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Covid-19 breeding illegal gambling habits in children

Written by  Loness Gwazanga
Blantyre district social welfare officer Blantyre district social welfare officer

Blantyre, May 22,2020: It was exactly 8:00 a.m. in the mountainous area of Group Village Head (GVH) Pensulo under Senior Chief Kuntaja.
Located South-West of Sanjika Palace, 10 kilometres from Blantyre’s Central Business District, Chikondi Phiri (not his real name) knows no other place than this where he was born 15 years ago.

Chikondi has always harboured an ambition to don a military uniform and has worked tirelessly in class to push that dream to reality.

The first born in a family of four children, Chikondi has always been exemplary to his siblings but now feels like his destiny is slowly being shattered.

Three months ago, at sunrise, the Form Three Mitsidi Community Day Secondary School student, would wake up, sweep his parents’ surroundings and by 7:30 a.m.; would already be in class.

However, since schools closed indefinitely due to Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic on March 20, 2020 Chikondi has now turned to gambling, claiming that he feels he can make easy money while awaiting schools to re-open.

“I, together with my schoolmates now spend the whole day at the market, doing gambling. Sometimes I even go to the market without taking a bath because I want cart home more money,” he disclosed.

“I go home around 6 p.m. with about K10, 000 per day. I use the money to buy personal things like clothes,” he added, saying, “I can’t tell you how I raised the money to start gambling but you can rest assured that I didn’t steal. My parents know that if I’m not home, then I’m here; there is nothing they can do about it.”

One of Chikondi’s female classmates, who happens to be a leader of the group admits that the game was both illicit and immoral but challenges that she was not afraid of anyone because gambling has become part of her routine.

“Yes, the game is addictive but the school closure is indefinite; so, we are not certain when classes resume. My parents are now tired of reprimanding me. I know that I might not concentrate when schools open again and I fear for my future. Money is sweet you know?” she brags, without a shade of regret.

GVH Pensulo said she was baffled that this was happening right in her village. She assures to take necessary action against parents of such children.

“I cannot believe that this is happening in my village, I will certainly get to the bottom of the matter. Firstly, I will find out who the children are and their families and take their parents to task. Gambling is illegal.  

“In fact, the kids are under age to indulge in such activities. This cannot be tolerated in my area; I will put a stop to it,” Pensulo charged.

She pointed out that, “We are in a crisis; the children should have taken advantage of the situation to improve on their academic performance. They were supposed to be preoccupied with important things; they need to be doing revisions with friends so that when schools open, they should find it easy to adapt.”  

When news of Covid-19 first broke out in Wuhan City, China, the whole world was shaken and as the pandemic continues to spread, many countries with big economies such as Italy and the Unites States of America struggled to contain it, posing a big threat to Africa as it already has a frail health system.

African nations came up with distinguished strategies to ensure the pandemic is effectively contained.

In reaction, President Prof. Peter Mutharika in March declared Covid-19 a National Disaster as a containment measure to avert further spread of the virus in the country.

Mutharika, among others, ordered an immediate closure of learning institutions, both public and private. Moreover, government restricted gatherings of not more than 100 people during social events like weddings and funerals.

Blantyre District Health Promotion Officer, Chrissy Banda said the malpractice is defeating the whole purpose of controlling the disease as the children do not observe social distancing when gambling.

She observed that since the disease could be transmitted to another person in less than a metre long distance, the children have a greater chance of contracting the virus.

“We will continue with community sensitization activities to ensure that people don’t take the disease lightly. Covid-19 is real and its right in the country. If we are not careful, it will spread and reach a point where we shall regret our negligence,” Banda cautioned.

Blantyre District Social Welfare Officer, Stephano Joseph noted that the sector has already started investigating the matter to ensure children are protected from the malpractice.

“My office and that of the District Education Manager have already gone to the area for an investigation. The problem is that children corners and community based child care centres have since been closed in a bid to stop further spread of the pandemic.

“Most parents do not have parenting skills and with the closure of schools; they are finding it difficult to raise their children. My plea is that they must take full responsibility of their children. Such behaviours have a long lasting effect on children and if we are not careful, there will be massive dropouts once schools reopen,” he remarked.

Joseph added there was need for child-friendly messages to effectively fight Covid-19.

He says the social welfare was working with SOS Village Home to sensitise parents so that they take good care of their children during the open-ended holiday to make sure that their rights were protected from any abuse.

Weighing on the matter, SOS Children’s Village Programme Director, Loyce Mkuzi said there was need for concerted efforts by parents and local child protection committees to discourage children from indulging in the malpractice.

“Gambling is illegal; hence, not tolerated. To mitigate the problem, parents need to take an active role in their parenting by keeping children busy at home like supervising their home studies, giving age appropriate household chores and monitoring that the children do stay at home or their activities outside the home be closely monitored,” she suggested.

Mkuzi urged local leaders and community policing structures to monitor all places that are used for this illegal activity and take the necessary action.

According to recent report from Malawi Gaming and Lotteries Board which is guided by the Gaming Act of 1996, gambling should be for leisure and entertainment, as such, children are prohibited from participating.

The body is responsible for regulating the industry and issuing licenses to prospective gambling establishments.

“Although the problem of gambling has not been a major concern, it is reasonable to assume that as the gaming industry grows, it brings about both good and negative implications.

“The gaming law clearly prohibits participation of children in gambling. Equally, the remaining part of our society requires protection against irresponsible gambling,” the report stated.