Understanding Child Rights
Covid-19 Medical Response And The Work Ahead
The image of a construction labourer sobbing uncontrollably by a road side in Delhi, distraught for not being able to reach home to see his son before he died, became one of the defining images of the migrant exodus of last year. Rampukar Pandit's story was the story of millions who lost their livelihoods during the pandemic. Just when the country was coming to terms with the full impact of the humanitarian crisis, the second wave brought a medical emergency that the country has never faced before.
Save the Children an organisation known for humanitarian support was required to reinvent its regular response programme to include medical response. The critical need of the hour was met by procuring more than 800 oxygen concentrators and distributing them to 15 states across the country. We also distributed COVID care kits, hygiene kits and food baskets. Lives had to be saved. Children had to be protected. And a bigger question loomed before us: How do we save the future of the children?
More than 320 million children are out of schools since the past year. Evidence from previous emergencies point that the longer children are unable to attend learning facilities, more likely it is they will never return to schools. Vulnerable children face the risk of child labour and trafficking. In any crisis, girls are the first to get excluded within families and communities. It is estimated that 10 million girls would never return to schools, increasing the risk of early marriage and pregnancy.
Take the case of Shahida(name changed), a Class X student from West Bengal (South 24 Parganas). Her learning stopped after her father lost his livelihood. Away from the protected space of a school, she befriended a 24-year-old man online. She had plans to elope if not for the intervention of Save the Children’s Community Cadre. These cadres act as a bridge between the community and the state and district-level child protection committees.
Closure of learning facilities for more than a year threatens to wipe out at least seven decades of progress through pro-active education policies and programmes for 39% of the Indian child population. To bridge the digital divide, continuity of learning for all children has to be maintained through low-tech and no-tech solutions. Save the Children's easy-to-use curriculum called Gulmohar advocates engaging children through play and keeping Anganwadi workers, teachers and parents connected through regular calls, WhatsApp groups and text services. In Karnataka, Save the Children collaborated with Department of Women and Child Development and the All India Radio to broadcast nine episodes of 15 mins each to promote home-based learning for young children and reach out to the larger community without smartphones.
If schools and anganwadi centres provided a safe space, their mid-day meals were also the single source of nutrition for the most marginalised and deprived children. Health experts say that malnourished children are more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection.
It was earlier globally perceived that COVID-19 will not impact children severely. But that doesn’t stand true anymore. Now, there's the fear of a third wave that could impact children severely. It’s important to not repeat the mistakes and lapses made in the crippling second wave. A 40-bed dedicated unit for children at a Pune 220-bed facility has been set up with the support of Save the Children and its partners. This facility is an example of the initiatives that have been taken as a preparedness mechanism for the third wave. Our oxygen concentrators, medical and COVID care kits have reached even some of the most remote parts of the country.
To safeguard children, it is crucial that their parents and caregivers are vaccinated. Equally important is conducting awareness and registration campaigns to fight vaccine hesitancy. Deepa Kumari, 19, from Musarsabda village in the Gaya district of Bihar, and her family had avoided taking the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine fearing it may lead to death. She changed her mind after Save the Children's Cluster Coordinator counselled her on the possibility of a third wave and the importance of a vaccine. Deepa is now educating the people in her village.
Data collected and presented by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights in the Apex Court as of 31st May 2021 revealed, COVID-19 left a staggering 1,742 children orphaned, 140 abandoned and 7,464 children lost one of their parents (semi-orphan or half orphan). The central government and various state governments have announced social protection packages for children orphaned during the pandemic. How child sensitive are these schemes? Are we able to reach the most marginalised children? Afterall, no one is safe, until everyone is safe.