Sep 30, 2020

Child protection during lockdown

During the COVID-19 pandemic, children have been the worst affected. In the ‘stay home, stay safe’ scenario, it is assumed that the home is a safe haven. However, are children really safe at home? The rising cases of domestic violence and abuse show how children are often at the receiving end of the crisis. Children, especially from the vulnerable and marginalised sections, face numerous problems like inadequate access to resources, forms of abuses both physical and mental, among others.

In the view of these rising incidences of child rights violations and increasing vulnerabilities of the children during the pandemic, and to highlight the roles and responsibilities of citizens, government, non-profits and society for providing safe and protected environments for children during the lockdown, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) organised the ‘Webinar on Child Protection during Lockdown’ on 6 July 2020.

Vijay Kharat, project coordinator, YUVA, opened the webinar by welcoming a diverse room of civil society organisation members, Childline and ICDS staff, children leaders, interested individuals from the corporate sector and other fields. He highlighted how each one of us have an important role to play in child protection to ensure safe and violence-free communities.

Child participation and representation for the protection of their rights is very important. We have seen that majorly adults are involved in conversations around issues from the right to food, livelihood or even discussing the impact of the lockdown. Children are rarely heard and there is a lack of representation of children’s voices while discussing these basic issues. Children are affected physically, psychologically, and there is need to strengthen the support system for children within the community to deal with this situation, including the role of mandated groups like the ward-level Child Protection Committees (CPCs), civil society organisations, local networks and forums, parents and community members.

Pooja Yadav, program coordinator, YUVA, brought to light a more nuanced discussion. With over-exposure to the internet, social media and virtual engagements, children are exposed to newer threats like cyber-bullying, online abuse. In the light of the new normal, with the existing issues and cases on a continuous rise, systems officials and civil society can play a proactive role in ensuring that protective mechanisms reach every child to ensure their safety.

To first hear from children about their own experiences, the representatives of the children’s collective Bal Adhikar Sangharsh Sanghatan (BASS) spoke of the scenarios of their communities and the status of child protection.

Pratiksha Ambore, a 14-year-old from Malad, Malwani, drew attention to her concerns regarding the unsafe environment for girls in her locality. A resident of Ambujwadi in Malwani, (located in the P/N ward, MCGM, Mumbai, a ward with low human development index), with lack of proper sanitation and water facilities, she described the increasing insecurities during this crisis. The girls are unable to concentrate on their studies with the increasing responsibilities of household chores. Making things worse is the lack of access to online study resources and materials due to inadequate internet accessibility in the area.

Ruksat Sheikh, a 15-year-old from King’s Circle, Matunga, shared a similar experience of the unsafe environment for children, especially girls when on roads and pavements. Matunga King’s Circle and its extended areas house many homeless families, located in F/N ward, MCGM, Mumbai. She expressed the need for livelihood for her parents and those of others living in her area. She emphasised that children are facing difficulties even to access the basic need of food. Furthermore, she shared an incidence of her friend who was forced to get engaged during the lockdown.

Children’s experiences offered an eye-opening ground-level narrative to better understand the dire need for their protection, especially those in vulnerable situations during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

The first panelist, a child member of the BASS core group, Hrishikesh Khanvilkar is a resident of Lallubhai Compound, Mankhurd, a resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) colony of Mumbai. He stressed on the paucity of healthy nutrition for children, in turn, hampering their immunity and increasing their vulnerabilities to COVID-19. He also stated the rising stress levels of children due to uncertainty and lack of clarity regarding education, together with violent conditions at home. Also, the students from government schools and colleges are facing more difficulties with the closing of the education institutes and unavailability of online lectures. He also shared incidences of youngsters resorting to substance abuse.

