COVID-19: Don't forget the children amid pandemic

Updated: 20 August, 2020 09:30 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon | Mumbai

NGOs send government draft guidelines to protect rights of children during the pandemic

Infants at an adoption centre in Ahmednagar
Infants at an adoption centre in Ahmednagar

Child rights advocacy groups across the country have come together to ensure the COVID-19 pandemic does not come in the way of children's rights. They have drafted a policy brief, in which they have pointed out certain crucial areas that need attention to ensure no child is ignored due to the global health crisis.

More than 110 professionals working for children's rights and protection across the country came together during the lockdown, about three months ago, and drafted a 23-page policy brief titled 'Rights Of Children In Times of COVID-19'.

They separately sent 50-page recommendations to various stakeholders, including the government and the judiciary. Though the policy was submitted to the key stakeholders almost a fortnight ago, it is yet to see the light of the day.

Nishit Kumar, founder and managing director of Centre for Social and Behaviour Change Communication at Santacruz, said, "Child rights and child protection professionals with eyes and feet on the ground came together under various forums and worked to dissect the current issues faced by children due to the pandemic and the lockdown. The policy brief covers the Juvenile Justice System as well."

Nishit Kumar, MD-founder, Centre for Social and Behaviour Change
Nishit Kumar, MD-founder, Centre for Social and Behaviour Change

This has resulted in a Policy Brief and a detailed set of recommendations covering the Juvenile Justice System as well as for various ministries of the government. In times of acute distress, children are the worst impacted and at this time the State has to elevate its interventions and governance structures urgently to ensure children are safe and their rights are protected. Can Maharashtra be the first state to show the will to do so? There is a crying need."

"Childhood stands threatened by the unprecedented social and economic disruption. Among those severely impacted are children of migrant workers and daily wage earners, child labourers, children on the streets, child care institutions (CCIs) or conflict zones, children in need of care and protection, children in conflict with the law, pregnant girls, children with disabilities, transgender children, children living with HIV/AIDS, children living in poverty, children in abusive, violent or exploitative situations, children of sex workers and prisoners, refugee children, foreign children residing in CCIs, children affected or likely to be affected by other natural disasters, such as Amphan, floods in Assam, etc. The lockdown period will also forever be marked by the millions of people who in a bid to survive, undertook mass distress migration back to their native villages," the policy makers observed.

Nishit added, "It was in this discussion, that the experts started discussing acute issues about child rights and protection due to the pandemic and lockdown. The ideas were pooled, and thoughts were discussed in length. The ideas were also shared with other forums for instance Juvenile Justice Forums and other groups and child rights alliances which include Supreme Court lawyers, Child Welfare Committee members, child rights activists, and others, whose suggestions were also adhered to, while making the policy brief."

Nishit added, "It was interesting to know that during the lockdown, a few states were working in isolation and with their own guidelines for children's right. For instance, in Kerala, courts were dealing with human trafficking cases through online petitions. Whereas in most parts of the country, courts were either taking up select cases as court premises were shut."

Nishit said, "The policy brief contains specific suggestions and recommendations to achieve 13 points."

Recommendations for central and state governments:

1. Assessment of the situation of children as a result of the impact of COVID both in the short and long term and make such data available in the public domain.

2. Funding for children is not cut, existing resources are effectively utilized and augmented where there is a shortfall, and flexibility in utilization of Central Government funding.

3. Children and families receive their statutory entitlements (for adults) to livelihood for adults, food, and supplementary nutrition, health, education, care and protection, and efforts are intensified to cover those currently outside the net of social protection.

4. Children, especially girls, children with disabilities and transgender children, are not pushed out of education, children of migrant families are enrolled and supported to continue their education wherever they are.

5. Childcare through provision of crèche and day care facilities so that children are protected and cared for, as poor families rejoin the workforce for their livelihood.

6. Local authorities and bodies ensure children are not exploited, physically/ sexually/ emotionally abused, trafficked for labour/ sexual exploitation/ other purposes, forcibly married, or discriminated against, or separated from their families.

7. Core child protection services, service providers and authorities. (Childine, JJBs,CWCs, DCPUs, SJPUs and police, Child Care Institutions, lawyers, frontline workers in CSOs/NGOs, counsellors) and Anganwadi workers are declared as 'essential' during any lockdown or declared emergency.

8. Sponsorship Guidelines should be framed in a consultative manner and the fund enhanced to enable gatekeeping, and provide support for children in the Juvenile Justice system.

9. Systems for reporting violence against children are strengthened and accessible to all children, including children with disabilities, children living in CCIs, and children in police custody.

10. Safety and wellbeing of frontline workers/ caregivers responsible for children's care and protection against COVID risks, provision of PPE, timely payments, additional hazard pay, insurance, adequate and ongoing training, supervision and psychosocial support.

11. The judiciary should ensure: Priority is given to cases involving children in conflict with the law and cases of crimes against children.

12. While adopting video-conferencing or practice physical distancing, children's rights are protected, their right to be heard is ensured, and due process is followed during trials by courts or inquiries by JJBs or CWCs.

13. National and State human rights institutions should: Monitor children's situation and State action to assess whether responses to COVID-19 are compliant with children's rights under the Constitution, domestic laws, and international human rights law.

Newborns receive only polio drops

Dr Girish Kulkarni, Snehalaya founder
Dr Girish Kulkarni, Snehalaya founder

Snehalaya founder Dr Girish Kulkarni told mid-day that so far 38 newborns and infants have received polio drops, however, they have not got any other vaccinations against some of the life-threatening diseases.

Snehalaya runs Snehankur Adoption Centre in Ahmednagar. mid-day, in its article titled 'If infants aren't vaccinated soon, we could be in trouble' on August 17, cited paediatricians and health experts' concern about the adverse impact of missing vaccination of newborns and infants due to the extended lockdown.

"We had even requested the authorities that the staff should be allowed to travel during the lockdown and that special pass be issued to them. But our request was approved only a few weeks ago, when the authorities had started to gradually ease the lockdown," said Kulkarni.

Dr Wiqar Shaikh, senior allergy and asthma specialist, said, "It is unfortunate that these newborns are left in the lurch. These infants are separated from their biological mother post-birth, and don't get breast milk, which deprives them of appropriate nutrition and antibodies."

"It would be disastrous if these newborn babies do not receive appropriate vaccination at birth, which includes BCG, and vaccine for diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus at one-and-half-months. At nine months, they should receive MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles). The government should now intervene and ensure that the basic vaccination is provided for these newborn babies."

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First Published: 20 August, 2020 07:28 IST

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