BHOPAL (Madhya Pradesh): The two-year-long Covid pandemic has done enormous harm to the well-being of girl child in Madhya Pradesh. Social activists working for the young and adolescent girls say that the pandemic has led to a jump in child marriages and child labour, has increased the dropout rate of girls and has worsened their nutritional status.
Economic insecurity, unemployment and fall in income have played their role. The closure of schools and Aanganwadis, which serve as the ground-level institutions for implementation of various schemes meant for welfare of girl children and female teens, has worsened the situation. Crimes registered under POCSO Act have also increased.
Indu Saraswat, State Programme Manager of Mamata Health Institute for Mother and Child, said closure of schools and Anganwadis has adversely impacted the state of girl children. The pandemic-induced economic insecurity forced parents into marrying off their daughters at a tender age.
We have ourselves stopped more than 100 child marriages in 2020-21, she revealed. Earlier, they managed to stop child marriages only through counselling of parents. During pandemic, they had to file complaints against parents in Jhabua district, she added.
The distribution of iron and folic acid tablets and sanitary napkins was being done through schools. Midday meals were provided in schools and in Anganwadis. With both shut, the nutritional status and menstrual hygiene†of girls have been affected badly, she said. Indu said involving community in nutritional programmes is needed to undo the damage.
Technical consultant for United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Chhatarpur district, Pankaj Thakur, said the recent NFHS-5 report has brought good news for girl children in the state. But the parents are still unwilling to send their daughters to schools outside their villages. ìThey fear for their safety, he says.
Pankaj said infrastructure in schools has definitely improved but there are other problems. For instance, many schools now have separate toilets for girls. But for want of adequate supply of water, they are non-operational, he said and added that it is necessary to involve elders in the families and influential community members to persuade parents not to withdraw their daughters from schools after class 5 or class 8.
Shivani Taneja of Muskan said child marriages have increased due to pandemic. Whenever there is a shortage of resources in a family, the girl child is the first to be affected, she said. She also feels the need for campaigning at the ground level to combat high drop rates among the girls.
Training and Placement Officer, Udayan Care Organisation, Sheetal Dubey said pandemic has also led to an increase in sex crimes against girl children.
Kumud Singh of Sarokaar Sanstha said pandemic has affected the first-generation learners of lower-middle and lower class families. Education shifted to online mode. For that, the students needed access to a smart phone with internet. Now, if there was one phone in the family, it went to the boy and the girl was deprived of learning, she remarked.
The pandemic has increased violence against girl children and adversely impacted menstrual hygiene, according to Singh.