COVID-19 pandemic has disadvantaged the entire world in more ways than one can count. Of all the people that have been affected by the pandemic, the lives of children have been disrupted in the worst possible way at this time.
According to a report released by the United Nations, children are the biggest victims of the pandemic. Not just because of the health risk, but also in terms of their overall development.
With the schools closed, the children are deprived of education – for online learning is not affordable or feasible for many underprivileged children. They are also deprived of the regular meals that they were provided with by schools in midday meals schemes. Many children are forced back in child labour to earn because of mass loss of jobs. They are also vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and trafficking in such conditions.
It is therefore important to understand how children are at a disadvantage in India and what can we do to help them.
The plight of the Street Children
Street children are those children who either live or work on the streets and are either on their own or live with other children or family members. While there is no national data on street children, a study conducted by Save the Children in 2016 in the cities of Lucknow-Mughal Sarai, Howrah, Hyderabad and Patna indicated that there are over two million children on the streets of India who have been deprived of their basic rights. Around 80% of these children have no legal identity and therefore, could not access social benefits by the government, like free and compulsory education and health insurance, among others.
These children are at a major disadvantage at this time because their survival depended upon the small jobs they did on the road. However, now that the streets are empty, they have no job, no place to live and no way to seek help either.
Manoj Kumar, Founder of SOCH said, “Just because we don’t see child beggars on the streets does not mean that we have eradicated beggary. The simple reason is that there are no prospective donors on the streets. In fact, we need to be more worried about the kids caught with the beggar mafia, now that they don’t contribute anything. We are ready to help the police as well.”
This has been proven true as several children have been rescued in the last week across the country in various raids conducted by the police and the NGOs.
Help the Children
It is the responsibility of us as the citizens of India to ensure the safety and well-being of the children. In order to help the children, one can call on the national emergency helpline operated by Childline by dialling 1098. The helpline exists to provide counselling, food, transport, vaccinations and help children with long or short-term rehabilitation, as required.
In the last couple of months, Childline has received more than 5 lakh calls, of which the majority were for food. The helpline officials also made interventions to prevent child marriages, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, trafficking, abandonment and child labour in this time.
The helpline official has commented that “A large number of children may lack opportunities to report their distress as they may not have access to any mode of communication, or friends, teachers or other caring adults.”
Under such circumstances, CSR has an opportunity to step up and save – not just the day, but the entire lives of children. As citizens too, we need to step up and ensure that children in our vicinity are taken care of and that we take every step in our capacity to ensure their health, safety and well-being – mental as well as physical.