The COVID-19 pandemic has now hit India full force and the whole country has locked down in a desperate attempt to contain its spread and avoid disaster. As I write this blog the Prime Minister has just announced a 21-day complete lockdown nationwide. Personally, this is the first time in life I have seen such a situation where the whole country has come to a halt and faces uncertainty. India has taken some stringent measures to arrest the spread and protect people. Central and state governments and various government departments are working together tirelessly to safeguard the citizens from the pandemic.

Railway Children India has been doing its best to contribute to the government’s fight against COVID-19. We had issued advisories to our project worker for their as well as children’s safety. Office based staff were asked to work from home from March 9th2020. However, with extreme caution our station level child protection work continued. We protected 134 children in the 1st week of March, 142 in the second week of March and 89 in the 3rd week of March.

As you can see, the numbers decreased as the government restrictions became increasingly stringent including complete suspension of all trains.

Currently no trains are running, and all the railway stations are closed. Only three child help desks out of 10 are functioning and those are doing so with limited staff. All the open shelters are functional with 56 children living in them. Our team is taking proper care of these children and following the health authority’s guidelines. But faced with the enormity of the situation we are still grappling with disturbing questions:

  1. What is happening to those children who used to arrive at the stations separated from family as our projects used to protect around 600 of them every month?
  2. The lockdown is going to affect the livelihood of vulnerable groups such as daily wage labourers, the poor farmers and homeless families. In turn making lives difficult for children from these families. How can we reach out and protect them immediately in the areas where our station projects are located?
  3. This is a disaster situation and we are currently in the initial stages of dealing with it. It will get worse, and then hopefully, it will get better. Once the situation enters the recovery and mitigation stage, families and children will be forced in huge numbers to migrate to find work. At this stage the child protection issues such as school dropouts and trafficking might spike as is the case in any post disaster situation in India. How can we prepare ourselves to respond to these increased vulnerabilities of children as soon as the lockdown is lifted?

To begin with, we have decided to write to the respective authorities responsible for coordinating the COVID-19 response. We will establish whether child protection is a part of their plan. We will suggest actions required to support children living with vulnerable families and children living and working on the streets and offer our support in tracing them, providing immediate relief and protecting them from COVID-19.

We are facing an unimaginable level of danger for children soon. With economies and businesses hit, we have already started to lose funding. We are trying to be resilient, but we desperately need all the support we can get, whether it is volunteering, moral support or funding.

I take this opportunity to ask you to please come forward and join us in the effort to save children from disaster, especially those children who have nowhere else to go.

Help us to reach children and families.  Scan the QR code with any UPI app below.

The Author is CEO of Railway Children India –  S. Navin Sellaraju

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