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Opinion: Pandemic will snatch food from children and increase trafficking.

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Before the arrival of Pandemic that drastically impacted the economy and growth worldwide, India reported 8.8 lakh under-five deaths in 2018 with 69% of them due to malnutrition. Even today, 152 million children are still in child labour with over 100,000 children being homeless. Coronavirus Pandemic which might have striking effects on the economy of various countries, crumbling down large businesses and the middle class filled with the fear of their dissipating savings, it is hard to imagine the scenario of poor and destitute and moreover, their children.

With more than 470 million children, India has the largest child population in the world and according to the campaigners around 40 million children are affected by the lockdown.

The founding Director of Chetna, a Delhi-based charity organization reported that the worse sufferers are the homeless children. The Director further added that the number of calls on the helpline of the Childline India Foundation of Government of India has increased to 300,000 weekly, while the average being 200,000 calls, most of them asking for food and other basic necessities.

How will the lockdown exploit the situation of children in India?

Firstly, the homeless children who subsisted on diminutive money, earned by begging or selling knickknacks, have lost all means of fetching income. Delhi alone has around 70,000 children finding their abode in the streets while the Director says the actual number is really high. Most of the homeless children survive on meagre jobs. They are independent workers with no one to look out for their needs.

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Secondly, the lockdown has displaced the migrant labourers and hundreds of thousands of them are retrieving to their villages with a hazy future image and no means of earning wages. They have no income and are persevering on the meagre savings. The funds provided by the government won’t last for more than a fortnight.

Furthermore, children undertake migration for employment. According to Census 2011, there are one lakh such as children aged 10-14 and nine lakh aged 15-19. In an unfortunate incident reported on April 21, a 12-year-old child died after walking over 100 kilometres from her workplace in Bhupalpally district of Telangana to her native village in Chattisgarh’s Bijapur district. There are thousands of such children stranded in their workplaces and henceforth it is vital to prioritise their journey home.

Thirdly, the farmers living in the villages will have no hand to help them for the production of crops due to lockdown, the children in the family will have to be the substitute. School dropouts will be prevalent for both genders as it will be hard for the farmers and casual labourers to make the two ends meet with seemingly low income for time being.

Fourthly, the ramifications of lockdown on small industries may lead to big loss and with the outset of revival, they will look for labourers- both children and adults accepting low wages and exploiting them with long hours of labour and due to their deteriorated circumstances, they would apparently settle with it. And the cottage industries which are already shut down will also face loss and the people administering these will have to look for other modes, sending their young ones to work preferably.

Hunger is yet another problem faced by the poor. The various points noted above will eventually lead to malnourishment and starvation. Nevertheless, Children in India already live in a woeful situation.

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The Director of Chetna said that even if non-profit organizations try distributing food packages and funds, they won’t be able to do so in times of lockdown as it is not added in essential services. Furthermore, the Mid- day meal schools that provide food for most children is already ceased due to the closing down of schools. More than 1 million children were dependent on these schools.

According to FAO estimates, more than 194 million people are undernourished in India. Every day 1 million are left starving. Paradoxically about 40% of the crop production is wasted each year. These are the estimates of normal days but with the pandemic bringing even middle-class people into anxiety for fulfiling their needs, the situation of the poor will be unfathomable. According to the fourth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), 2015-16, 38% of children under five are stunted (short height for age), 28% are wasted (thin for their height) and around 36% under five are underweight. Around 59% of children are also anaemic and Only 62% of children aged 12 to 23 months receive all basic vaccinations. Various reports have shown that anemia weakens the immune system making it more vulnerable to infections.

The state of being unhealthy and not getting adequate nutrition supplies due to lack of income will eventually lead to the sickness and malnourishment of impoverished children. Trafficking of children for labor, dropping out from school to fulfill the prime needs of their families are some of the things the poor children may face.

While thousand of us are worrying about schools closed, they will be worried about not visiting it anymore. While many of us will work extra to catch up with studies, many of them will work in industries. While some of us are stuck in our relative’s house, thousands of them are treading hundreds of miles with empty stomachs to reach back home.

 

Picture Credits: Getty Images

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