The unprecedented 21-day lockdown in India in an attempt to halt the spread of the coronavirus is making millions of poor children go to bed hungry.
India has the largest child population in the world with over 470 million children estimated. According to experts, this lockdown has impacted around 40 million children from poor families.
Helplines are getting over tens of thousands daily.
The millions of homeless children who live on streets, under flyovers, or in narrow lanes and bylanes in cities are the most affected.
“During the lockdown everyone has been told to stay home. But what about the street children? Where do they go?” asks Sanjay Gupta, director of Chetna, a Delhi-based charity that works with child labourers and street children.
Mr Gupta reveals that Delhi has far more than 70,000 street children, who are usually independent. “They look for their own means of survival. This is the first time they need assistance. But they are not in the system and they are not easy to reach out to, especially in the present circumstances. Our charity workers cannot move around unless they have curfew passes,” he says.
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Sadly, passes are not easy to obtain, because charities like Chetna are not considered essential services, thus they have derived new ways to stay in touch with the children.
“Many of these children have mobile phones, and because they generally stay in groups, we send them messages or TikTok videos about how to keep safe and what precautions they must take.”
Children are also concerned about their parents losing their jobs. Finding money to pay rent or to buy rations have become a real ordeal.
“Sometimes people come and distribute food. I have no idea who they are, but it’s very little. We only get to eat once in two-three days.”
Because of the lockdown, he says, they are not even allowed to go fetch water or firewood. “I don’t know how we can survive like this? The government must help us,” he pleads.
The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights has been providing assistance by distributing food to street children and vulnerable families. homeless people are also given food; however, it is hard to ensure that they are fed three meals a day.
Moreover, there are also the “invisible children, the ones who live away from the main roads, in areas that are not easily accessible”.
“There are thousands of them and we are still not reaching them,” he says.