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‘How COVID-19 is hitting India’s children’

  • Category
    Important judgement
  • Published
    22nd Sep, 2020

Worldwide, children have been profoundly affected by the social and economic upheavals caused by COVID-19. 

Context

  • Worldwide, children have been profoundly affected by the social and economic upheavals caused by COVID-19. The pandemic unleashed a perfect storm into the lives of most marginalised children. 

About:

  • Nearly half of India’s children are already undernourished and the country’s handling of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is expected to push many more to malnutrition.
  • Ineffective Anganwadis: Anganwadis have not provided food to children since April, when the centres were either converted into quarantine centres or closed down due to the pandemic. The food served at anganwadi centres is the only nutritious and filling meal of the day. Yet the lockdown has meant that none of the women self-help groups responsible for running these rural child care centres have served food in the past five months.
  • The damage such disruptions can cause is scary. It can, for example, make millions of children malnourished, says a paper published in the Journal of Global Health Science. In Jharkhand alone, 0.35 million children can become severely malnourished and another 0.36 million underweight, warns the paper, Living on the edge? Sensitivity of child undernutrition prevalence to bodyweight shocks in the context of the 2020 national lockdown strategy in India.
  • The worry does not end there. Another 0.5 million children in Jharkhand can become wasted and 0.4 million severe wasted. A child is wasted when s / he has low weight for height. It is triggered either by poor diet or infectious diseases like diarrhoea. Underweight is defined as low weight-for-age. A child who is underweight may be stunted, wasted or both.
  • The study has a similar prediction for the rest of the country. It warns the food shock, defined as the disruption in nutritious food due to the lockdown, would be worst felt in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
  • They have the highest child population base along with high levels of poverty head count ratio, maternal mortality, infant mortality and low coverage of public health and nutrition services.

  • The three states can record over five million new malnourished children due to the lockdown. Every second child in India is already malnourished, suggests the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS) of 2015-16, which is the basis for the study.
  • It means roughly 77 million children — which is the combined population of Jharkhand, Telangana and Kerala — are undernourished in the country. Using this data, the researchers have ascertained the additional children population that will become malnourished in three distinct scenarios — if children lose 0.5 per cent, 2.5 per cent and 5 per cent of their weight during the lockdown.

Effects on children of migrant workers:

  • The exodus of migrant workers from hostile metropolises has severely affected the well-being of their children who took arduous road trips to reach their homes in villages. The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights has issued an advisory for care and protection of children moving with migrant families, and children living on streets and childcare institutions during the pandemic.

Effect on informal urban space children

  • Children in India’s informal urban spaces, particularly those on streets, are exposed to hazardous environmental conditions of dilapidated housing, poor sanitation, vector- and water-borne diseases, toxic air, and land pollution.
  • Children in conflict-affected areas who are spending their childhood amid bombs and shells are much familiar with disruptions due to curfew, riots, and Internet ban. Children in refugee camps have experienced displacement, exploitation, abuse, and trafficking.
  • These resilient childhoods had their distinct battles to win on an everyday basis. Across the spatial and temporal dimensions, there are many more childhood narratives of deep vulnerabilities and resilience at the same time.
  • In the COVID context, these children are mostly viewed as passive recipients of sufferings and rarely as active citizens of society. While we envisage a new normal future for us, these children are still waiting for a "normal" future to unfold.
  • These little architects of resilience are often "seen but not heard". Our thematic representations of children’s issues amid the pandemic are mainly devoted to the portrayal of miseries rather than having a discourse on child rights.

Sluggishness in children advocacy group

  • In COVID times, there is a noticeable sluggishness in exploring and propagating children’s commentaries — their versions of realities amid the pandemic. There are only a handful of organisations, media, and advocacy groups that take real efforts for active listening and acting upon what children have to say.
  • We have too little evidence of children speaking out their experiences, needs, ideas, and opinions in diverse settings amid the pandemic. Until now, we have not seen an ideological shift from sympathy-relief approach to participation-empowerment approach when dealing with matters affecting children.

Way forward:

  • Given the challenge in the current scenario, it is critical to ensure an uninterrupted supply of nutritious meals and food supplements to the poor children while arresting the infection spread.
  • It is incumbent upon government partners, civil society, professionals, and the public to provide vulnerable children with a platform to express their perspectives and become active partners.
  • There is a need to identify the keys to unlock their capacities to contribute to their well being through opinion formation, expression, and action.
  • Children’s voices must be sought and integrated into planning on matters of public health, school, social services, media use, and juvenile justice. Children’s narrations of their experiences require documentary evidence to gain deeper insights into their world.
  • It is time to strengthen children's expressions, ideas, and skills through deep engagements, particularly with most vulnerable children. This would give us a scope for critical inquiry into the multiple childhoods.
  • Media is one of the most powerful tools for accentuating "voices" of resilient childhoods and propagating its translation into actions. Jean Jacques Rousseau once famously wrote, "Childhood has its own way of seeing, thinking, and feeling, and nothing is more foolish than to try to substitute ours for theirs." Let us use these troubled times as an opportunity to empower our children with a "voice".
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