The next panelist, Ms. Shobha Shelar, District Officer, Department of Women and Child Development, shared her experiences on the issues and challenges during the current crisis. Ms. Shobha Shelar stressed on issues faced by children residing in informal settlements, such as child marriage, child labour, and abuse. She also highlighted the need for counselling the caregivers and residential staff at the children shelter homes. The situation of distancing should not led to hopelessness among children, she said. She pointed out that, with the challenges of isolation, physical distancing, and scarcity of staff, the shelters are facing difficulties with the admissions of new children in shelter homes. Further, she laid emphasis on the need for the establishment and activation of CPCs at the village level as well as at the ward level in cities. CPCs include members from the local community, children, government officials and members of the Panchayat. Their work at the grassroots level can play a crucial role in protecting children at risk and providing assistance to unprotected children as they are localised systems and can reach out to every child in the local area.

The next panelist, Mr. Tanaji Patil, President of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Raigad District, expressed alarming concern over rising incidences of sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children. He also spoke about the rising number of cases being reported in the current period. Additionally, he mentioned that school dropouts are going to increase by 50 per cent, given the heavy migration of people from cities to villages. He appealed to everyone to report incidences of child abuse or children at risk to the Childline 1098, 24-hour helpline for children in distress. In the wake of such violations and increasing risks faced bychildren, he called for the critical need of form and strengthen CPCs. Such locally operating committees at the village and ward level can bridge the gap between children and the State mechanism. Concluding his speech, he laid emphasis on the co-operation of several stakeholders like parents, community, civil society and state for the protection of the children and their future.

Many of the attendees of the webinar agreed with the government authorities on the formation and activation of CPCs across the city and also suggested building a working/pressure group around the same. The webinar concluded with a vote of thanks to all the panelists and attendees with a strong vision and take-away of a collective approach towards child protection and an activation and strengthening of existing mechanisms.

 

Sep 25, 2020

Home alone for three months..

14-year-old Priyanka’s ordeals: Home alone for three months, and the long journey to her family!

 

Location — Dharavi, Mumbai

The sudden announcement of the COVID-19 induced lockdown across India from 24 March 2020 left many vulnerable people completely helpless. Among them was Priyanka (name changed) a 14-year-old girl stranded alone at home in the informal settlement of Dharavi, Mumbai. Shortly before the announcement of the lockdown, Priyanka’s entire family had travelled to their village in Uttar Pradesh due to a relative’s untimely death. However, Priyanka had to stay back in Mumbai, due to her ninth-grade examinations. She was expecting her parents to be back in a week. That never happened. The lockdown made it possible for Priyanka’s family to reach her. The fourteen-year-old had no choice but to remain stranded in Mumbai, scared and alone with no close neighbours or relatives.

This posed a twin set of problems. Priyanka was not just worried about the virus — at a time where COVID-19 cases were on an exponential rise in the area — but also about her safety. Knowing that she had to sleep alone every night till she could reunite with her family petrified her day after day. She told us, ‘I used to feel scared at night, and could not sleep’.

Priyanka went to the police around five times asking for help, but to no avail. The police did tell her that they would inform her when trains going to Uttar Pradesh would be arranged, but upon asking her whether anyone did inform her, she said, ‘No they didn’t come, no one came.’ Instead, they gave her some ration and offered to shift her to a shelter. Her family did not find the offer reassuring enough to let her leave the safety of her own home. Increasing COVID-19 cases in Mumbai also scared them and they preferred her staying alone and away from the crowd.

Meanwhile, her father had been trying to call and seek help from every possible source for months, but to no end. He wanted permission and means to come to Mumbai to get his daughter. ‘I tried calling everyone’, he said, ‘But no one helped’. Feeling utterly helpless about the situation, the family was dejected.

During Priyanka’s time alone in Dharavi, eventually she ran out of ration. Luckily, soon after her father stumbled upon the Childline helpline 1098, and the YUVA Urban Initiatives team immediately delivered ration to her, within a day’s time, and maintained regular contact with her since then.

Three months into the lockdown, an elderly man from her neighbourhood offered to drop Priyanka to Allahabad. He was a stranger who had heard about her case. Priyanka’s parents had no choice but to trust this man in the hopes of getting their daughter back — all avenues they had tried had not worked out. On asking her father how he could trust a complete stranger with his daughter, her father said they had to trust any man who is ready to help them in their time of need and no one is greater than that person for them. He told us ‘What could have I done, I had no other choice or way’. He also had to spend Rs. 3500–4000 for his daughter’s return, a huge sum for him because at this point he had no source of income and very little savings. Nothing could equal the thought of meeting his daughter again, however!

