Quarterly Bulletin

Bal Raksha Bharat

May 2020 | ISSUE-IV


Understanding Child Rights

Save the Children COVID-19 response, much beyond humanitarian relief

As India remained morally committed to reduce the risk of the infection, the humanitarian crisis that the deprivation wreaked continued to grow. The pandemic was indeed bigger than a health emergency—it completely led to the collapse of public systems leading to a suspension of nutrition, health, and education services that are often the only hope for the ones living on the brink. Not to wonder, the worst-hit remained the children and the women.

People belonging to low socio-economic backgrounds who were largely dependent upon Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Midday meals, and Public Distribution System (PDS) for bridging the protein and calorie deficiency were left to fend for themselves. The complex nature of the crisis needed interventions much beyond the immediate humanitarian relief.

A multi-pronged approach towards system strengthening

As Save the Children reached directly to more than one lakh people with dry ration, milk, food, and health items, it simultaneously organized its efforts towards strengthening of systems in the intervention areas through leveraging its relationships with key departments and community platforms. The interventions were focused on ensuring the continuation of services for vulnerable groups including new and pregnant mothers, newborns, infants, and adolescents.

A 360-degree approach to continue the services was ensured through appropriate alternative support systems. In Telangana, close tie-ups with the local auto drivers were being consolidated to ensure safe institutional delivery for the women among the migrant community, Internally Displaced Person (IDPs) and the target communities. This was to compensate for the disruption of ambulance services in the present times. These auto drivers were given special permission to ferry women to health centres for safe delivery, anti-natal and pre-natal check up etc. We also deployed local mobilisers or attendees identified from the community itself to accompany the women to the health care centres.

Save the Children also supported local and district administrations for centralised door to door supply of food grains through technical support at COVID control room in Badwani district of Madhya Pradesh. The control room would follow up with the households on their status of food, ration and medical supply and ensure regular availability through facilitating linkages with PDS shops and other subsidized stores. The food packets and dry rations from different volunteers are also being collected at the central control room and distributed to the needy families based on their requirements communicated through phone calls.

One of the fallouts of the COVID-19 containment measures, including the closure of primary schools and Anganwadi centres, was that children in rural India were denied one guaranteed school meal, potentially worsening an already ‘severe’ malnutrition problem in India. While the central government had directed the states to make sure that children don’t suffer from the lockdown, the reality varied on the ground. Families ran out of ration and groceries and were left to fend for themselves, with no economic or livelihood support. Save the Children galvanized the supply and demand sides through close coordination with the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) departments in the intervention areas and mobilizing communities to demand and advocate for Take Home Ration (THR) services. Anganwadi workers in Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra distributed THR packets to households identified as a priority by Save the Children.

Regular follow up, advocacy and consultation with the ICDS departments also ensured door to door immunization in areas like Bihar and Jharkhand. Save the Children ensured Auxiliary Nurse Midwifery (ANM) and ASHA worker's visits to the households to continue immunization support package for new mothers and infants.

Activating regular empowerment platforms

Regular empowerment platforms like girl’s federations, SHGs were activated for addressing the urgent needs of menstrual hygiene among adolescents through production of homemade napkins. Girls who have been trained under Marriage No Child’s Play project in Odisha, Rajasthan, Bihar produced napkins for distribution in the community. Over 1000 sanitary napkins have been produced and distributed till date. Adolescent girls trained in stitching under Save the Children projects have also produced reusable masks in Assam and Rajasthan. Over 3000 people have been reached through mask distribution.

With children being away from schools, empowered mother’s groups were supported to homeschool their children in the rural areas with household items like fruits, buttons and pulses. Videos made by mothers showed how kitchen items etc can be used to teach children how to count and identify shapes, sizes and colours. These mothers were being constantly supported and motivated by Academic Support Fellows (ASFs)--the community academic mobilisers to make and disseminate similar videos on virtual education groups to let mothers replicate or innovate on the ideas.

Empowering children to take lead

With crisis comes opportunities—so did COVID. The crisis brought to light the children leading through examples in their communities addressing to needs of hygiene, awareness, health, food security etc. From Nisha in Delhi, Soni in Mumbai to Gayatri in Bihar—the children have been fearlessly advocating for the rights of children and their community. From mobilization, distribution to advocacy—these children have led innovations in our response. Youth Leaders in Assam explored community outreach through entertainment messages on social platforms like TikTok. The children also created posters with messages on hidden impacts of COVID on issues of child protection including child marriage, child labour, trafficking. The pandemic also brought to light the true samaritan in our child champions. Our child champion, 14-year-old Nisha saved 15 neighbour families in Taimur Nagar area from starvation by reaching them with ration items by mobilisng resources with support from Save the Children. On the other hand, Gayatri Kumari in Sitamarhi district of Bihar with support from the ward councilor wrote a letter to the district magistrate to ensure food supply to 950 households in her native village Kharsa. Other child champions like Murshida in Kolkata, Sumit in Delhi or Sony in Mumbai have been leading our fight against corona on ground through continuous dissemination of messages of hand washing, social distancing and using of masks. They have reached families, caregivers and children to create awareness among the most marginalised and vulnerable.

While Save the Children response strives to reach the most marginalised children during the pandemic, these children have consistently multiplied our efforts and ensured our reach on the remotest corners of the country. They instill hope on the success of the mechanism that empowers the rights holders or the deprived as enablers or changemakers.