21st July 2020 : In the time of Covid-19 crisis, everyone is talking about the issues and challenges faced by developmental organisations, finaliacial institutions, law enforcement agencies and others. There has been a quick shift to virtual space where mostly adults talk and discuss about their present and future. How about creating a platform for children to share their feelings and how they are coping with the new normal? An exclusive webinar was organised on 16th July for the children to talk, share and give solutions to the Covid-19 crisis. It was one of a kind platform, created by Save the Children who brought in young Changemakers from Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Odisha on a virtual platform to share their views and solution towards ‘building back better after Covid-19’. To bridge the gap between children and the decision makers, the respective Chairperson from State Commission For Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) (Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Odisha) were invited to be part of the discussion.
Young Changemaker Gande Jaya Sri (16) from Pallegunta village from Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh, shared her views on how Covid-crisis has pushed children back to Child Labour activities. She further added, “Due to the crisis, there are several children like me being away from school. My parents lost their livelihood. For our survival we all started working in chilli farm”.
Inter-village mobility was completely restricted during Covid-19, which resulted in a huge shortage of labour to work on chilli farms. To meet the requirement on farm, along with parents’ children started working on chilli farms. “My request to the SCPCR chairpersons and Govt. is to consider the issues of poor farmers and give some kind of a relief package to marginalised families. I miss my school too.” – she mentioned.
Addressing Gande Jaya Sri, Ms. Hymavathi, Chairperson, Andhra Pradesh SCPCR, said, “It’s true that the number of child labour and even child marriage cases have increased. We are looking into the situation and trying to develop a robust plan of action in cooperation with other allied departments.”
Young Changemaker Sai Chandana (14) from Lingala Madnal, Nagarkunol District, Telangana took this platform to share her disappointments for not being able to have access to education. She comes from a very humble tribal background. The family doesn’t have smartphone to access basic information. To ensure her participation to the webinar, Save the Children team had to travel 40 Kms away from the main city just to give her access to the smartphone so that she can also interact with SCPCR Chairpersons. While talking, she said, “I know many private schools have started online classes whereas we are totally deprived of education and we don’t know when the schools would be reopening. For me, I don’t think children of my village can think of online education. we need to create opportunities to remain connected with education. My humble request to the decision makers is to find alternatives in which we continue learning and enjoy our childhood.”
Addressing Sai Chandana, Mr. J. Srinivas Rao, Chairperson, Telangana SCPCR, mentioned, “we are not encouraging online education. We are trying to look into the safety measures and promote hygiene practices which might help us to reopen the schools and give children a healthy school environment. We are in discussion with the department concerned to ensure the right to education reaches every child post Covid-19 lockdown”.
A report prepared by UNICEF has revealed that COVID-19 pandemic in India and lockdown has impacted 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary education, besides 28 million children who were undergoing pre-school education in Anganwadi centres. This is in addition to more than six million girls and boys who were already out of school prior to the COVID-19 crisis. There is an urgent need to find alternatives to protect the rights of children.
Young Changemaker Kalavathi V A (16) from Kurubarahalli, Vemagal, Karnataka took this opportunity to share a set of solutions that could possibly help children to be back in safe school environment. Kalavathi focused on the WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) components to be looked at more cautiously. She further added, “regular awareness on personal health and hygiene could be part of the school activities. Education Department can start the classes in batches or thrice a week. Remaining three days can be encouraged for homebased learning environment. Vitamin C tablets can be introduced on a regular basis and the presence of thermometers is the need of the hour. The entire school can be disinfected thrice a week. I would also like suggest to encourage WASH committees in schools, safeguarding the children and being healthy during pandemic”
Addressing Kalavati, Mr. Antony Sebastian, Chairperson, Karnataka SCPCR said, “I am overwhelmed to hear from these children with such simple yet very powerful solutions. We have to create alternative opportunities where children can enjoy continuous learning facilities. We have to work together on this and prepare a joint action plan to ensure children rights are met.” ‘Introduce a school counselor and give access to the children to talk and share their feelings. Request the education department to provide uniforms and hygiene kits. We need to have the availability of sanitizer before each child enters the classroom.”- Kalavati added.
Young Changemaker S. Naveen Kumar (13), from Kottur village, Polachi, Coimbatore represented from Tamil Nadu. He added, “due to Covid-19 lockdown, it has impacted on children’s health. Mostly children are on phone or TV, resulting in the drastic reduction of physical activity. Due to the un-employability and many job losses, parents are not able to buy fruits and vegetables. Mid-day meal has been one such balanced diet for many school going children. Currently, children are deprived of mid-day meal. My request to the Govt. Department to provide mid-day meal through PRI office, ICDS or any Seva (government service) centers in the panchayat.”
Global Young Changemaker, Shalini Shahu (23), from Jenjera, Nuapada, Bhubeswar, Odisha highlighted about how the teenagers faced difficulties accessing menstrual hygiene products. No of Child Marriage and Child labour cases are going to increase due to the reverse migration. She is campaigning on menstrual health and hygiene for girls. Speaking to Ms. Sandhyabati Pradhan, Odisha, SCPCR, Shalini said, “It has been a constant struggle educating girls on menstrual health and hygiene. There are people who still believe in the taboos attached to menstruation. Due to the lockdown, the accessibility of sanitary pad was not there, hence the girls haven been using old cottons, which is not hygienic in nature. While educating on personal health and hygiene, we need to continue educating on this issue too. This situation will also influence girls in marrying off their minor girls and to engage them as child workers.”
In Odisha, the Govt. hospitals are not opening regularly, as a result, adolescents are not receiving necessary SRH (Sexual and Reproductive Health) services regularly. Both ASHA and ANM are engaged in COVID-19 response work. While meeting the demand of Covid-19 response, they are unable to give enough time to their outreach services.
Responding to Shalini, Ms. Sandhyabati Pradhan, Odisha, SCPCR, said, “We have made provision of free distribution of sanitary napkin in remote villages. Our plan of action aims to incorporate your suggestions coming from children and we value your feedback.”
The virtual interface didn’t leave the refugee children behind. Farhana Roshan (16) from Balapur Refugee camp, Hyderabad spoke about the right to identity. She highlighted, “Being a refugee we don’t have any identity. Due to the lack of identity, we couldn’t access any support provided by the State Govt during the lockdown situation. We are unable to go to school. Many children can’t afford to go to private school. We request SCPCR chairperson to look into the matter and give us some form of identity for us to live a decent life in India”
The webinar brought in voices of 13 children across states in South. A joint plan of action will be developed by these children and it will be shared with the respective state SCPCR Chairperson. Mr. Vikas Gora, Deputy Director-South India, Save the Children, said, “Children have raised pertinent issues of concern that need collaborative effort at multiple levels, including the government and civil society. COVID resilient and child centric policies are the need of the hour, as they will help combat and prepare for the new reality. Voices of the children need to be heard as they are the worst affected. The cascading impact of loss of family income and ill health will further result in child labour, child marriages, trafficking and school drop-outs. We will work further with the respective state SCPCR, Government and multi stakeholders in evolving state specific plans in addressing children’s issues.”