Children are hit the hardest during any natural calamity. Unequipped to rebuild their lives after losing their parents and their homes, they are left to the whims of others. This is where predators, in the form of human trafficking criminals step in, to convert them into child labourers and objects of abuse. Recent floods have rendered children to a variety of risks. These risks must be acknowledged in detail, so that civil society, government bodies and concerned individuals can unite and help them in this time of need.
1. Diseases and injuries
Cholera, dysentery, and viruses can easily spread in contaminated, dirty water, which often is found in the wake of the most common calamity, floods. Sanitation often is compromised after other disasters. Children in relief camps need medical supervision to keep them safe, warm and dry. Poor conditions can trigger diarrhoea at camps and shelter sites, causing malnutrition, compromising children’s immune systems, making them more vulnerable to disease and also contributing to stunting.
Immediately after a calamity, the first priority after identifying survivors is to provide nutrition. Ready access to hygienically prepared meals, clean water, and milk are essential for growing children, as they can easily get nutrient deficient. Those who donate to NGO fundraising ensure that rations shipped to ensure survival and prevent starvation. However, soon after, nutrition facilities must be rebuilt to ensure a complete diet rich in protein, fat, carbohydrates and essential minerals, without which malnutrition can take place.
3. Preying eyes of child abusers and traffickers
Child abuse and trafficking are one of the biggest risks that a rescue shelter can face after a natural calamity. Unprotected by parents or guardians, children can be lured with the promise of escaping poverty. Alternatively, predators harm or steal children, or offer lucrative amounts of money to parents to ‘buy’ children. Desperate for any source of money after losing their livelihood and homes, many yield to these offers. While they are promised stable employments and good homes, these children are only forced into servitude.
4. Children dropping out of school
If the development challenges facing India’s education goals were not enough, disasters can demotivate children from education. They have lost their schools, books, stationery, and uniforms. Without sustained intervention by government bodies and NGOs, children may not continue with formal schooling and dropout. Or, they may be forced into labour by their families, in order to afford short term rehabilitation.
5. Damage to livelihoods
In the wake of the Assam floods, the largely agrarian region was devastated by damage to 99,416 hectares of standing crops due for harvest. Other livelihoods, such as livestock and animal husbandry, and local small business are also destroyed. Many, without financial security, are rendered incapable of taking care of their families and children overnight. This tempts people to sell their children into labour, or employ them in small menial work. This makes it critical to donate money during disasters, to prevent these people from making reckless decisions.
Along with children, expecting and new mothers also face the additional risk of compromising the health of their infants and their own health. India cannot afford to let thousands of children suffer after every calamity. Save the Children has emerged as a leading force in rescue and rehabilitation of communities during disasters. The NGO can rapidly provide an emergency response, helping affected families achieve recovery to fight child mortality, and also rebuild their lives. This is through the NGO’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan (EPP) executed by employees, partners and volunteers. Save the Children also runs child-centred and community-based preparedness programmes across vulnerable communities.