Does COVID-19 Confinement Violate Children’s Right to Physical Activity?

Does COVID-19 Confinement Violate Children’s Right to Physical Activity?

09.4.2020

Photo: Glen Carrie on Unsplash

 

According to the Spanish Paediatrics Association (AEP), the recommended minimum amount of physical activity is three hours a day for children under age five and one hour a day for children over age five. In view of these guidelines, I am concerned about the health of the vast majority of Spanish children, who are currently confined to their homes and unable to meet their basic need for physical activity.

I am concerned about the health of the vast majority of Spanish children, who are currently confined to their homes and unable to meet their basic need for physical activity

The AEP guidelines state that physical activity can include “walking, cycling, swinging, or more energy-intensive activities such as running, playing tag, jumping, playing with a ball, or water-based exercise”. The AEP also recommends limiting children’s screen time. Unfortunately, families are now being forced to allow children much more screen time than usual, not only for schoolwork but also, in some cases, to keep them occupied so that parents can perform necessary activities other than taking care of them.

The Spanish Government, through the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training and the state-owned broadcaster RTVE, has launched a well-intentioned initiative called EduClan, which consists of online educational videos. Don’t get me wrong: families are deeply grateful for whatever inspiration they can get in the formidable task of educating their young children and keeping them entertained in the absence of their peers and daily routines.

However, while families can take on many key roles in these difficult times, most of them cannot guarantee that their children will get a minimally adequate amount of physical activity. This means that, at this time, every Spanish family is violating Article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that parents “have the primary responsibility to secure, within their abilities and financial capacities, the conditions of living necessary for the child’s development”.

Every Spanish family is violating Article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that parents “have the primary responsibility to secure, within their abilities and financial capacities, the conditions of living necessary for the child’s development”

According to the Spanish housing census, most homes in this country have between 76 and 90 m2 of usable space and most families have no garden. Many families would agree that an 80 m2 flat suddenly seems very small when the children cannot go outside to burn off energy. Crucial as it is, social distancing has interrupted all of our children’s extracurricular activities and sports. They can no longer play football in the square, go swimming, go for a bike ride, spend the afternoon in the park or play a game of tag, as the AEP urges them to do.

Photo: Alaric Sim on Unsplash

 

In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, other European countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany have encouraged outdoor sports and are allowing children to go for a walk outdoors if accompanied by an adult. By contrast, Spain’s emergency legislation allows people to walk their dogs but does not allow children to go out at all.

In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, other European countries such as the United Kingdom, France and Germany have encouraged outdoor sports and are allowing children to go for a walk outdoors if accompanied by an adult

The decision not to allow children a daily outing is epidemiologically questionable. There is little chance of contagion if children go for a walk in a public park or on a rural road, provided that they are accompanied by an adult and follow the distancing guidelines.

Will we continue to violate children’s right to physical activity? Have we really forgotten the basic needs of the most vulnerable? Do our children really deserve fewer rights than our pets?

 

Julie Chaccour has an MSc in infectious disease immunology, five children, and works as a freelance in medical communication.