Skip to main content

Children's day? Pandemic exposes faultlines, class divisions 'bravely borne' by kids

By Simi Mehta, Saswati Paik, Arjun Kumar*

November 14 marks the birth anniversary of Jawaharlal Nehru, and is celebrated as the Children’s Day in India. Unfortunately, the inspirational entry-point to advocate, promote and celebrate children's rights, which should translate into dialogues and actions to build a better world for children remains far-fetched.
Each year this day, we do not fail to evoke Chacha Nehru’s remarks, "The children of today will make the India of tomorrow. The way we bring them up will determine the future of the country.” But as the pandemic has vividly demonstrated, this remains largely symbolic. The pandemic-induced lockdown, which pushed people indoors, children continue to be locked down because of the prolonged closure of the schools. 
There is no denying that it is imperative to keep the schools shut in view of the pandemic, else we would open up floodgates of coronavirus disease, to an extent that our health systems would be unable to handle.
Since March 2020, the schools in India have remained closed for teaching due to the pandemic. According to the United Nations, by mid of April, almost 1.58 billion children and youth, from pre-primary to higher education, in 200 countries across the globe were affected by the pandemic in various ways. It cautioned and exhorted the member-states to prevent a learning crisis from becoming a generational catastrophe requires urgent action from all.
According to the data available from Unified District Information on School Education (U-DISE) of the Ministry of Education, Government of India, there are 1,795,240 schools in India. Out of all schools, 83% provide primary education facilities (grades I to V) whereas around 50% provide education till VIIIth grade. There are only 28% schools that provide school education till Xth grade and only 21% provide school education till XIIth grade. This data indicates that majority of our children do not have access to education beyond VIIIth grade.
More than 70% schools in India are either fully managed by the government or any department under the government or by autonomous bodies created under the central government or established by state governments in order to meet a specified purpose. On the other hand, around 50,000 schools are residential and run by various departments of government of India including Tribal Welfare Department and Social Welfare Department. In many such residential schools, the residential facility is provided with a bare minimum need of the children.
The persistent question that arises is: What will happen to those children studying in rural areas having poor facilities in schools and sporadic access to any formal education during this prolonged school closure? This is a question that deserves immediate and urgent attention of the healthcare organisations, policymakers, practitioners, as well as of children’s welfare institutions, because we cannot afford to risk the lives of the next generations of leaders and citizens to pandemics and multitude of associated challenges.
A large section of the school-going children has turned towards the online modes of education introduced to them by their schools. But unfortunately, there is a large population of children who have lost out on their regular education, especially those residing in the rural areas and going to the government schools. 
Additionally, there are instances of children who have had to leave their schools and accompany their migrant parents in their long walk from the cities to the villages. The availability of internet services, electricity and working mobile data connection in the rural areas is well-known.
Majority of girl children in rural India go to government schools. Girls drop out from schools because of several reasons including family and social norms. However, many reasons lie within the schools only such as lack of transport facility, lack of functional toilets in schools and absence of female teachers in schools. A report by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) published in 2018 stated that 39.4% of girls of 15-18 years across India drop out of education.
Most of the girls who drop out do not end up earning; they are forced to perform household chores or even resort to begging, the report claims. In this scenario, we need to ensure the physical and mental health, security and education of the girl children during this prolonged school closure. Lack of appropriate care to them, if continued, may well lead to a generational catastrophe. 
What will happen to children studying in rural areas having sporadic access to any formal education during the prolonged school closure?
The pandemic has exposed the faultlines and class division of the society, the impact of which has been bravely borne by the children. On the one hand, we have affluent families smoothly facilitating the transition to virtual learning by arranging stable and fast internet for their children, and ensuring them with mobile data and devices. They are being inculcated with new educational skills and personality development activities to boost their self-confidence.
On the other hand, there are families who can somehow afford a spare mobile phone but find themselves in a fix when they have more than one child in need for it. There is another large section of families who do not and cannot own a basic smart phone- which is indispensable for online learning. Their children continue to ‘enjoy’ an extended vacation, being excluded from formal schooling system, in the hope of catching up with the conventional mode of teaching and learning.
There are other challenges that are being increasingly borne by the children -- their overall health is in a jeopardy. For instance, lack of outdoor sports, and other extra co-curricular activities are leading to monotony of schedules for them, as they spend long screen hours playing video games, and/or watching videos. Obesity, eyesight problems, and emotional instability, aggressive behaviours, frustration and anger, are emerging as persistent challenges for children. 
Impending board exams at higher secondary and senior secondary school levels have added to the insecurities and anxieties among the students already suffering with a mix of aforementioned challenges. 
It is feared that a prolonged academic detachment may have multiple consequences on children such as drastic dropout from schools, increase in child labour, child marriages, child trafficking, child abuse at homes, cyberbullying and substance addiction. Girl children would be particularly impacted, as they are already deprived of decent educational opportunities for many reasons including gender specific norms and practices existing in the society.
The closure of the educational institutions especially the schools will hinder the provision of essential services to children and communities, including access to nutritious food. The comprehensive development of children’s personalities remains compromised, when we are unable to provide them with balanced diets and nutritious food. 
This is imminent from the deplorable ranking of India in Global Hunger Index (GHI)- at 94 out of 107 countries. The under-five stunting, wasting and mortality reveals challenges in providing balanced diets and nutritious food to women and children. And all this is despite the large web of Anganwadi centers in the country meant to care for children from economically marginalized families. It is worth mentioning that the GHI 2020 has not accounted for the Covid-19 challenges, and we might as well see a further worsening in the situation in 2021.
When the fulfillment of the basic needs, rights and entitlement of the children remain a distant dream, ‘celebrating’ children’s day reveals a mockery of those for whom it is celebrated. Even before the outbreak of the worldwide pandemic, a learning crisis among children was identified by the World Bank; wherein around 53% of children in low- and middle-income countries were found to be living in ‘learning poverty’.
Millions of more children, therefore, stand at the risk of being adversely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, and this is especially obscure for those in the vulnerable and disadvantaged socio-economic groups. Therefore, children’s day must extend to advocacy, promotion, and celebration of childhood, which would translate into dialogues and actions to build a better world for children.
---
*Dr Simi Mehta is CEO and Editorial Director, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), Dr Saswati Paik is Faculty, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru; Dr Arjun Kumar is Director, IMPRI

