India is fighting a biological war against an unseen foe (coronavirus), which has wreaked havoc on the country’s health system. While the magnitude of cases and sudden spike in the second wave have pushed many countries into insurmountable shortages, it does raise concerns about how the pandemic will be handled this time, especially in comparison to India’s much better handling of the pandemic last year during the first wave. While experts may cite a variety of reasons for the increase, ranging from double mutation to general indifference, including election rallies, religious gatherings, and a slowing down of momentum in capacity building for the second wave, it is necessary to revisit existing management responses in the context of indigenous best practices/structures in order to improve the situation. The whole COVID-19 management system in India has been knocked out of gear by an endless increase in current COVID-19 infections, with about four lakh individuals becoming infected every day, adding close to one lakh cases and 4000 deaths per day, for over a week, despite recoveries. While every agency in the country is struggling to make up shortages and develop capacities, a large number of friendly foreign countries have also dispatched health appliances and material, which have been/are being distributed.
India was woefully unprepared for the first wave last year, but the control of the COVID-19 management system was crucial. India was able to limit the spread and develop the necessary capacity to handle the case load during the unlocking process because to the centralized lockout and administration. Many lives were saved, and the response was widely praised, raising hope that India could be the world’s savior in containing the pandemic. Unfortunately, credit-seeking politics echoed the voice of health being a state topic, and the necessity to decentralize, combined with migrant labor issues, led the country to embrace a decentralized management system, as India unlocked. It is understandable that the unlocking was essential for livelihood and getting the economy back on track, but stretching it to heavy crowding for events like elections was gross casualness, which coronavirus was in no mood to pardon. It also brought a weakness in response with Centre and State governments waiting for others to take actions and blaming each other for shortages and follies, along-with the reasons mentioned earlier. Today a common man is suffering from shortages of Oxygen, hospital beds, ventilators, and other appliances besides inadequate number of vaccines. Cases of hoarding/black-marketing of health appliances, Oxygen, and hospital beds, indicate leakages and inadequacy of the system of management of this crisis. Despite an increase in nationwide availability, shortages among common patients cast doubt on the effectiveness and openness of current logistics systems. Every agency is now working hard, but in silos with no visible central coordination, resulting in sub-optimal performance. People are dying as a result of ambulance shortages/increased prices in Delhi, which has a plethora of flatbed vehicles with movers and packers that can be converted into makeshift ambulances by placing a few mattresses and oxygen cylinders inside, provided the RTOs are tasked with it by appropriate authorities.
With a third wave of pandemic on the horizon India needs to acknowledge it as a warlike situation and everyone has to respond accordingly. Currently a large number of agencies are working hard for COVID-19 management at national as well as state level in silos, without a centralized strategic plan, with little coordination, resulting in leakages, inadequacies and non-availability of resources to patients requiring it most. The fact that the Honorable Supreme Court of India appointed National Task Forces to control allocation and distribution of Oxygen, justifies the need for centralized control of scarce resources. There is a need to declare it as ‘National Health Emergency’ and activate the existing system and infrastructure of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) under Prime Minister, suitably modified for handling coronavirus pandemic, with minimum turbulence in ongoing effort.
It is necessary to have this central agency activated with state representatives for collective strategic decision making at two levels; firstly, at strategic level with CCS (Health Minister included) to coordinate work of various ministries to improve capacity building, medical resource generation and policy guidelines; secondly at operational level National Crisis Management Committee under Cabinet Secretary with senior representative of all stakeholders including Centre (Health, Home, Defense Ministries and Intelligence agencies) and States (Nominated secretaries), expert professionals from various fields, doctors, public and private players, manufacturers and Defense Services, involved in COVID-19 management to issue implementable instructions for similar set up at state levels. It needs to be understood that pandemic management, besides medical care, requires sound logistics management and information management.
There is a need to activate NDMA Resource Centre (suitably modified for pandemic) in New Delhi, with every possible information on smartboards regarding patient load, availability of hospital facilities, progress of vaccination, production of vaccines, health appliances, purchases, aids and every information to make a viable strategic and operational, implementable plan, through a process of collective decision making, nominating the agency to execute, which should be held accountable. It must have a media outlet to keep the nation informed of policy guidelines and allocations, as inadequate information leads to rumors, panic and related actions like hoarding. If allotments are done through digitized models using latest management techniques (like transportation model) by participative decision making, then the center-state blame game can be reduced to a level that it doesn’t obstruct response mechanism and makes last man delivery faster. All purchases and delivery must be on digital transaction mode to reduce leakages.
IMPACTS POST EVERY 2ND AND 3RD WAVE
While India recovered fairly from the first wave, the second wave has hit the country the hardest in terms of fatalities. The second wave has led to further State-imposed lockdowns, impacting the economy while putting several restrictions in place on key businesses. The second coronavirus wave resulted in complete devastation of the lives of people. There was a horrendous time when people were dying on the doors of the hospitals. With a crisis of oxygen cylinders, there were instances where people in order to save lives started blowing air directly from the mouth and pictures were disturbing. Those who managed to survive by the grace of God, got so financially unstable that they had to do menial jobs to make ends meet.
The Covid waves resulted in massive increase in unemployment rate and so in the increase in the child labor. Child labor takes away a child’s childhood, potential, and dignity. According to the International Labor Organization, 152 million (1 in 10) children work as labourers around the world.
64 million of these are females. Almost half of the 72 million youngsters work in hazardous conditions, with 6.3 million being forced into forced labor or human slavery.
COVID-19 AND THE CHANGING FACE OF CHILD LABOUR
Child labor robs children of their childhood, potential and dignity. As many as 152 million (1 in 10) children work as labourers across the world, according to the International Labor Organization. Among these, 64 million are girls. Almost half of the 72 million children are engaged in hazardous work; 6.3 million are pushed into forced work and human slavery.
