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View PointOpinion: Child rights in Covid times

Opinion: Child rights in Covid times

Published: 3rd Dec 2021 12:40 am

By Nayakara Veeresha

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The years 2020 and 2021 will remain as one of the most turbulent times in recent decades. Covid-19 has affected the lives of all sections of people. But children, ie, tomorrow’s citizens, will bear the brunt of Covid in the coming days. The relationship between the child and the parents has undergone many changes, both emotionally, psychologically and socially.

Covid-19 effectively altered the routine lifestyle of children, thereby leaving deep scars on their cognitive and emotional development. The inherent tendency is being outside the homes to play and to associate with neighbour’s children. A child relishes her childhood in the company of peer groups. Lockdowns and closure of schools, parks, zoos have forcibly confined the child to the home.

Right to Develop Healthy

The period of childhood, especially early childhood, is critical for the physical and mental development of a child. Recognising this, the World Health Organization and Unicef defined early childhood as a time that “spans the prenatal period to eight years of age and it is the most intensive period of brain development throughout the lifespan”. The right to early childhood development is part and parcel of every child’s right. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Articles 6 and 27 of UNICEF, highlight that the child has “a right to live…and develop healthy” and that every child has “the right to a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and mental needs”.

Set against this backdrop, an attempt is made to explore the nuances and subtleties of the loss of childhood among the children of India. The impact of Covid-19 on childhood is analysed through the prism of rights perspective. A memorable and productive childhood is the fundamental right of every child and the pandemic seems to have affected this right in a substantial way. The loss of childhood is inherently a qualitative phenomenon and a complex process. The Covid-19 impact on children in general and on early childhood development can be seen from short and long term perspectives.

Immediate Effects

The immediate effects are on the socio-economic aspects, learning outcomes, cognitive development, safety and security aspects. In the short run, children, especially from disadvantaged sections, are deprived of the Mid-day Meal scheme and the caring under the Integrated Child Development Scheme. This is more so in rural areas and conflict zones. The closure of schools has deprived the children of nutritious food, especially for those who are primarily dependent upon the government-run schools and the schemes therein.

The lockdown has affected the effective implementation of schemes and programmes, thereby pushing children into a vicious cycle of poverty. The ILO has observed that “the economic and social crisis will hit children particularly hard. An estimated 42-66 million children could fall into extreme poverty as a result of the crisis this year, adding to the estimated 386 million children already in extreme poverty in 2019”.

Mortality Rates

In addition to the economic crisis, the disruption caused in the delivery of essential health services has pushed the country back in tackling the problems of Infant Mortality Rates (IMR), Maternal Mortality Rates (MMR), Total Fertility Rates (TFR) and child malnutrition. The United Nations has noted that the Covid-19 pandemic “would effectively reverse the last 2 to 3 years of progress in reducing infant mortality within a single year”.

Among all these, child malnutrition is severe and the Covid-19 lockdown has increased the severity of malnutrition among children across the country. According to Unicef, “child malnutrition could increase by up to 10-20 per cent because of Covid-19, and an additional 6,000 children could die every day from preventable causes because of the disruption in health services”.

The sudden lockdown has increased the vulnerability of children for diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases due to the lack of sanitisers and masks at least during the early lockdown period. In terms of learning outcomes, school dropout rates have increased owing to the loss of livelihood, especially among the children of migrant workers.

The cascading effect was evident in terms of the increase in child labour during the pandemic period. This was caused due to disruption in the implementation of schemes that are related to the stoppage of child marriages. Girl children’s confinement to home has substantially increased the vulnerability of facing physical, mental and sexual abuse within the homes, giving rise to child trafficking, especially in semi-urban or peri-urban areas.

Pro-Child Policies

To regain the various losses that occurred due to the pandemic, there is a need for children-friendly policies in addition to the existing ones. There must be adequate funds allocation in the upcoming Budget/s by the various State governments. A set of pragmatic policies with an effective action plan is a must.

To illustrate, in Kerala and Maharashtra, the rights of migrant workers’ children are explicitly mentioned in the policies of education, especially Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the Right to Education. Under the SSA, in Ernakulam district of Kerala, special training is imparted for educational volunteers and teachers to conduct classes for students of inter-State migrants. These are initiatives worth considering and should be replicated in other States for reviving child development and positive growth in the post-pandemic period.

(The author is PhD Fellow, Centre for Political Institutions, Governance and Development of Institute for Social and Economic Change [ISEC], Bengaluru. Views expressed are personal)

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