MIGRANT CHILDREN IN THE EPOCH OF COVID 19
By AANUSHA BAGCHI, B.A LL.B (H), 5TH YEAR, AMITY UNIVERSITY, KOLKATA

ABSTRACT

The year, 2020 is one of its kind. With remotely nothing good to offer the year has locked down the humans, freed the animals, ruined the economy and shattered lives in a span of just five months. It’s already May and the year 2020 has thrown challenges that have proved that humans have no stand against nature’s fury or well viruses. It’s only been 5 months and the world has burned due to the Australian bush fires. Around an estimate of 1 billion animals have perished. Delhi has suffered the worst form of communal violence after the introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Act and people have lost their lives for the same. We have experienced the worst cyclone in West Bengal, India since 1792 and at least 1 lakh people are homeless and starving and some dead. Earthquakes, cyclones and swarms of locusts all have made their in turn appearances to prove to the world that technology, development or science nothing stands against the wrath of nature. We will always be puny creatures in the hands of nature. Even after that when the world was trying to cope up with the suffered losses, Coronavirus made an appearance and has taken the form of the worst pandemic ever recorded. Thousands of people are dying every day, governments are helpless, world economy pulled back into recession, racism is on the hike, workers laid off and inequalities increased at a level that will be difficult to bridge in the near future.

Coronavirus (COVID 19) is an infectious disease cause by the newly discovered corona virus. The virus spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharged nose when a person infected sneezes or coughs so maintaining respiratory etiquette is a must. At this time, no proper vaccines or treatments have been established. Different research teams from the world are ongoing clinical trials for finding out a potential treatment from the deadly virus. But the virus is not restricting its spread even with the research ongoing and killing thousands in the world with every passing day.

The coronavirus has resulted in causing economic, legal, social, physical and psychological implications in the world and has attacked every human irrespective of their background. With this research paper we will focus on the difficulties of migration and the conditions of children in this era of covid 19.

INTRODUCTION

Our world has an idea of the millions of people that live outside their country of birth as refugees or migrants or are internally displaced within their borders. With the Coronavirus pandemic on the rise, most of the Governments in the world have accepted “Lockdown” as the necessary move to prevent the virus to spread. After various deliberations, meetings and WHO guidelines, most of the Governments have voted for breaking the chain of the deadly virus by accepting the procedure of lockdown of different durations respectively.

Even when the lockdown favoured many sections of the society, the migrants, children or internally displaced people suffered losses unimaginable. They faced acute shortages of health care, clean water, food or clothing. They were deprived of their access to education and other protective services. The pandemic barred their vulnerability which is not only incomprehensible for us to understand but difficult for us to be of help.

The pandemic has posed a lot of socio- economic challenges for them like poverty, survival, health, protection, safety and learning. Out of the many problems, the displaced children will watch the family income shrinking, the poverty level worsening, disrupted health services and poor health care and the threat of gradually perishing. It is likely to cause irreparable physical and psychological trauma within the children on the move. The crowded mass continuously moving will have poor access to water, food and sanitation. They will have poor access to education because half of the world is learning online which they have no access to. The risk of sexual exploitation, getting trafficked, married or pregnant is also on the rise. Domestic violence, hike of racism and other problems each day are challenging the safety of these displaced children. The death toll is leaving half of the children orphaned and susceptible to child abuses. Economic, physical, psychological, social and other implications on the rise are causing more difficulties than relief.

Given the pandemic, the main criteria that is to be looked after is health, hygiene and social distancing but these people who have no idea of how the next day is going to be, cannot care less about the virus. Their main objective is survival and however dramatic it may sound, this is the harsh reality. Through this article we will try finding out the challenges, laws and policies that can further some help to these vulnerable groups in the aeons of COVID 19.

