Domestic violence against women remained a prime cause of concern for the Ministry of Woman and Child Development in 2020 with over 5,000 such complaints received in the year.
The National Commission for Women was flooded with complaints of domestic violence in March as the lockdown, imposed in view of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, forced women to remain confined to their homes with their abusers.
The number of complaints went on increasing through the months and in July, a record number of 660 such complaints were received. Over 5,000 complaints of domestic violence were received by the NCW in 2020.
NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma has attributed the rise in complaints to factors such as economic insecurity, financial instability and isolation among others.
“Victims of domestic violence are distanced from their regular support systems making it difficult for them to call out for help. The series of COVID-19 lockdowns in India reduced the opportunities of reporting of domestic violence cases,” Ms. Sharma told PTI .
She said the lockdown incapacitated women by preventing them from moving to safer places in cases of violence and abuse, reduced contact with the natal family which is usually the first point of contact for the victim.
“The machinery under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act had not been identified as an essential service during the lockdown. Hence, protection officers and NGOs were not able to visit households of victims and police officers being at the frontline to tackle COVID-19 were overstretched to help victims effectively,” she said.
Ms. Sharma said the NCW launched a WhatsApp helpline number for emergency response during the lockdown to deal with the increased number of complaints of domestic violence.
According to her, the NCW’s audio-visual media outreach programme aims to create awareness about legal provisions for protection of women and to apprise women to approach the government through various helplines and institutional support.
Speaking about how the year 2020 has been for children, apex child rights body National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chairperson Priyank Kanoongo said education posed as the biggest problem for children in the country. “We were not in the habit of educating our children online but when COVID-19 came it was a challenge. We, however, started overcoming it by different means and now the situation is improving. We succeeded in ensuring that children kept in touch with their schools whether it was private or government schools,” he said.
“The most important role played by teachers and anganwadis was to deliver midday meal at the doorsteps of children which was tremendous work done by them,” he told PTI .
On concerns that there may be a rise in the dropout rate of schoolchildren due to the pandemic, Mr. Kanoongo said having such apprehension even before the schools reopen is “not correct”.
“Once the schools reopen, we will bring the children to schools. And in fact online education has kept all children in touch with schools,” he said.
The NCPCR also came out with family-centric recommendations to combat child trafficking at “source, transit and destination hotspots” amid concerns over its rise post the COVID-19 lockdown.
The government developed a new standard operating procedure for care and protection of street children to strengthen the processes and interventions so that there should not be any child in a street situation and they should be with their families.
Mr. Kanoongo said the vision for 2021 is to give digital push to various initiatives of the commission which would also help in linking children with social security schemes.
In September, the NCPCR directed eight States that account for over 70% of children in care homes to ensure their return to their families, noting that it is the right of every child to grow up in a familial environment. However, the decision was rolled back on order of the Supreme Court.
Social audit report
A social audit report by the government revealed that as many as 2,764 childcare institutions across the country, accounting for nearly 40% of such homes, did not have adequate measures to prevent any form of physical, emotional abuse of children that results in trauma.
The social audit of all childcare homes across the country was ordered in 2018 when cases of sexual exploitation of girls were reported from childcare institutions in Deoria in Uttar Pradesh and Muzaffarpur in Bihar.
The report also found that 2,039 CCIs constituting 28.5% of such homes were still not registered with the government.
The National Nutrition Mission or POSHAN Abhiyan remained a key focus area of the WCD Ministry for the second consecutive year.
The month of September was observed as the Poshan maah when various activities around the theme of identification of severely acute malnourished children and plantation of nutri gardens, were undertaken as the focus areas.
However, the National Family Health Survey-5 which was released in December presented a grim scenario according to which malnutrition increased among children in 2019-20 from 2015-16.
Mortality rate among infants and those under five years of age fell in 18 States and Union Territories out of 22 surveyed, while around 16 States and Union Territories registered a rise in percentage of children under five who are underweight and severely wasted, according to fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) data.
Around 13 States and Union Territories out of the 22 surveyed ones recorded a rise in percentage of children under five years who are stunted in comparison to 2015-16 while 12 recorded a rise in percentage of children under 5 years who are wasted. Sixteen States and Union Territories recorded a rise in the percentage of children under five years who are severely wasted and underweight in comparison to NFHS-4, the NFHS-5 found.
The report also presented high prevalence of child marriages in Bihar, West Bengal and Tripura where over 40% women were married before they turned 18.
Crime against children was another area of concern for the Ministry. A total of 13,244 child pornography, rape and gang-rape complaints were lodged from March 1 till September 18, the WCD Ministry informed Parliament.
While some issues were addressed, the Ministry might continue to face challenges in 2021 with the social impact of coronavirus on women and children feared to become even more visible next year.