In a worrying trend, an average of 31 children died by suicide every day in India in 2020. Experts feel that the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent closure of schools and lockdown could be the reason for the sharp increase with the pandemic greatly accentuating the psychological trauma faced by children.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau data, 11,396 children died by suicide in 2020, an 18 per cent rise from 9,613 such deaths in 2019 and a 21 per cent rise from 9,413 in 2018.
'Family Problems' (4,006), 'Love Affairs' (1,337) and 'Illness' (1,327) were the main causes of suicide among children (below 18 years of age). Ideological causes or hero worshipping, unemployment, bankruptcy, impotency or infertility and drug abuse were other reasons behind suicide by some children.
Prabhat Kumar, Deputy Director – Child Protection, Save the Children, said Covid-19 and the resultant school closures and social isolation coupled with anxiety among elders have further aggravated the issue of mental health and brought it to the forefront.
The successively increasing number of suicides among children reflects a systemic failure, he said. "It is a collective responsibility of parents, families, neighbourhoods, and government at large to provide a conducive ecosystem where children can look forward to realizing their potential and fulfilling their dreams for a bright future. Committing suicide, on the contrary, is an antithesis," Kumar said.
Experts state that the stigma attached to mental health and an abysmally low number of per capita mental health professionals was in need ofimmediate attention. Covid-19, and the resultant school closures and social isolation coupled with anxiety among elders has further aggravated the issue and brought it to the fore.
From the very beginning of the pandemic, it was one of the major concerns that it might impact children's mental health and psycho-social well-being. The recent NCRB data actually underscores the fear that the pandemic may have accentuated the psychological trauma faced by children to a great extent.
"As the NCRB data reveals, a total of 11,396 children (5,392 boys and 6,004 girls) have died by suicide in 2020, which accounts for 31 deaths per day or approximately 1 child committing suicide per hour," she said.
"Children have gone through tremendous emotional stress and trauma due to home confinement and lack of interaction with friends, teachers or any other person in the position of trust due to prolonged closure of schools and limited social interactions," she said.
Many of them have been through a hostile environment at home, many others have seen the demise of their loved ones and have faced the impact of fear of contagion and deepening financial crisis at the family level, she said.
Many children have also experienced huge uncertainty related to the completion of curriculum, exams and results.
"A huge number of children, especially the ones living under the shadows of multi-dimensional poverty, struggled with attending online classes and were majorly impacted by the digital divide, while many others suffered from over-exposure to internet and the social media and were subjected to online bullying and allied cyber-crimes," she said.
"All of these, compounded with an overall anxiety of the uncertainty of the future, must have been too much to bear for their young and tender minds," she added.
(With PTI inputs)