Parents in the Philippines are finding some creative ways to get their children outside to play as pandemic restrictions continue.
One of those children is two-year-old Nathania Ysobel Alesna. On a recent day in the capital Manila, Nathania played outside her home for the first time in her life. Government-ordered coronavirus restrictions had kept her inside for the past 20 months.
Nathania rode a bicycle as her mother, Ruth Francine Faller, looked on.
Faller told Reuters her daughter experienced “overflowing” joy at getting to play outdoors. “She looks innocent and at the same time amazed at what she saw," Faller said.
Later, Faller shared the experience online with a Facebook group that includes other parents in the area. The group is designed to help parents find places where their children can spend time outdoors or in public places without getting in trouble with police.
For many of the 40 million Filipinos under the age of 18, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a continuous lockdown. This is because the government considers children a particularly high-risk group. Few other countries consider children high-risk.
After 20 months, hundreds of thousands of parents are turning to social media to find safe areas for their children outside the home. The parents worry about how such long-term stay-at-home orders will affect the mental health of their children.
The Facebook group is called "Kids Are Allowed." It aims to find creative ways to treat play as exercise and identify public spaces where enforcement is not as strong.
The group was set up in March by Hershey May Avillo-Parcarey. It has grown quickly. She told Reuters she gets up to 5,000 requests a day to join the group. The group now has around 200,000 members. Similar groups have also been created.
The nationwide policy, ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte, bans minors from outdoor areas and public spaces. But the rules are enforced unevenly. There is an exception that permits minors to be outside if they are exercising.
The Philippine government repeated in late October that at-risk groups, including children, are still under stay-at-home orders.
Some businesses have faced government action for accepting children. But officials in some areas recognize that parents are growing tired of restrictions and sometimes overlook violations.
Mica Cañete recently visited a shopping center in Manila with her husband and their daughter, who is almost three. It marked their first family outing in 20 months. "I already have many spots in my bucket list for the kids, so I am thankful for ideas in the Facebook group," Cañete said.
Mental health experts say such groups provide support for struggling parents and for children who are experiencing emotional and behavioral issues after long periods spent indoors.
Anna Cristina Tuazon is a professor at the University of the Philippines and a psychologist who treats children and families. She told Reuters that the Facebook group is an example of one way to help prevent parents from feeling alone.
A report in the medical publication JAMA Pediatrics said in August that depression and anxiety rates among young children across the world may have doubled since the start of the pandemic.
Parcarey said she does not approve any posts by Facebook group members that suggest things like hiding children in the driver's seat to avoid police. Her own eight-year-old son, Railey Samuel, said he misses going out to do things. "Now, it's hard for me to go out,” he said. “I pray for the coronavirus pandemic to be gone.”
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
bicycle – n. a vehicle with two wheels that you sit on and move by turning the two pedals
amazed – adj. extremely surprised
lockdown – n. an emergency in which people are not permitted to freely move about an area because of danger
allow – v. to permit
shopping – n. the activity of buying things from shops
bucket list – n. a list of things a person would like to do before they die
psychologist – n. someone who has studied the human mind and feelings
anxiety – n. fear or nervousness about what might happen