Comments

TRENDING

Whither Govt of India strategy to reduce import dependence on crude oil, natural gas?

By NS Venkataraman*  India presently imports around 80% of it’s crude oil requirement and around 50% of its natural gas requirements . As the domestic production of crude oil and natural gas are virtually stagnant and the domestic demand is increasing at around 7% per annum, India’s steadily increasing dependence on import of the vital energy source is a matter of high energy security concern. This is particularly so, since the price of crude oil and natural gas are considerably fluctuating / increasing in the global market due to geo political factors, which are beyond the control of India. India has promised to achieve zero emission by the year 2070, which mean that the level of emission has to start declining at slow and steady rate from now onwards. It is now well recognized that global emission is caused largely due to use of coal as fuel and natural gas as fuel and feedstock. While burning of coal as fuel cause emission of global warming carbon dioxide gas and sulphur

Muslim intellectuals met Bhagwat, extra-constitutional authority 'like Sanjay Gandhi'

By Shamsul Islam*  In a significant development a delegation of five Muslim intellectuals namely former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi; former senior bureaucrat Najeeb Jung; former AMU vice-chancellor and Lt Gen (retd) Zameer U Shah; politician-cum-journalist Shahid Siddiqui (presently with RLD); and businessman Saeed Shervani [Samajvadi Party] met RSS Supremo Mohan Bhagwat at RSS Delhi headquarters. The meeting was kept secret for reasons known to the participants and was held in August. According to the Muslim intellectuals the meeting held in “a very cordial” atmosphere continued for 75 minutes whereas time allotted was 30 minutes! In a post-meeting justification of the parleys Quraishi stated that their main concern was “the insecurity being increasingly felt by the Muslim community in the wake of recurring incidents of lynching of innocents, calls by Hindutva hotheads for genocide and the marginalisation of the community in almost every sphere”. This delegation consistin

'Massive concern for people': Modi seeking to turn India into global manufacturing hub

By Shankar Sharma*  The news item quoting Narendra Modi at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet, "Want to turn India into a manufacturing hub: PM Modi at SCO Summit" should be of massive concern to our people. One can only continue to be shocked by such policies, which can be termed as ill-conceived to say the least. Without objectively considering the environmental and social impacts on our communities in the medium to long term, such policies will also result in massive economic impacts because a lack of environmental and social perspective cannot be economically attractive either. In order to become the global manufacturing hub, India will have to meet an enormous demand for energy of various kinds, and in order to meet this much energy demand the economy has to manufacture enormous number of appliances/ gadgets/ machineries (to generate and distribute commercial forms of energy such as coal, nuclear, gas, hydro, and renewable energy (RE) sources such as so

Denying dissent democratic space in Gujarat: 'sad narrative of eroding ethical values'