Soon enough, Priyanka, along with a group of other migrant workers, embarked on a three-day journey. She, along with her neighbour, travelled to Bhiwandi via taxi from Dharavi. Priyanka mentioned how she was very hesitant to board the truck from Bhiwandi due to her doubts about her security and safety. Her father, feeling completely helpless from miles away, convinced her to stay strong and continue with the travel as this was the only chance for her to return to them. Moreover, there was no one to take her back to Dharavi.

From Bhiwandi they boarded a truck along with 30–40 other people. There were only two women onboard, no children. Fortunately, all of them were kind and took care of Priyanka and her needs during the journey, supplying her with food and water throughout.They were able to create a safe and a comfortable environment for her. Looking back on the ordeal, her father also mentioned how the only reason Priyanka could stay alone in Dharavi for three months was due to the compassion and large-heartedness of the people around her at all times.

This journey was not without challenges, however. There was no place to sleep for three days, and the journey was made during the peak of a blistering North Indian summer. Priyanka, however, persisted, fuelled by her desire to see her parents and feel safe again. She was brave in taking the journey on her own despite only being 14-years-old. The desperation to see her family again gave her the strength and resilience to overcome the hurdles faced. She returned to her parents taking grave risks on the way, and fortunately encountering the kindness of strangers too. None of this, however, is often the case.

Today Priyanka is with her family, feeling safe and happy; but that’s not all. Her father is deeply burdened with no work and income; the only relief is that they are home together. He mentioned how repeatedly they are feeling helpless and vulnerable with no proper resources. He also said the situation is so bad during these times that people are not ready to help each other but themselves. That’s why Priyanka’s father feels that God blessed them with the kind stranger who helped them get back their daughter.

Contributed by Shobha Agashe, Sheeva Dubey who work with Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) and Sanskrti Bansal who is an intern at Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA).

 

Jun 29, 2020

World Play Day

Reena and her friends enjoy ludo at their home cum
Reena and her friends enjoy ludo at their home cum

Play is the most fundamental element of childhood. It contributes to the overall development of a child- physically, mentally and emotionally. Moreover, Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the child (UNCRC) has recognized the right to leisure and play for every child as a fundamental right. As per this right, it is the responsibility of parents, civil society and the state to ensure that a child is not deprived of the right to play – either due to social reasons or structural causes.

Social reasons include high incidence of child labour in low-income communities where a child is deprived of their right to education and their right to play/leisure/rest. A child is forced to work in order to meet the family’s financial needs. There is also a lack of faith in the system of education where parents feel that even after studying children will not be able to get a good job to pull them out of poverty.  In contrast, there are many children who are also facing increasing educational pressure, private tuitions and other religious teachings, owing to which children have very limited time to play. Structural reasons include the lack of public and open spaces for play, increasing gentrification of public spaces, and the failure of the state and communities to render spaces safe for all children, especially those with special needs.

Despite these reasons and the current situation of the global pandemic, children continue to find ways to play at home and in their gullies (alleys/lanes) where they live. This international play day on the 28th of May on the theme of “Play is more than just a physical activity…“ In effect, children are playing creative indoor games and traditional games in the community. The following pictures provide a glimpse of the celebration of World Play Day in the community.

Play breaks barriers of gender, religion, caste, language and brings children on one platform. Indoor games are also inclusive to children with a physical disability. Children as a group are inclusive and welcome all others. The lockdown has interrupted the study and play a schedule of children. They are, however, trying to get back by making a daily schedule and log of activities and engaging themselves creatively.

Esha and her friend are getting ready to play marb
Esha and her friend are getting ready to play marb
Ruksar and her friend play house-house and kitchen
Ruksar and her friend play house-house and kitchen
Young Soni plays with her favourite doll
Young Soni plays with her favourite doll
This group of children are enjoying their game of
This group of children are enjoying their game of
 
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