Children are driven into this work for multiple reasons: When families fall into poverty, experience income insecurity, emergencies, or are affected by unemployment, human trafficking, conflict and extreme weather events.
Child labor is prevalent not only in the agriculture sector, but today other sectors such as export-oriented agriculture, mining, manufacturing, industries, tourism and construction.
It is a global phenomenon and exists in different forms and intensities in almost every part of the globe. Yet, half the world’s child labourers (72.1 million) are in Africa; 62.1 million are in Asia and the Pacific. A recent global report indicated that the link between child labor and the global supply chain was often indirect and happened in the lower tier of supply chain like raw material extraction and agriculture operations. The unprecedented economic crisis has, however, pulled children into the national and global supply chain and other informal sectors.
The United Nations declared 2021 as the international year for the elimination of child labor. The Sustainable Development Goals 8 & 7 challenge the world to eradicate forced labor, modern slavery by 2025.
It can be a herculean task for policy makers and planners to devise effective strategy to contain the child labor. Elimination of child labor needs several approaches.
The one-size-fits-all approach will fail to address the issues of poor and excluded communities. Every government and non-government action for the elimination of child labor should be effectively reinforced with national child rights policies, stricter law enforcement, quality social protection and strengthening of school ecosystem.
According to UNICEF, more than 1.5 billion children missed out their schooling due to COVID-19 restrictions. This has compelled children to work to support their families.
Aide et Action’s study in India on the impact of COVID-19 on migrant children revealed a two-fold increase in the number of children who accompanied their working parents to the brick-making industry after the first wave COVID-19 pandemic.
Those who work at brick kilns have been compelled to drag their children along. In South Asia, tens and thousands of brick kilns provide seasonal wage employment to the poor and debt-ridden rural families. Migrant families are recruited by labor contractors and ferried to the urban location to work in brick kilns. The traditional brick kiln industries that operate on manual labourers often utilize child labor for work.
Aide et Action has been working with children living in brick kilns in India to provide education and care to them. It has assisted thousands of migrant workers and their families to travel safely to their native villages and reintegrated them up with a government health support and social protection schemes. The pandemic-induced lockdowns shattered the labor market across the world. During the first COVID-19 wave, the lockdown forced millions of migrant labourers to move back to their villages in India. The soaring demand for food, health supplies, basic services need a huge workforce to wheel and support the national and global supply chain.
The number of children in child labor has risen to 16 crore worldwide — first increase in two decades — with millions more at risk due to COVID-19, according to a new report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the UNICEF.
The report — ”Child Labor: Global estimates 2020, trends and the road forward” — released ahead of the World Day Against Child Labor on June 12, says the progress to end child labor has stalled for the first time in 20 years, reversing the downward trend that saw it fall by 94 million (9.4 crore) between 2000 and 2016.
The report points to a significant rise in the number of children aged 5 to 11 years in child labor, who now account for over half of the total global figure. The number of children aged 5 to 17 years in hazardous work –defined as work that is likely to harm their health, safety or morals — has risen by 6.5 million to 79 million since 2016, the report said.
“The number of children in child labor has risen to 160 million (16 crore) worldwide — an increase of 8.4 million (84 lakh) children in the last four years — with millions more at risk due to the impacts of COVID-19,” the report said.
UNICEF India Representative Dr Yasmin Ali Haque said the coronavirus pandemic has clearly emerged as a child rights crisis, aggravating the risk of child labor as many more families are likely to have fallen into extreme poverty.
“Children in poor and disadvantaged households in India are now at a greater risk of negative coping mechanisms such as dropping out of school and being forced into labor, marriage, and even falling victim to trafficking,” she said.
Children have lost parents and caregivers to the virus, leaving them destitute, without parental care, she said. “These children are extremely vulnerable to neglect, abuse and exploitation.”
The constitution of India explicitly mentions the child labor rights under Part III which is also known as the magna carta of the Indian Constitution. It reads as follows;
Article 24 in The Constitution of India 1949
Prohibition of employment of children in factories, etc. 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 Provided that nothing in this sub clause shall authorize the detention of any person beyond the maximum period prescribed by any law made by Parliament under sub clause (b) of clause ( 7 ); or such person is detained in accordance with the provisions of any law made by Parliament under sub clauses (a) and (b) of clause ( 7 )
According to the survey, more than 94% of children have said that the economic crisis at home and family pressure had pushed them into work. Most of their parents had lost their jobs or earned very low wages during the pandemic. A small percentage of children said that they started to work in order to buy smartphones. The government should raise wage rates under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, particularly in rural areas. This is critical in order to increase the number of adult jobs available.
To provide a fair livelihood, vulnerable families should be covered by comprehensive social safety programmes.
Advocacy for stringent enforcement of labour rules and regulations. Child Protection Committees should operate efficiently to identify vulnerable children and support their families through social protection systems.
The school teachers must ensure that all pupils who were studying earlier are brought back to schools.
I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.
If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.
The copyright of this Article belongs exclusively to Ms. Aishwarya Sandeep. Reproduction of the same, without permission will amount to Copyright Infringement. Appropriate Legal Action under the Indian Laws will be taken.
If you would also like to contribute to my website, then do share your articles or poems at firstname.lastname@example.org
We also have a Facebook Group Restarter Moms for Mothers or Women who would like to rejoin their careers post a career break or women who are enterpreneurs.
We are also running a series Inspirational Women from January 2021 to March 31,2021, featuring around 1000 stories about Indian Women, who changed the world. #choosetochallenge