Save the Children

Unlocking The Potential Of India: Child Rights In 2022

Children orphaned due to COVID, closure of schools and learning continuity, board exams and academic performances, Covid cases among children – infection and the severity of it, treatment and the status of children's vaccine, mental health and psycho-social well-being, parental support for childcare during pandemic, child protection issues and malnutrition – were some of the issues that dominated the discourse.

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The second pandemic year, 2021 was a pivotal year for child rights issues. Children orphaned due to COVID, closure of schools and learning continuity, board exams and academic performances, Covid cases among children – infection and the severity of it, treatment and the status of children's vaccine, mental health and psycho-social well-being, parental support for childcare during pandemic, child protection issues and malnutrition – were some of the issues that dominated the discourse.

In the past year, Save the Children in India outreached over a million children and more than 1.5 million adults across 16 states and UTs. Over 6 million people were engaged for actively participating in issue-based campaigns for children. Given the size of India's population, with significant proportion being underserved, this is just a drop in the ocean. As we say goodbye to yet another devastating year, it's time to reflect and define goals that prioritise children and reverse the alarming trends that COVID has brought in. For 2022, we carry forward some of the conversations that started a year-and-half back and introduce critical issues from which children cannot be excluded.

Learning Continuity

While schools are re-opening in phases, there's also the fear of Omicron looming large. As we bring children back to school, it's important to focus on their psycho-social well-being. After spending almost two years away from the protected space of schools, they need to reorient to a new routine. How many students are able to go back to school and how many have been forced to embrace the life of an adult? What are the gaps in the digital solutions that emerged in the last two years? Are these inclusive? Are these reaching every last child? Governments must strive to build forward better education systems for learning.

As it will be difficult to quantify how much learning will be lost from school closures, children will have to be provided with learning assessment when they return to school to inform targeted learning interventions such as accelerated learning programs. India cannot afford to lose sight of learning goals even during a pandemic in order the right to free and compulsory education for the most vulnerable children is not compromised. 2022 must be the year to ensure that children do not pay a heavy price for this pandemic.

Malnutrition and other health services

Over 33 lakh children in India are malnourished and more than half of them fall in the severely malnourished category with Maharashtra, Bihar and Gujarat topping the list, the Ministry of Women and Child Development said in response to an RTI query in November, 2021. There were disruptions in regular immunization services as access to health services were compromised due to the pandemic. Lockdowns, stopping of public transport services, rumours and misinformation about the newly rolled out vaccines also added to the health crisis. Childhood Pneumonia became the number one killer for under five deaths globally as well as in India (accounting for 14% of under-five deaths). And COVID-19 further aggravated the situation. While COVID-19 infections dominated health coverage, 2022 demands putting the lens back on holistic dissemination of health services.

COVID-19 vaccination for children

In 2022, the focus would be on the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for children in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that COVID-19 vaccination for children in the 15-18 age group will begin from January 3, 2022 onwards amid rising cases of the Omicron variant. Trials are also being conducted for Serum Institute of India's vaccine Covovax for the 2-18 age group. Meanwhile, the government should ensure data collection is disaggregated by sex, age and disability, prioritising the most vulnerable and marginalised children, including those who are orphaned, living in street situations, those in child care institutions, belonging to migrant families, refugees and those internally displaced. At this point, equitable access to a suitable and effective vaccine is critical.

Child protection issues

Loss of livelihoods during the pandemic made children vulnerable to child labour, trafficking and early marriage. District child welfare committees and the district child protection units became instrumental in tackling child protection issues on ground. These committees with the support of the community help activate children's groups in villages. This is done to enable children to act as vigilantes and look out for each other. The structure aims at identifying, linking and referring all cases of a child in need of care and protection to relevant government authorities and statutory structures such as CHILDLINE- 1098, National/State Commission for Protection of Child Rights-18001212830, Police-100 and District Child Protection Units.

Climate Crisis And Children

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges faced by the world today. The frequency and intensity of extreme climate change events have increased over the years. At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow this year, PM Narendra Modi said India will achieve net-zero emissions by 2070. Vulnerable population, especially children, are at greater risk of bearing the brunt of climate crisis. The COVID generation of children now faces the dual, connected threats of exacerbating inequalities caused by pandemic and impact of climate change.

Children must be provided with opportunities to access and exercise their right to share and contribute, mobilise, campaign, advocate, demand, and participate fully in discussions related to climate change issues. Ensure that children have access to information and education on the climate crisis inclusively (age, gender, social groups and ability). There is a need to institute child-friendly mechanisms and platforms both virtually and physically with an objective to facilitate children's effective engagement in climate change-related issues. Afforestation drives, inculcating sustainable life practices, initiatives on water conservation and management need particular focus with the thrust on maximum children participation.

Also Read: Booster Doses, Nasal Vaccine: Highlights Of PM Modi's Speech On India's Vaccination Drive

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