Libertatem Magazine

COVID – 19 and Crimes Against Children

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The COVID -19 pandemic has affected the lives of millions across the globe. The impacts of COVID-19 have put many vulnerable groups of society such as children, women, and elders on the brink. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the lives of children in disarray as the nation took measures to curb the spread of the virus.  Due to lockdown, the socio-economic conditions have been worsened. The factors responsible for the increase in incidents of crimes against children are economic insecurity, financial instability, and isolation among others, adding that the lockdown had distanced children from their support systems, which had further exacerbated the situation. Children are stuck in their houses because of nationwide lockdowns but they are often subjected to cruelty, violence, and abuse. As schools are shut and online education is accessible to only a few, children from marginalized sections are forced into child labor to help support their families. Protecting children against sexual abuse is essential to ensure the constitutional right to dignity of children provided under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, which is compromised when they are exposed to predators

Pre – Pandemic scenerio

Since before the pandemic, India’s children, particularly those from vulnerable communities, suffered from “multiple deprivations“–in 2015-16, over one-third of children under five years were malnourished; more than half were anemic; and a quarter of women between the ages of 20 and 24 years in 2015-16 were married before they had turned 18 years of age, according to fourth National Family Health Survey (NFHS 2015-16). National Crime Reports Bureau (NCRB) released statistics from 2018 report both a rise in sexual crimes against children and a rise in cases reported under the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. 

In 2017, the maximum number of cases involved kidnapping and abduction (42.0%), followed by the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 (25.3%). This trend continued in 2018; with kidnapping and abduction (44.2%), and cases under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, (28%). Reports of POCSO cases have increased steadily since 2014 (except for a slight dip in 2017) – reaching 39,827 cases in 2018. Of the total reported child victims under POCSO, 85.8% were girls in the age group of 12-18 years, up slightly from 83 percent in 2017.

Ascending numbers of  crimes against children during a pandemic

There are little comprehensive data on how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected children in India, apart from illness, anecdotal evidence, data collected from non-governmental child welfare organizations and piecemeal government data show that the number of children vulnerable to early marriage, labor and abuse has increased. India urgently needs higher child care and protection budget, a focus on child rights, and more schemes to take care of children in an emergency, according to people involved in relief efforts and child protection. As schools were shut and online education was accessible to only a few, children had nothing to do and many were forced into child labor to help support their families, a survey by the NGO Save the Children found. Over three-fourths of children did not have access to online learning and over a third of children did not have access to any learning material during the first Covid-19 wave in 2020. Parents, worried about the future and relieved that the restricted gatherings during the pandemic meant fewer guests and less costly marriages, forced their children–mostly girls but also boys to get married early. Child marriages have doubled in four southern states. The central government’s national Childline helpline 1098 had responded to 460,000 calls in 21 days, or nearly 22,000 calls a day, with a majority of them received during the countrywide lockdown from March 20, 2020, to April 10, 2020, a Save the Children report published during the first wave of the pandemic. () Call volumes had risen by 50% compared to their average regular calls, per an April 6, 2020 newsletter by Childline, which Saves the Children quoted in its report. This was even though many children might not have had the opportunity to reach out for help as they were at home, Childline reportedly said. Globally, around 160 million children were in child labor in the early stage of the pandemic at the beginning of 2020, accounting for almost one in 10 of all children worldwide, according to a new UNICEF report. Without urgent mitigation measures, the Covid-19 crisis is likely to push millions of more children into child labor globally, said UNICEF.

With the expansion of internet communication technologies amongst children and young people, who account for 60 percent of online users in India, a relatively new threat to the safety of children has emerged. According to a recent report by the U.S. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), at least 25,000 images of child sexual abuse were uploaded across Indian social medial platforms between September 2019 and January 2020. According to the India Child Protection Fund, a non-governmental organization, there was also a drastic increase in child pornography searches in March, just after the lockdown was announced. The consumption of child sexual abuse material and imagery in India spiked by 95 percent amid lockdown. 

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there were about 2,200 cases of trafficking in 2019, of which 95 percent accounted for internal trafficking. In the official figures, 6,616 victims were reported to have been trafficked, including 2,914 children. Despite the Covid-19 curbs in places, cases of child trafficking continue to rise unabated. They also say that child trafficking is a demand-driven crime. According to Patna’s Centre DIRECT, 362 children were rescued in 2020 and another 136 have been rescued so far in 2021 — all working in the factories of Jaipur. The average age of these children was 10 years. The reasons for increased incidents of trafficking were that the officials were more vigilant of lockdown curbs rather than tracking trafficking. People were not watchful about other people’s movements. Even schools were closed, which happens to be a key area where everybody monitors each other. So, if any child went missing from the community, people would not know.

“During the lockdown last year, migrants were stuck and when states re-opened, they left. So, labor was scarce. That was the time when we saw a huge number of trafficked women and children being rescued from Bihar, West Bengal, and Andhra Pradesh, online trafficking for child labor and sex increased during the Covid-19 crisis’ said Satya Prakash, program manager of FXB Suraksha India — NGO providing development assistance to marginalized children and women. People were looking for employment opportunities. Children were forced into working, especially those who were not going to schools or dropouts. There were cases where girls were trafficked and taken to private farmhouses and hotels as brothels were closed.

There were several hundreds of cases of Covid-19 orphaning children in the country. On June 1, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) — a statutory body — told the Supreme Court that more than 9,300 children in the country had lost parents or were abandoned during the Covid-19 pandemic. These include more than 1,700 children who lost both their parents and have been orphaned. Due to this, there is an increase in cases of illegal adoption which further leads to human trafficking. 

Duty of Centre and States to protect legal rights of children 

The rights of children are protected under the Indian constitution. Article 21 of the constitution provides that the right to live is not merely a physical right but includes within its ambit the right to live with human dignity. The Constitution of India also prohibits trafficking in human beings and forced labor under Article 23. Article 24 provides that No child below the age of fourteen years shall be employed to work in any factory or mine or engaged in any other hazardous employment.

The states have the duty to safeguards the lives of children under the constitution. Article 39 provides certain principles of policy to be followed by the State towards securing the health and strength of workers, men, and women, and the tender age of children are not abused and that citizens are not forced by economic necessity to enter avocations unsuited to their age or strength. States must ensure that children are given opportunities and facilities to develop in a healthy manner and conditions of freedom and dignity and that childhood and youth are protected against exploitation and moral and material abandonment. Under Article 45 state must provide early childhood care to the children of 0-6 age group.


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