New Delhi, May 8th

With half of children under five in India undernourished, the current COVID-19 crisis could further affect nutrition and services for children across the country, who are hit by a violent second wave, the UN Children’s Fund said UNICEF.

“With 27 million births and 30 million pregnancies each year, life-saving services to assist women in childbirth are vital in India,” said Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF representative in India, on Friday.

“As health facilities continue to be overwhelmed by the treatment of COVID-19 patients, there have been reports of pregnant women struggling to find the support they need to give birth.”

She noted that schools across the country are closed and distance learning is also disrupted in several states.

“This is tearing 247 million primary and secondary school children out of these safe spaces exactly when they need them most. In addition, many children do not have access to digital learning. The learning loss will therefore continue for children in India.

“We’re helping the government ensure that critical services for the most vulnerable children continue to work in all states.

“UNICEF in India has been working tirelessly on the ground since the beginning of the pandemic.”

The UN official noted that India is in a savage second wave of COVID-19.

“As cases rise, the virus is affecting more people in different age groups, including children and toddlers.”

She said, “What is happening in India should set off alarm bells for all of us. The pandemic is far from over. COVID-19 cases are increasing at an alarming rate across South Asia, particularly in Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Entire health systems could collapse and lead to more tragic deaths.

“In most South Asian countries (less than 10 percent in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal), vaccinations are very low, adding to concerns about the escalation of the virus spiral. In addition to South Asia, we are also seeing alarming situations in other parts of the world.

“As COVID-19 cases have increased, so has the impact on children affected by the virus. And of course, the impact of the outbreak and public health and social health measures on children is likely to worsen after the second wave. You are experiencing a tragedy.

“Children are losing parents and carers to the virus, leaving many of them destitute without parental care.”

The UN official said, “Although there is not enough data yet, we can see that illegal adoption requests have surfaced on social media, making these orphans vulnerable to human trafficking and abuse.

“UNICEF calls for greater efforts to protect these orphans. We need to promote kinship care, family persecution, improve officials, and accelerate sponsorship of destitute families.

“This increase has serious consequences for children whose access to basic health, social, protective and educational services is restricted.

“Children face mental health problems and are at greater risk of violence because they are locked out of their vital support networks.

“You’re missing out on the life-saving routine immunization, critical care, and treatment for pneumonia and other diseases.” IANS