Understanding Child Rights
Multiple hazards reverse progress on child rights
With climate emergencies like the flood and cyclone hitting states of West Bengal, Odisha, Maharashtra, Assam and Bihar, the pandemic has turned catastrophic --posing multiple risks to the safety and wellbeing of children. The progress made in the last decade to safeguard the wellbeing and safety of children in the country seemed to have now been reversed.
Metropolitan cities like Kolkata (West Bengal) and Mumbai (Maharashtra) were not hit by a cyclone in decades, and so raised concerns about their readiness to handle a double jeopardy. A large part of the population of street children is concentrated in these metropolitan cities; with factors like migration, urbanisation, dismantling of family structure, domestic violence, political unrest, rapid economic growth, child abuse and -- most importantly -- poverty playing a role in children ending up on streets. These children were not only rendered homeless overnight, but were also pushed back to face the reasons of why they left their homes in the first place.
In West Bengal, the districts of South 24 and North 24 Parganas -- two of most severely hit districts -- are hotspots of trafficking. With all the resources dedicated towards saving lives and livelihood, children were left exposed to predators looking for opportunities to exploit their economic adversity.
On the other hand, in Mumbai which is a COVID-19 hotspot, flooding aggravated the living conditions of millions of slum-dwellers who were already enduring the convulsions of the pandemic.The need of the hour was complex. The children not only needed food but support in the form of security, empowerment and psycho-social support among others.
Saving lives on priority
To support the state administration, Save the Children activated its response to reach the last child promptly. The humanitarian response team in West Bengal reached the most affected districts (North and South 24 Paraganas including the areas around Sunderbans) in a record 72 hours. We mounted the response with a need assessment followed by immediate distribution of food and hygiene kits. The response was being led by the local partners along with community support led by our youth and child champions Mamata Sardar and Anoyara Khatun.
Beyond the calamity
Besides a trail of destruction, the cyclone left behind fear of exploitation, trafficking and child labour. With loss of livelihood, the poverty-stricken families were vulnerable to all forms of exploitation. The South 24 Parganas and particularly the Sunderbans are most vulnerable to child trafficking and a huge number of cases have been reported from the region in the past years. Save the Children have been working to strengthen the community mechanisms through activation of vigilant children, youth and adult groups to Prevent, Protect and Prosecute.
Save the Children in collaboration with partners, worked for activation of rural watchdog committees in the form of Village Level Child Protection Committee (VLCPC) in these areas. We constantly pursued the State governments to strengthen child protection services through constitutional and community based bodies including State Commissions for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR). The West Bengal Commission for Protection of Child Rights (WBCPCR) has come up with a dedicated helpline and desk to deal with cases of child trafficking and marriages.
Empowering children-led bodies against child abuse
Save the Children strengthens the VLCPCs at local levels through engaging with trained community cadres, gram panchayats, Anganwadi workers and children. Most members of these committees are our Child Champions who actively amplify the security challenges faced by the children of the community to the District Child Protection Unit (DCPU).
The children are constantly engaged in platforms like 'Lalita & Babu' sessions where they are taught to reason, debate and negotiate for their rights. They also receive Life skill trainings which empower them to know and approach the legal bodies in case of crisis.
Child Champion Mamata Sardar, studying in 11th standard has been instrumental in monitoring the challenges being faced by the girls in her locality through regular tele and digital communication. She has handled 13 child trafficking cases and 3 child marriages with the help of VLCPC.
Creating public narratives
The crisis intensified our society’s indifference towards the most vulnerable as every individual was concerned about his own safety and wellbeing. Children on the streets, children of sex workers and child abuse survivors remained invisible and forgotten as citizens remained home.
Save the Children activated its platforms to remind people of the plight of these children in these hardest of times. With a series of webinars, campaigns, innovative story telling including digital photo exhibition, prime time telethons, social media and digital space, partnerships with content platforms, corporates, media and influencers — we reminded people that this is the time to act.
With our online and offline campaigns during the Menstrual Hygiene Day, World Day against Child Labour and World Day against Trafficking in Persons we addressed critical issues like menstrual hygiene along with child protection. We distributed sanitary pads to over 50 of our intervention districts. We have trained over 1500 girls to make sanitary pads at home.
The online conversation amplified the challenges faced by children by getting the child champions to talk on virtual platforms attended by child rights advocates from media, other CSOs, SCPCRs and leading coalitions. Several webinars were hosted by Save the Children independently and in collaboration with corporate, non-profits and academic leaders like UNGC India, UNHCR, Xavier Institute of Social Science (XISS), Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (a coalition of over 3500 CSOs in India) and youth-led content platforms like Youth Ki Awaaz and Yuva.