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  • Writer's pictureChild Rights Centre, CNLU

Covid-19 and Crimes Against Children

By Abhijeet Lenka* & Himanshi Rai**

 

The pandemic has acted as a sheer propagator of violence in every possible form. On one hand where the existing victims were worse hit than ever before, closed doors of the houses gave birth to further new groups of victims which were until now unaffected because of the privilege of going outdoors. Amongst others, bullying, sexual violence, emotional or physical violence and maltreatment are the different types of violence to which children are subjected to. The results can be as grave as a death in extreme cases while in other cases violence might lead to injuries both physical and mental. There are a few factors discussed below which are the biggest contributor to such an increase in crimes and violation of children rights during the Covid 19 pandemic.


Death of Family Members

The deadly virus killed nearly 42 lakh people worldwide which meant that many children lost the protection of their parents making them susceptible to all kinds of vulnerabilities. Cases of the kidnapping of children for all kinds of ill practices such as forced labour, beggary and prostitution; have considerably increased over the last 12-15 months and one of the main reasons highlighted by the studies is loss of parental custody due to Covid deaths in less privileged households. Once the children fall prey to the hands of exploiters, the damage can be so grave resulting in the loss of a variety of legal as well as human rights.


School Shut Downs

The pandemic forced over 1.5 billion students out of schools. An educational institution is not just a place for academic growth but rather plays a very vital part in the overall development of a child. Hence, the right to education has become a distant dream for many underprivileged students who cannot afford online learning due to financial or infrastructural barriers. Loss of interaction with peers and teachers has resulted in widespread mental health issues across students of all age groups. Additionally, teachers due to the nature of their jobs, regularly interact with students and are therefore early sign catchers of any type of exploitation a student might be going through which in turn results in faster delivery of help of any and all sorts.


Another challenge faced by a large section of the children is that of malnutrition. Through the midday meals, the government has directed continuous efforts to curb this evil from society. Many children today are solely dependent on these mid-day meal schemes as their families often fail to provide nutritious food or even any kind of food in many cases. Due to the shutdowns, these children have now been pushed back into the holes they were rescued from through over a decade of integrated plans and strategies. This situation results in a violation of the right to life which is enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India which includes the right to adequate nutrition.


Online education on one side is convenient for those who can afford it but on the other side leaves the unprivileged students with no recourse but to miss out on their academics. Privacy concern is yet another risk posed by the online mode of education as frivolously as it has been pointed out that such sensitive information regarding the biggest assets of any nation i.e. children is too big a risk to take.


Female students face yet another risk of child marriage. Due to financial instability caused by job loss or losses in small businesses, the girl child is considered to be an extra burden. Through various schemes and efforts made for sensitization, some parents who’d somehow sent their daughters for primary education, now have a perfect reason to waive off their duty as soon as possible. These instances of child marriage are per se a crime but also give birth to potential crimes in the future such as domestic violence, abuse both mental and physical and harassment and the victims are even more vulnerable now as they are devoid of their basic rights which otherwise would have been known to them if they had been educated.


Loss of Employment

The pandemic has brought along with it a lot of uncertainty regarding circumstances around a family and poses major challenges to society all over the country. Due to the unprecedented losses resulting in burnt deep holes in the pockets of the employers, many employees were dismissed from their jobs. However, this act has left a very deepening impact on crimes against children due to the variety of emotions that comes along with the loss of jobs.


As a consequence of the impact on jobs, the instability of the economy and the high stress regarding the virus coupled with frustration regarding the same, the threat of domestic violence is a very real one in vulnerable families. The pandemic has resulted in the isolation of families in homes and hence, the exposure of children to physical or sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect as well as violence against the women of the house may harm the mindset of a child and have a disastrous effect on his/her mental health.


The relentless efforts made in the past decades to curb down child labour had just begun bearing fruits as the number were at an all-time low when recorded in the year 2019.[1] Due to the loss of jobs in the family, children are being sent out to run errands for people in return for some money that could help the family. According to a “Save the Children survey” carried out in 2019, more than 200,000 children are working as labourers or living in the streets in just 10 cities of the country. Various organizations had made huge progress in addressing issues such as child labour, prevention of violence against children, the importance of mental health of children, health and nutrition as well as education which has been thwarted amid the existing pandemic.


Child marriage is prevalent in various parts of the country despite continuous efforts of uprooting the practice of child marriage since the time of independence. As claimed by estimates by the UNICEF, child brides in India are the largest in the world with a whopping 1.5 million underage girls being married off every year. As per the State of Working, India report carried out in the year 2021, around 230 million people in the country had fallen below the poverty line based on the minimum wage. The rise in family instability has a direct impact on the marriage of children since it would mean one less mouth to feed for the family. The restriction of 200 guests has served to be beneficial as owing to the financial complications of the families, this helps to lower the costs of the marriage and doing away with the marriage with a minimum number of guests.


Child Runaways and Abandonment

The stress of the pandemic along with the violence that a child has to witness or is subjected to have a severe effect on his/her mental health and often such children end up running away from homes. A study conducted in the year of 2009 by the Railway Children India (RCI), an organization that rescues children who have either eloped or been abandoned stated that a total of 1,21,860 children were at risk at platforms across all railway zones. This can be equated to a lone child arriving at a railway station at an interval of every 5 minutes which is extremely worrying. These children are the most vulnerable to exploitation since they do not have any kind of support system. The RCI was used to rescue these children and ensured that they were reunited with proper care. However, due to the pandemic, all these helplines had been shut down which resulted in these children being sources of income of people through trafficking and prostitution. This overall phenomenon is a major human rights violation as children as denied the right to life, the right to personal liberty and rights. It has been deciphered that many adoptions helpline numbers that are being circulated on WhatsApp are simply testing to see the response of the public and the demand of a child in the market by such perpetrators. Hence, there is a very menacing agenda behind these messages being circulated on social platforms and not everything is as rosy as it seems.


Conclusion

The real magnitude of the harm caused due to the pandemic is nearly impossible to assess as one factor is a result of another. Even though the governments today are more focused on vaccination drives and the healthcare sector, the children cannot be left alone to suffer. The future of any nation depends upon the wellbeing of children and restoring their rights and liberty must be made a top priority by taking all legislative and administrative actions.


 

* 5th Year, B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at National Law Institute University, Bhopal

** 4th Year, B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at National Law Institute University, Bhopal


 

(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Child Rights Centre.)

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