Amidst child rights crisis, experts call to ‘reimagine’ a sustainable, safer world for children
Ahead of the World Children’s Day on November 20, and in the backdrop of theCOVID-19 pandemic, child rights experts highlighted the need to understand the full impact and invest more time, resources and efforts to protect the world’s youngest citizens from impact and the crisis. The call was made during an online media panel discussion, organized by UNICEF in partnership with the Foreign Correspondents Club of South Asia (FCC),
The session titled “Impact of COVID-19 Crisis on the Lives of Children in India,” drew attention to children’s health, their protection and on the learning crisis, to reimagine a more sustainable, safer world for children post COVID.
While delivering her keynote address, Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF India Representative, said, “The COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded as a child rights crisis. Through rising poverty andinequality, the pandemic has upended essential services that protect health, education and safety of children and young people.We need to adopt a whole of society child-centric approach as the costs of the pandemic on children are immediate and can persist for years, if not addressed.”
Referring to the health crisis, the UNICEF India Representative said, “We know that health systems are strained by the COVID -19 pandemic, however we must not allow our fight against one deadly disease to come at the expense of our fight against other preventable diseases. This means ensuring the continuity of immunization services to prevent all vaccine-preventable diseases, even as we address the growing COVID-19 pandemic.”
UNICEF also shared the results of Wave-2, a Community Based Monitoring (CBM) Mechanism on socio-economic impact of COVID pandemic on marginalized populations during the period August–September 2020.*
Drawing attention to the impact of the digital divide has had on children, particularly when only a quarter of households (24 per cent) in India have access to the internet and there is a large rural-urban and gender divide, Dr Dhir Jhingran, Founder Director, Language and Learning Foundation said, “Beyond the internet accessibility, the poorest students in remote areas and girls do not have access to smartphones. Marginalized children are paying the heaviest price as millions of young people are not able to access remote learning during school shutdowns.”
He called for “reimagining” for reopening of schools. “Safe re-opening of schools presents an opportunity to ‘build back better’ – by investing in equitable, quality education and skills development to ensure a whole generation of children and young people is not left behind,” he said.“Safe re-opening also includes looking at the psychosocial wellbeing of children when they join back as well as assessing the learning / revision needs of children as they enter new grades,” he added.
Meanwhile, Enakshi Ganguly, Founder & Advisor, HAQ Centre for Child Rights, highlighted the spike in child marriage and child labour during the pandemic. “Children are at heightened risk of exploitation, violence and abuse, including online risks, when schools are closed, social services are interrupted, and movement is restricted,” she said.
Ms. Gangulystressed on the need tostrengthenchild protection mechanisms at the local level for reporting of violence against children and making them accessible to all children, especially since schools and other educational institutions are not functional.”
In the ensuing discussion, the panellists said that for years to come, children and young people will be living with the longer term, secondary impacts of this pandemic on them and how the world chooses to respond to those will have a far-reaching impact on children’s lives.
- UNICEF conducted the Wave-2 of the Community Based Monitoring (CBM) Assesment on socio-economic impact of COVID pandemic from 12 districts spread over seven states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh during the period August – September 2020. This provides trends and insights into families in select locations to inform the COVID-19 response programmes, the findings are not nationally representative.
- The districts were selected purposively with high positive cases of infection and with high home returnees in the month of April 2020,
- In all 5,773 families were covered in Wave-2 of which, 17% families are female headed; and 1,049 families were home returnees in the last 3-4 months, or after March 2020 lockdown.
Results show that while economic situation of the families under the study remain challenging, selected government services have improved compared with the results of Wave-1 in June/July period. Key findings from CBM:
- Approximately three-quarters (74%) of the main wage earners in families reported that their monthly income is now lower than pre-lockdown.
- In urban areas just 64 per cent wage earners stated that their family had enough food for the next week. In rural areas the situation was considerably better at 79 per cent.
- About two-thirds who received cash assistance pointed out that the assistance is not adequate for meeting costs of food and other household requirements.
- About 75 per cent of respondents mentioned that the family has a debt burden due to pandemic, and nearly half of these stated that they had to sell their personal belongings.
- Out of those who were aware of the government’s cash assistance scheme, about a third of the families received cash assistance - more families in rural areas received cash (rural 39 per cent and urban 28 per cent).
- Cash assistance not adequate: About two-thirds (65 per cent) who received cash assistance pointed out that the assistance is not adequate for meeting costs of food and other household requirements.
- Debt due to lockdown: About 75 per cent of wage earners mentioned that their family has a debt burden due to pandemic, and of this, close to half stated that they had to sell their personal belongings, significantly more in rural areas than in urban areas.
 National Sample Survey 2017-18 and Indian Readership Survey 2019