CHALLENGES FACED BY THE MIGRANT CHILDREN

The migrant children are going to be hit hard by the social and economic implications of COVID 19. The pandemic is going to prolong the difficulties suffered by the children to a higher notch. The migrant and the displaced children are going to be affected disproportionately across the globe. All the problems caused by this public health issue is going to last a long period. According to a Special Report of the United Nations, four challenges can be noted particularly like poverty, survival and health, learning and safety.

  • IMPACTS ON POVERTY- It is common knowledge that the migrants and displaced children belong to families that are more prone and vulnerable to economic problems and poverty. According to World Bank[1], post the COVID 19 crisis around 40 to 60 million families are likely to be forced into extreme poverty. The International Labour Organisation estimates that global unemployment, workforce displacement will be on the hike. These impacts are going to dilate the already existing economic inequalities in the world and are going to hit the developing countries massively. There are a lot of economy recovery initiatives that are likely to be launched but it is true that migrating or displaced children are not going to be included within that periphery. The problem of statelessness is going to prevent any of the Government to claim them as citizens therefore barring them to benefit from the initiatives. In places like Thailand, Laos, Myanmar or Cambodia, the day care centers where the migrant children learned work or received secured food and care have been shut. The closing of borders have restricted the travel opportunities thereby exposing the children to greater risks. For children whose parents have migrated for work, their source of income through remittances cannot be relied upon. These conditions will force the children to drop out of school, seek work, or be victims of child trafficking and child marriage.

  • IMPACT ON SURVIVAL AND HEALTH- Most of the places where the displaced or migrant children are present, overcrowding is one of the biggest issues. The overcrowding causes lesser access to safe drinking water, food and sanitation. The condition post COVID 19 is going to cause calamitous health consequences amongst children. Either the children are living outside or in tents with lesser or no access to water. For how long will the human body continue subjected to such conditions? The lockdown has contributed to the halting of the essential services provision and the work across borders have come to a standstill. The access to healthcare has also gotten limited, thereby more and more children are under the threat of suffering from malnutrition, communicable or non-communicable diseases. The displaced migrant children are not in the position to be given vaccines further worsening their condition. The migrant children do not possess the financial means to quarantine themselves or vouch for healthcare. There is a possibility of psychological issues like depression, boredom, frustration or anxiety to be present among these children because of zero connections to psychological assistance.

  • IMPACTS ON EDUCATION- The pandemic undoubtedly has caused difficulties to more than 1 billion students. These migrant, displaced children who have probably already missed most of their school time are at a risk of falling a lot behind than the others. These children undergo difficulties like accessing classrooms, language barriers or understanding information which may push them to completely stop their education. When the entire world has taken the opportunity of online classes in their safe homes with continuous electricity and internet services, these children who have limited access to food or water cannot be expected to have computers or phones with the similar services to enjoy the benefit of online classes. It is difficult to imagine the children with aims to study getting no access to connect with the outer world or fulfil their dreams. Limited access to education will push these children to drop out of school and returning back to school will not be a cakewalk after the COVID 19 crisis ends.

  • IMPACT ON SAFETY AND PROTECTION OF THE CHILDREN- The weathering away of jobs and income is going to expose these children who can barely sustain themselves to an unimaginable threat. Economic downslide can force the children to drop out of school and start working to sustain themselves. Other problems like early marriage, early pregnancy, child trafficking and sexual exploitation also pose a great risk. Confinement to small places, reduced income and lockdown collaboratively risk the security of the child. The wellbeing of the child is also hampered due to estrangement from the care givers. Gender based violence or exploitation also increases due to the limited accessible child protection services. The children do not have phones or proper cellular networks for that matter to call for help. No privacy and confinement of a large group within a small space also risks the security and safety of the children. The increased death toll globally will leave a lot of them orphaned and with no extended families to be a part of, they will be left alone in this world to provide for themselves. Another big concern which is slowly taking the entirety of the limelight is the stigma, discrimination and the existence of xenophobia towards the displaced migrant children. These unending issues throughout this pandemic will cause the hate crimes to rise and the mutual love for one another might subside for the hatred to rise.

