Protecting Children's Rights during Lockdown

Protecting Children's Rights during Lockdown

The pandemic has multifaceted impact on children. Just like adults, they are bound to suffer from stress, anxiety and depression. In Kerala alone, 66 children below 18 years of age have died by suicide since the lockdown began on March 25. The government is setting up a team to look into this matter. Some cases reported in the newspapers, cited inability to access internet to attend online classes as one of the reasons.

Once the lockdown was imposed and schools shut, the Ministry of Human Resource Development announced online classes. Only 15% of children in rural India have access to internet. This would mean that the rest 85% would most likely drop out of school and that would mean the end of the line for their education.

While on the one hand there have been cases where children have died by suicide for not being able to attend these classes, on the other there have been instances of state or district or civil society taking steps to ensure that children are able to continue with their classes without having to go online.

For instance, in Jharkhand’s Bankathi village in Dumka district, several loudspeakers were set up on trees and walls across the village. Students could attend the classes from different locations near the loudspeakers for two hours daily. Or, closer home in Oxfam India’s project villages in Raebareli and Banda in UP, where the school management committees bypassed the digital divide and  identified volunteers to take classes for children who cannot have access to internet.

Despite the innovations, the digital divide is deepening inequality. And this has ramifications. Out of school children, with parents having lost their source of income, are much more likely to be pushed into child labour. And there is a need to prevent this.

Oxfam India in Lucknow was one of the CSOs in a close group e-meeting with the Additional Commissioner of the state labour department to discuss the Bal Shram Vidya Yojana. During the June 22 meeting, UNICEF made a presentation on the scheme and action plan. According to the scheme, out of school children forced in child labour will be mapped and enrolled in schools again.

These children are most likely to be from the most marginalised sections or with parents with disabilities or women-headed households. Once the children are sent to school, they will receive Rs 1000 every month; and once they complete classes 8,9 & 10, they will receive Rs 6000 annually. The parents/parent too would be linked to government schemes like PDS, NREGA, and widow pension scheme.

It is a positive move and the monetary compensation will ensure that the very reason these kids would be forced in to child labour are taken care of. Oxfam India and its network organisations will be mapping such children in 14 districts in the state.

With the schools shutting down, it is not just the classes that children missed, it was also the Mid Day Meal in schools and Take Home Rations in anganwadis. The HRD Ministry did ask the states to ensure that states provided for the meals despite the lockdown, and many states implemented it but there were many who didn’t.   

For instance, Bihar and Jharkhand are among the most backward states bearing the brunt of the pandemic. Government schools have been notified as quarantine centres and children are deprived of education, Take Home Ration and Mid Day Meal. MDM has been traditionally the pull factor for these children to go to schools. The parents of these children work in agriculture fields, brick kilns and other sundry work where they are paid daily. The lockdown has meant no wages for these communities and no food for children in schools or in anganwadis. This has a huge impact not just on the learning but also nutritional status of these children.

Oxfam India along with its grassroots partners and network began advocating with District Magistrates/Collectors at district level and with Principal Secretary at State level to streamline the whole process and reach out to these marginalised children providing them quality education, as well as MDM and THR. We adopted different approaches in both the states.

Since the RTE forum is not that functional in Bihar, we decided to reach out to the authorities through ‘Alliance for Dalit forum’ — this is an alliance of NGOs working on Dalit issues led by our education partner Dalit Vikas Abhiyan Samiti.  We submitted a memorandum to District Magistrates of 15 districts and to the Principal Secretary (Education) and the state Chief Minister highlighting the issues along with our demands. The Bihar government issued an order that it would be making direct cash transfers (Class 1-5 @178 and Class 6-7 @267).

While this was a huge advocacy success, a recent The Indian Express report showed that children in a Mahadalit village in Bhagalpur were not getting either food or the promised money and they were forced into rag packing to earn money and get food. This was a clear indication that despite the May order, there were lapses in its implementation.

Hours after the news was published, Bihar government issued an order to distribute ration to school children for three months and transfer money to their bank accounts, or to that of their guardians, in lieu of the food scheme. And this time, the order states that children in classes 1-5 will get 8 kg of ration and Rs 358 via DBT (calculated on a daily rate of 100 gm and Rs 4.48 for 80 days). Students of class 6-8 will get 12 kg of ration and Rs 536 (based on a daily rate of 150 gm and Rs 6.71 for 80 days). While this is very good news, it will also be a wait and watch situation as to how it plays out.

In neighbouring Jharkhand, it was pretty straight forward. The government had called for a virtual meeting in April and invited networks and CSOs to suggest ways of reaching out to the community during these trying times.  Oxfam India through Jharkhand Right to Education Forum, suggested that dry ration be provided to the beneficiaries (door to door) as it was difficult to prepare food at Anganwadi centres. They issued an order for the supply of dry ration and money transfer: Class 1-5 to get 3.70 kg and Rs 183.89 in lieu of cooking cost & Class 6-8 to get 5.55 kg and Rs 275.65, respectively.

Like I said earlier, how these will pan out is a matter of time and for the networks and alliances to keep a close tab on. For now, we can pat our backs for being able to make some difference in the lives of children and hope that these orders are implemented and reaches the right children.

(with inputs from Binod Sinha & Pratiush Prakash)

📢Oxfam India is now on Telegram. Click here to join our Telegram channel and stay tuned to the latest updates and insights on social and development issues.

Empower women to build a just and equal future


Read More

Related Blogs


Stories that inspire us

Empower women to build a just and equal future

07 Aug, 2021

New Delhi

Oxfam India Pushes for Implementation of Patients’ Rights Charter

The devastating second wave of COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the gaps in India’s healthcare system. While a lot has been said and written about the absent infrastructure, lack of ...

Empower women to build a just and equal future

14 Jun, 2021


SDG Index: A Long Way To Go

Recently released NITI Aayog’s SDG index exhibits that the development outcomes are limited to the rich states, debarring the mineral-rich-tribal-dominated states. The index gauges the pr...

Empower women to build a just and equal future

14 Feb, 2021

New Delhi

The Inequality Virus Released in States

The Oxfam Inequality Report — The Inequality Virus — released online on 25 Jan, 2021 on the opening day of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Dialogue. In India, while the report launch was...

Empower women to build a just and equal future

24 Jun, 2020


Tea Workers in a Tough Spot

A nationwide lockdown, in order to flatten the COVID-19 curve, was imposed from March 25, 2020.  But despite the complete lockdown, tea plantation workers continued to work as it was the ...