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Saving the underprivileged families from starvation

Saving the underprivileged families from starvation

1. CONTEXT OF THE NEWS

The COVID-19 pandemic lingers on and as the COVID-19 crisis deepens, the vulnerable sections of the society are exposed and threatened more than ever before.

This editorial discusses the immediate need to put money in the hands of the impoverished to support them during the pandemic by efficient and strict implementation of critical social welfare schemes of the government related to nutrition, food security and healthcare.

2. IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON CHILDREN

2.1 Children as the worst sufferers of COVID-19 pandemic

  • As the COVID-19 crisis deepens, it is flaring up into a humanitarian crisis.
  • Innocent children have been the first and worst victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Not only has their childhood been stolen since the pandemic surfaced, even after the pandemic subsides, its aftermath in the form of economic depression would indirectly hurt the development years of children in the next few years to come.

2.2 COVID19 and Child Labour Report

  • This report has been published by combined efforts of UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) and the ILO (International Labour Organization), two agencies of the United Nations.
  • The report predicts an increase of 40 to 60 million in the number of people facing extreme poverty in this year itself.
  • The report also suggests that due to reduction of job opportunism in the labour market for the parents, the children will be exposed to the high risk of being forced to work in exploitative and hazardous work.

2.3 ‘The Impact of COVID19 on Children’ – UN policy brief

  • The recent policy brief by the United Nation, “The Impact of COVID19 on Children”, forecasts that a dire consequence of the economic recession entailing the COVID-19 crisis would result in “hundreds of thousands of children deaths”.
  • To add to the woes, the report also underlines the possibility of underestimating the number.
  • The brief also underlines that the direct consequence of the preventive lockdown policy due to the COVID-19 crisis has been on the nutritional health of the 368.5 million schoolchildren in 143 countries.
  • Many of the schoolchildren relied on school meals as their daily source of nutrition.
  • Distance learning has been adopted by almost two-thirds of developed countries but the number is only 30% for low-income countries.
  • Scarce and scattered power supply, limited access to high-speed internet and non-affordability of electronic devices are the biggest impediments to distance learning in low-income countries.
  • This directly affects the literacy rates and the future bank of human capital.

3. SITUATION IN INDIA

The situation in India is as bad as the global scenario if not any worse. 

3.1 Lack of awareness

  • Recently a survey conducted by a foundation across 16 states with 7,000 respondents revealed that 62 per cent households had a child at home who was less than six years old.
  • The survey also revealed the lack of knowledge about the virus.
  • A mere 26% knew to stay away from a person exhibiting coronavirus symptoms.
  • Over 50% of the household did not follow the 'wash behaviour' neglecting washing hands before feeding their babies or after cleaning their excreta.
  • This negligence puts the family and children both to the high risk of contracting the virus.
  • Though children are not severely affected by COVID-19 till now, yet even a mild infection can drive the family into financial distress.

3.2 Loss of unemployment

  • The nationwide lockdown in India has had a very devastating effect on the households whose primary source of income comes from labour work, salaries, wages and commission.
  • The monthly unemployment rate shows a very sharp spike at 23.49% in May, against 8.74% in March as per the data from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).

3.3 FicusPax Pvt Ltd vs Union of India Case, 12 June 2020

  • In the FicusPax Pvt Ltd Case, the Supreme Court held that no coercive action would be taken against private firms for non-payment of wages during the lockdown.
  • This indicates bleak prospects of improvement of the condition of such households.
  • The SC also added that the employer and employee must negotiate amongst themselves issues regarding payment of wages.
  • This will only lead to more exploitation of such employees by the private firms.
  • Another ill consequence of reduced and restricted sources of income and unemployment is that it will force such households to engage their children in labour.
  • A survey estimates children of 22% of households working at or outside their home
  • In this context, rural households perform bettered than urban households did.

4. FOOD INSECURITY

4.1 Food insecurity during the epidemic

  • Limited household income and availability of ration at home are directly correlated.
  • The unavailability of food will directly impact the health of children.
  • This situation has been worsened by during the lockdown due to inefficient service delivery of take-home rations (THR) and mid-day meals under the Integrated Child Development Schemes.
  • Reports show that only 17 per cent of households were able to access THR.
  • Mass shutting of schools during the lockdown period has deprived 43 per cent of households the mandated mid-day deals.
  • The picture become all gloomier given the fact that presently India has the highest percentage of stunted and wasted children among developing countries.
  • While 37.9% children under the age of 5 are stunted, 20.8 % children under the age of 5 are wasted.
  • This indicates an impoverished and hunger-stricken future for our nation.

4.2 Other distresses

  • During March-April, ‘CHILDLINE 1098’ received 4.6 lakh calls displaying the dire hardships being faced by the children.
  • 30 % of the calls were related to pandemic-induced problems of shortage of food and transport.
  • Other problems included requests related to child labour, trafficking, and child abuse and child marriage.
  • As the economic slowdown deepens and becomes more severe, involuntary poverty will only increase and the number of such distress calls will only volume up.

5. CONCLUSION

  • Before the situation goes beyond control, the marginalised sections of our society need to be protected atany cost.
  • The government and the civil society must join hands to protect underprivileged families and their children from starvation.
  • There is a very pressing and urgent need to make monetary resources available to the impoverished and vulnerable sections of the society.
  • To ensure uninterrupted delivery of food and essential social services the government must tighten the noose on implementation of its initiatives and social welfare schemes.
  • The government’s latest decision to extend the Ayushman Bharat scheme to migrant workers across states is commendable however, a lot of responsibility is left on the shoulders of the primary healthcare system.
  • The civil society can innovate and provide equal access to education to the less privileged.
  • As a social ethics, the general public should show empathy and compassion to our unprivileged brothers and sisters.
  • This is not just a test of government’s efficiency but the whole humanity.