POLICIES TO BE TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION

The COVID 19 pandemic is going to have far reaching humanitarian and socio-economic impacts in the world on the migrant and displaced children. Effective policies and laws should be undertaken to help them out in this condition. The children should be tutored to be prepared, prevent and respond appropriately to the virus presently and in the aftermath of the pandemic. It is necessary to ensure the health, safety and protective of these children in the long haul.

For example, Portugal[1] has already started giving residency permits to the migrant displaced children providing them with proper health care services. Ireland launched unemployment payment schemes that is accessible to all irrespective of them being legal citizens or not. The Spanish Government has decided to release the immigrants who were detained after keeping them under the mandatory 60 day quarantine. The Malaysian Government stated that even the undocumented citizens who are present within Malaysia now will not be detained if they come forward for medical screening. In Peru, the migrant children are being provided hygiene kits and other support. The Governments like Croatia, Mexico, and Cameroon are addressing the violence against the migrant displaced children and are taking UNICEF[2] supported efforts to help them. Family helpline systems are being set up in remote areas. One of the problems suffered by these children is the language barrier. So we can see a lot of Governments addressing the issues in languages understandable by the entire country as an effective way of disseminating information. Right policies can help us assuage the hardships and the risks that are going to follow after this pandemic. All the policies and laws that are to be implemented should be in the best interest of the child.

We need to create laws that are uniform and aid majority of the children who are now displaced and migrants. If we were to analyse certain policies they could be, firstly we need to include the children in the schemes of preparedness and teach them to respond appropriately to this condition. Secondly, we need to ensure that the children have access to safe drinking water, food and sanitation facilities. Thirdly we need to disseminate information which is culturally, linguistically and easily understandable by the children. Most of the migrant and displaced children share different language, culture and ethnicities. Therefore collectively getting them together and sharing a sense of unity among them is the most necessary and we cannot do that my eliminating the language constraint. The feeling of difference creates a lot of hatred and spite and therefore it needs to be eliminated at any cost. Fourthly, the children should be given equal and universal access to healthcare, essential services and other psychological help regardless of their migrant or displaced status. Fifthly we need to support for safer living and housing conditions to allow for social distancing amongst these children. The migrant children should have access to safe learning environment. The practice of non-refoulement, detention or any practice that risks the child should be constricted given the condition presently.We need to imbibe social economic programmes that reduces the economic impacts on the moving children. Lastly, we need to address the other social issues of discrimination like xenophobia, stigma or discrimination that creates more problems than it ever should. The virus does not discriminate on who it settles on and even we should not create differences amidst people in this regard.

Globally majority of the migrant children are already experiencing acute distress that are going to have long term effects on them as they transition into adults. Collective consciousness and unity is the need of the hour. The COVID 19 has a capability of disrupting their growth and development but until a vaccine is discovered we don’t really have much that we can do except than having faith for a better future.

CONCLUSION

COVID 19 has created a havoc unlike any in the present century. We cannot disregard the far reaching implications that it has going to have globally but we can provide for the minimum help expected out of us. Yes it is true that we puny humans might not have a strong fight against the virus but yes it is worth a try. The children who are anyway subjected to statelessness, no proper shelter, food or clothing cannot be left alone to face the pandemic because of their migrant or refugee status.

This is our chance of redeeming our past actions, it is time that the entire world comes together irrespective of their political and other differences and help these children fight the pandemic. Inclusion of these children in the payment schemes, health care facilities, medical screening, food and shelter is the least we can do. The pandemic has already taken the lives of many, we cannot let it take the lives of small children because of our irresponsibility and disregard to help. These children who are probably in need of love and care because of their detachment from their caregivers, should be provided with the same. So it’s our turn to be human and help the needed. With that being said, we cannot proclaim ourselves as saviours but we can act as a medium that helps our fellow friends in achieving the basic necessities in life.Let us help each other grow and forget our differences to heal the world together.

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