By Sandeep Pandey*  A padyatra (foot march) was to be taken out between 26 September and 4 October, 2022 from Randhikpur village in Dahod district of Gujarat to Ahmedabad to apologise to Bilkis Bano. Randhikpur is Bilkis Bano’s village. In 2002 Gujarat communal violence she was gang raped, her 3 years old daughter, another child in womb and a total of 14 family members were killed. 11 people were convicted and sentenced for life in 2008. However, on 15 August, 2022 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a speech from Red Fort appealing to people to change their attitude towards women and treat them with respect, a district level committee of Panchmahal decided to release the 11 rapists and murderers. A Bhartiya Janata Party leader described four of these criminals as virtuous Brahmins. Before the padyatra could begin from Randhikpur, on 25 September night, 7 activists were picked up from Godhra corporator Hanif Kalandar’s house where they had gone for d

Pesticide companies' lobbying 'seriously impairing' basics of governance, regulation

Dr Narasimha Reddy Donthi*  The Indian agricultural sector is grappling with low incomes, shortage of natural resources, increasing pest incidence and low public investments in research and extension. Pest attacks are increasing. Previously unknown pests are attacking crops. Farmers, indebted as they are due to various market mechanisms, are finding it hard to protect their crop investments. Thus, farmers are pushed into the conundrum of pesticide usage by pesticide markets and companies. Pesticide usage in India is increasingly becoming a regulatory problem. Regulation has not been effective in the face of such challenges. Scientific expertise on pesticides is often subsumed in the policy tradeoffs that, in the ultimate scenario, encourage production and marketing of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs). Expert Committee reports, which are recommending withdrawal of certain HHPs, are not being acted upon. Lobbying by pesticide companies has seriously impaired the basics of governance an

Kerala health bill public hearing? Here the minister 'ensured' cameras were turned off

By Our Representative  On Friday, September 30, 2022, about 100 members of the general public gathered at the conference room of the collectorate at Ernakulam, Kerala, to express their apprehensions about the Kerala Public Health Bill, 2021, which the state assembly referred to a 15-member select committee chaired by state health and family welfare minister, Veena George. Minister Veena George asserted at the outset that this was a sitting of the select committee, and all cameras would need to be turned off. Advocate PA Pouran, general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Kerala, stood up in protest, arguing that the meeting was a public hearing and should ideally be televised to reach vast numbers of people. Other members of the audience protested too, but the minister insisted that the gathering was part of a sitting of the select committee.  “Why then did you invite all of us?” protested George Mathew, who had arrived from Aluva and earlier served as a member of t

How Gandhian values have become 'casualty' in India under majoritarian BJP rule

By Sandeep Pandey*  A Muslim youth was beaten recently when he tried to witness the famous garba performance during the Hindu religious nine days festival of Navratri in Gujarat. There was a time when Muslims could easily participate in Garbha events in an atmosphere of cordiality. Bilkis Bano was gang raped in 2002 Gujarat communal violence, her 3 years old daughter, the child in womb and a total of 14 family members were killed. 11 accused were awarded life term. However, recently a District level committee has decided to release all the culprits. A ruling Bhartiya Janata Party leader has described some of these criminals as virtuous Brahmins, the highest among the Hindu hierarchical caste system. In a communally polarized Gujarat today most Muslims feel offended by the decision of the government and BJP supporters either justify the release of rapists and murderers or just ignore the ignominious decision. Mahatma Gandhi came from the Guj

GoI 'feeling threatened' by forces which can potentially fight 'Brahmanical fascism'

Counterview Desk  A network of civil rights and people’s organisations , Campaign Against State Repression (CASR)*, has characterised the recently-imposed ban on Popular Front of India (PFI), National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations (NCHRO) and other organisations as “Brahmanical Hindutva fascist” move of the Government of India (GoI), calling it “onslaught on democratic dissent”. In a statement, CASR said, the move is aimed at terrorizing and vilifying the Muslim community, adding, at the same time, the GoI is curbing any protest and demonstration against the “fascist diktat of ban”, with peoplebeing “detained and arrested.” It added, “This kind of attack on right to oppose or criticize any step of government should be conceived as an attack on the very democratic values of the people.” Text : On 28 September 2022, Central Government led by BJP-RSS banned the Popular Front of India, National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations, Campus Front of India, National Wom

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Golwalkar's views on tricolour, martyrs, minorities, caste as per RSS archives

By Shamsul Islam*  First time in the history of independent India, the in-charge minister of the Cultural Ministry in the current Modi government, Prahlad Singh Patel, has glorified MS Golwalkar, second supremo of the RSS and the most prominent ideologue of the RSS till date, on his birth anniversary, February 19. In a tweet he wrote : “Remembering a great thinker, scholar, and remarkable leader #MSGolwalkar on his birth anniversary. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration & continue to guide generations.”