Sushma (not real name), 9, was hungry. She had missed meals for the past two days. Her father, a daily wage earner, had lost out on wages because of lockdown. The family was now dependent on charity and the community kitchen in their locality in Kanpur.
When the community kitchen ran out of steam and shut shop, the family with others found themselves hungry and starving. The child was unable to bear this and began nagging for food, provoking her dejected mother to turn her fury on the child. Neighbours called an NGO that works with children, which took her away.
Children are the innocent, and possibly the worst, victims of the lockdown. They are hungry, frustrated and claustrophobic confined within four walls—that is unless they are on the road with their parents, trudging unimaginable distances on foot. Stressed, cranky and petulant, they cannot help demanding food and water, and permission to go out and play, inviting abuses, both physical and verbal.
“It is the child who is now the target of violence within the family. Band darwazo ke pichchey hinsa badhdhi hee hai lockdown mein. (Behind closed doors incidence of violence does go up and has increased during the lockdown,” says Sangeeta Sharma, a member of the Child welfare Committee in Lucknow.
Children are missing their peer group, she points out. Many of the children have never spent so much time with parents. Their lifestyle has changed. Their freedom has been replaced with restrictions that they see as excessive.
With parents also stressed, there is little consideration for the emotional wellbeing of the children. They are shouted at, beaten and are being told to behave. “Believe me, the agonising cries of children can be heard from every lane and in every part of the cities in the country—but we are in no position to help,” she says.
Experts working with children say incidence and cases of child abuse have gone up during the lockdown. They blame poverty, domestic violence, lack of recreation facilities for children or an alcoholic or drug- -addict father as exacerbating the dismal situation. The effects of domestic violence on children play a tremendous role on his psyche. They are likely to develop behavioral problems, such as regression and they start living in constant state of fear.
It is taking a toll on children also because they are witness to domestic violence, which too has skyrocketed. Additional Director General of Police Anju Gupta, who heads the 1090 Women Powerline, the wing of Uttar Pradesh police meant to protect women, says before lockdown they used to receive approximately 7100 calls every day which has gone up to 8700 calls during lockdown.
“It is true that we are not getting complaints in large numbers during the lockdown. But that does not mean that crime against children have gone down. We suspect the number to be higher but we have no information and are in no position to reach out to these children in immediate need of help,” adds Sangeeta Sharma.
Surojit Chatterjee of ‘Save the Children’ said with the increase in phases of lockdown, life has become more difficult for children. All study and no play are making them either dull or desperate. “They were used to go out and play with friends but are now confined to their homes, making them irritable and stressed, he said.
Sarita (name changed) came to Lucknow for studies and was staying in a hostel. After lockdown she went to her aunt’s house in Lucknow where she was beaten up and was treated badly. She lodged a complaint with the police who informed the Childline and later referred her to Child Welfare Committee.
Then there is the case of Ramesh (name changed), 12. The family was poor and was struggling for two square meals. One night the father returned home drunk and had a fight with his wife. When Ramesh intervened, he was beaten up by the inebriated father, leaving him bruised and traumatized, he recalls.
Childline India confirms receiving 4.6 lakh complaints in the first lockdown of 21 days. Interventions were carried out apparently in 9385 cases. As much as 20 per cent of these cases were related to child protection from abuse.
These numbers, Childline India admits, are quite possibly on the lower side. A large number of children would not have had the opportunity to report their distress in the absence of access to mobile phones, their friends, teachers and other concerned adults.
“Not only are we receiving fewer information but rescuing the children too is difficult; Commuting and communication are problems; communities are fast quarantining themselves, and are not allowing outsiders to enter villages,” explained a spokesperson of the organization.
Shelter for the rescued child is also an issue in some districts as child care institutions are hesitant to receive new children. The rehabilitation aspects are getting delayed due to lack of Railways and other transport.
“Violence in any form leaves a very deep impact on the overall development of the child. Child abuse results in actual or potential harm to the child's health, survival, development and dignity,” says Anjani Tiwari of Salam Balak Trust (SBT).
SBT works with street children in Delhi. Tiwari is witness to many of the street fights these children undergo. Public places like stadium, railway stations and bus stations were their homes. They lived there, earned their livelihood through begging and would gradually start taking drugs. Regular street fights toughen them and make them reckless, he says.
“On the third day of the lockdown I saw children pelting stones at vehicles passing by near Jamuna Bazar. This was part of withdrawal symptom. For two days they did not get the drug they were used to and now they were showing their anger by pelting stones at vehicles,” Tiwari said.
These children sniffed a piece of cloth soaked in whitener which they claimed gave them good sleep. “If they do not get whitener they sniff solution used in puncture repairing,” Tiwari said.
But these street children have now disappeared. They are nowhere to be seen. Railway stations and bus station which used to be their abode are deserted. The big temples where they used to beg are closed. Tiwari finds this disturbing.
“I know the children are being abused in corners of Delhi. On the pretext of giving drugs, they might even be coaxed to engage in illegal activity. They need medical help immediately,” he adds.
Constitution & Child Rights
The Constitution of India contains a number of provisions for the protection and welfare of the children.
It has empowered the legislature to make special laws and policies to safeguard the rights of the children. Articles 14, 15, 15(3), 19(1) (a), 21, 21(A), 23, 24, 39(e) 39(f) of the Constitution of India contain provisions for the protection, safety, security and well-being of all its people, including children.
Besides, India has signed a number of international documents and declarations that pertain to the rights of the children.
• The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) was assented to by India in 1992.
• India is also a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989 prescribing standards to be adhered to by all State parties in securing the best interest of the child and outlines the fundamental rights of children
• Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) also applicable to girls under 18 years of age
• SAARC Convention on Prevention and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution.