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Covid-19 crisis: RTE Forum wants Modi to ensure food security, health for children

By Our Representative
The Right to Education (RTE) Forum, a civil society coalition claiming to represent nearly 10,000 organisations across 20 states, has sought immediate attention of the government of India towards protection of the rights of children during Covid-19 crisis, urging prime minister Narendra Modi to respect food security for them.
Writing to Modi on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the RTE Act, Ambarish Rai, national convenor, RTE Forum, said that the law is derived from Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, ensuring the right to life of every citizen, insisting, at the time of countrywide lockdown the government “must guarantee” food and nutrition to millions of children to protect their lives.
Citing insufficient budget allocation for health and education as the main cause of pathetic conditions of public health and education system, Rai demanded that the government should spend at least 6% of GDP on education and 5% on health, adding, “Children of street dwellers and from the informal sector workers are also suffering as their parents are deprived of income.”
“This is creating challenges for children in terms of availability of food, clothing, shelter and other essential requirements. Also, there are long term consequences as a result of loss of access to education,” he said in his memorandum.
Seeking food security for children, Rai said, the government should ensure “smooth implementation of the notification for home-delivery of mid-day meals and the Supreme Court suo motu order for providing nutritional food for children and lactating mothers through the aanganwadi centres on an urgent basis.
“The mid-day meal can include either dry rations or cooked meals. All aanganwadi and Asha workers and personnel supplying mid-day meals must be declared as essential workers, and provisions be made for their safety (including protective equipment and hazard pay) and means of public transportation to reach the delivery points/households on a regular basis,” the memorandum said.
Also asking him to enforce orders for ensuring uninterrupted supply of food to students residing in residential schools and hostels, the memorandum said, vast network of schools and associated bodies like school management committees can be activated enabling right to food and other support to children in and out of school.
According to Rai, the Ministry of Women and Child Development must ensure “uninterrupted health services, especially for the malnourished children, to prevent adverse health conditions during this period. All adolescent girls should continue receiving sanitary napkins, iron folic acid (IFA) and supplementary nutrition under Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (RGSEAG) or Sabla and Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) or under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) or School Health Programme.” 
Government must ensure uninterrupted health services for malnourished children to prevent adverse health conditions
The memorandum sought the promotion of all school children of elementary standards without examination, as decided by the states of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra among others, in line with the provisions of ‘No Detention Policy’ in the RTE Act. 
Even as welcoming the announcement of enhanced pension and fund transfers as part of the economic package under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, the memorandum however regretted, such a measure is not enough and this needs to be enhanced in order to bring it in line with the prevailing minimum wage. 
Talking about child protection, Rai wanted the government to take all necessary steps, including identification of children at risk of violence and abuse as a result of the lockdown. “Helplines and other child safety protection measures should be declared essential services and kept open during the close down”, he added.
At the same, he wanted that members of village-level Child Protection Committees should be made responsible for tracking children at risk, especially girls who are vulnerable to early marriage or trafficking.
“In case they encounter anything unusual, they must inform Childline or Police or the local Child Welfare Committee if risk is identified. Schools must be instructed to track all enrolled children especially girls once normalcy returns to ensure that no child drops out”, he added.
“With several private schools moving to online teaching, children admitted under economically weaker section quota find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. Several states have also started using information and communication technology (ICT) for instruction in government schools as well. Low tech means of delivering education should be followed to avoid leaving children from poor families in the lurch,” the memorandum said.

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