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Assam has registered 37.41 percent increase in the number of crimes against children from 2016 to 2018, NCRB

The annual flood in Assam has struck havoc and is having a widespread impact in the state, yet again. More than 26 districts out of the 33 are deeply impacted by this natural disaster. While the government is responding, the situation is quite grim due to the fear and complications already posed by COVID-19. The pandemic already making its inroad in the vast hinterlands of Assam, this flood would harp a severe blow to the community and children at large.

While people were slowly limping back to resume their economic activities or were trying to search for alternative livelihoods, this flood situation has surely complicated the situation. And it is complicated even more for the children. With schools closed for more than 4 months now, the situation is worse for the children, particularly in remote areas. Most of them are not only out of their formal education but also out of the safety net that the schools usually provide. Amidst such a crisis, the flood situation that has affected 24 districts of the state till 21 July 2020, has further aggravated the penury of the people. In districts like Dhemaji and Majuli, which are amongst the worst flood-hit districts, there are almost one lakh children directly affected under this disaster.

With the closure of schools across the state, children especially in the far-flung tea growing areas did not even have their books for the new academic year. While many of their fortunate counterparts have the chance to initiate their virtual classes, with the unavailability of books and internet facilities, these hapless bunches are yet to start their academic session, thus increasing the vulnerability of these children by many times. With no schools for an indefinite period and many families losing livelihood due to COVID-19 lockdown the susceptibility of children of getting trafficked has increased substantially. On top of this, the present flood situation has added fuel to the fire. With houses under waist dip water in many places; children along with their family are staying in some make-shift relief centers. The fate of children in Assam is thus swinging between pandemic of a lifetime and an annual catastrophe.

According to 2018 data, Assam had reported 2120 missing cases of children. An analysis of these missing cases has revealed that children were either victims as child bribes, of sexual abuse due to child marriage, or are trafficked.

With high burden of reported trafficking cases, children discontinuing education amidst COVID-19 pandemic and loss of livelihood of parents are some key indications that might pose a high risk of children falling prey to traffickers. It now appears that the schools will remain closed for an indeterminate period of time. Not only would children -local and the new returnees – of school-going age not be in school, but they also could, at a later stage, be prime targets of child traffickers. Children’s education would be at stake.

Bal Raksha Bharat has been one of the fast responders in any humanitarian need and it has been working with some of the most marginalised communities and children in Assam for a long time. We have worked together with the Government of Assam in developing the guidelines for Child Protection Committees at the village and block level under ICPS. What seems to be the need of the hour is to activate these committees with the delegation of authorities. Sustained efforts must also be taken to reach out to school-going children through various virtual platforms to not only ensure continuity of their education but also their safety. This would only help to move towards SDG-4 that envisions inclusive and equitable quality education. A concentrated effort by government, civil society organisations and corporates is essential to take on this social evil and eradicate the same from society.

Modest steps like these might help to ensure that its effect on future generations isn’t needlessly destructive.

Author: Chittapriyo Sadhu, Deputy Director, Programme Management (East)

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