes in their daughters are first detected by the mothers. In the case of the ongoing pandemic-prompted home-stays, it is also the mothers who get the jitters centring round their daughters. In time the fathers are alerted to the developments. Needless to say, lockdowns and home-stays were slapped to ensure pandemic-time safety.

Had their daughters been engaged in regular school attendance and studies, the girls' physical changes would have been overlooked. But prior to the present directive of school reopening finally, students and their parents, as well as the teachers, were completely in the dark. They had little idea if the schools would resume anytime soon. In dealing with their 'fast-growing' daughters, a solution was at hand --- marrying the teenage girls off. Almost in the same manner, the teenage male students were made to engage in helping their fathers in work.

The decisions of the parents, especially of the girls, were shaped by their desperate situation. They found themselves in a dilemma. Moreover, they were aware of the 'state prohibition' on marriage of under-age girls. In their bewildered state, many of them may have found it practical to marry their daughters off. They, apparently, did not want to take the risk of their daughters being dubbed unfit to be a bride due to over-age.

The urban girls, being mostly the offspring of educated parents, also underwent almost the similar physical changes. Adolescence also made them either forlorn and melancholy or restless. But these post-childhood girls didn't have to face the pressure of marriage. In cities, the question of being married off doesn't arise before they crossed the Bachelor's hurdle. There are exceptions, though. But in general, they are seen staying put with their studies. Deviations occurred during the long closures of schools. The girl students appeared to have reached adolescence quite prematurely.

Parents couldn't always track their children's browsing pattern when not attending online classes. By using the internet, Facebook and many other social media outlets, many normally introvert girls found the keys to entering the worlds of thrill and suspense. Many got acquainted with the adult's domain forbidden to them. But once hooked, it would become difficult for them to come free of this world meant exclusively for adults. Thus the urban girls, along with their physical changes, developed a way of thinking and seeing the world in ways suiting the adults. All this happened due to the teenage girls' unbridled exposure to the virtual world. The corona-time school closures had brought them these opportunities.

Similar experiences enriched the boys with clues to scores of adult subjects online. As a result, many children-turned-teenagers became acquainted with violence and senseless brutalities and related matters, which had normally been strange to them. The result was the teenage boys' premature attaining of adulthood. Surprisingly, there were post-teenage male and female youths, different from those discussed, in the large cities, including Dhaka, who utilised their free time fruitfully --- and to the maximum. In some esoteric way they could understand that the corona pandemic would come to an end one day; and in the new reality of post-pandemic world, they have to pass through lots of struggles --- in other words, tests of survival. They realised it was the best of the times to prepare themselves to face the new challenges. In their uses of the online medium, the virtual world had brought before them the guidelines on how to face the inevitable adversities which might prop up as hindrances to their noble missions of life.

Signs are becoming apparent that the intensity of the one-and-half-year-old corona pandemic is on the decline in the country. Perhaps, this weakening trend of the scourge has prompted the authorities to go for school reopening. But how the policymakers will recompense a brilliant rural school girl obeying parental commands to get married off is set to prick the conscience of many.

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