Delhi: Families facing income crunch,100k+ kids turn to anganwadis
Over 100,000 children have enrolled in the city’s anganwadi centres over the course of the pandemic, official data shows, as families whose incomes have been severely hit over the past few month move their children from private institutions in search of nutritious food and with an eye on savings.
These anganwadi centres, part of the central government’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme, provide supplementary nutrition diets to children up to age six, as well as pregnant and lactating women.
They also provide these children with pre-school education, health education, immunisation, and medical check-ups.
While the city’s 10,700 anganwadi centres have been physically shut since March, the Delhi government’s department of women and child development (WCD) has been providing children supplementary nutrition - including dalia, black chickpea (chana), jaggery, and roasted chickpea - through door-to-door services on a fortnightly basis.
According to data shared by the department, around 560,000 children were enrolled in Delhi’s anganwadi centres before the lockdown was enforced in March, a number which has since shot up.
“This number has increased to 680,000 in the last few months. A majority of the recently admitted children used to study in budget private schools. But since the schools are now shut and many people have lost their livelihoods, parents have enrolled their kids at anganwadi centres in order to get a regular supply of nutrition,” a senior official at Delhi’s WCD department said.
WCD minister Rajendra Pal Gautam said there were two reasons behind the increased enrolment. “The first is the closure of schools and the second is financial crises faced by people amid the pandemic. Besides, people now know that we are delivering nutritious food on a regular basis and have registered their children,” he said.
Gautam added that the department was preparing, and even welcomed, further enrolments.
A senior official at the WCD department said the ministry has made budgetary provisions to ensure a regular supply of nutrition to the newly enrolled children. “There has been a 20% increase in the budget for nutrition… We expect the number of beneficiaries to increase further if schools stay shut for the next few months.”
Some anganwadi workers said the number of beneficiaries nearly doubled in the past few months.
An assistant Child Development Project Officer (CDPO), who looks after 28 Anganwadi centres in north Delhi, said, “For instance, in one of our anganwadis, there were 50 registered child beneficiaries till March, and this has now crossed 110,” she said.
HT had in July reported that many budget private schools in Delhi witnessed mass withdrawals amid the pandemic.
Padma, an anganwadi worker in east Delhi, said, “Many of the new beneficiaries are from municipalities or government schools as well. They were earlier getting mid-day meals and now since the schools are shut, their parents have enrolled them in the anganwadi. They do not have to come here every day since we have not resumed classes but they receive dry ration regularly.”
Dilshad, who worked at a garment store in Lakshmi Nagar but lost his job in April, recently registered his children in a local anganwadi centre.
“My children, a four-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter - were enrolled in a private school in Seelampur. I had to withdraw them after not being able to pay the fees July. I am still out of work and we are struggling to afford daily meals. I enrolled them in an anganwadi in August and they are at least getting some dry rations now,” he said.
Sheela Devi, a resident of Trilokpuri, said she registered her children - who are enrolled in a government school - in an anganwadi in June.
“We are not able to provide nutritional food to our children regularly even though we got some money as mid-day meal allowance in their bank account. My husband [a daily wage labourer] has hardly earned anything in the last few months. Someone suggested that we enrol kids in the anganwadi so that at least they can get nourishment regularly,” she said.