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46% more children, women enrol in Delhi’s anganwadis amid second lockdown

After losing her livelihood following the imposition of the lockdown announced by the Delhi government in April to contain the fourth wave of Covid-19 in the city, Uma Singh, a domestic help, was left with no means to arrange nutritious food for her two children until she managed to enrol them in an anganwadi centre last month with the help of a civil society organisation
By Sweta Goswami & Fareeha Iftikhar, New Delhi:
PUBLISHED ON JUN 06, 2021 11:03 PM IST

After losing her livelihood following the imposition of the lockdown announced by the Delhi government in April to contain the fourth wave of Covid-19 in the city, Uma Singh, a domestic help, was left with no means to arrange nutritious food for her two children until she managed to enrol them in an anganwadi centre last month with the help of a civil society organisation.

The resident of northeast Delhi’s Yamuna Vihar said, “My son is three and my daughter is just one-year-old. None of them are enrolled in a school yet; otherwise they would have got dry ration from there. Some NGO people visited our locality last month to distribute food. When I told them about my issue, they put me in touch with an anganwadi worker who later helped me enrol my kids in a centre.” Singh, 28, is a single mother and lives with her parents.

Like Uma, several thousand people have enrolled their kids in the city’s anganwadis after losing their source of income amid the pandemic. According to a recent survey conducted by the Delhi government, 247,293 children and pregnant/lactating women have enrolled in anganwadi centres across the Capital amid the lockdown enforced by the Delhi government in April. The trend, experts said, shows that the income of families has been more severely hit this time compared to the last lockdown.

These anganwadi centres, part of the central government’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), provide supplementary nutritious meals to children up to age six as well as pregnant and lactating women. They also provide pre-school education, health education, immunization and medical check-ups for the children.

While the city’s 10,700 anganwadi centres have been shut since March, the Delhi government’s department of women and child development (WCD) has been providing children and pregnant/lactating women supplementary nutrition - including dalia, black chickpea (chana), jaggery, nutritious ladoos, and roasted chickpea - through door-to-door services each fortnight.

Government data seen by HT showed that in March last year, 534,741 children and women were enrolled in the ICDS programme, which increased to 782,034 (46.24%) by April this year. The latest survey report also stated that the coverage of supplementary nutritional diets also increased by 68% from the last lockdown.

“As per the latest round of survey results from the DCPCR, 91% of the beneficiaries reported that they are receiving nutritional supplements whereas in May 2020 when only 23% of the beneficiaries surveyed had reported that they received the ration,” the document stated.

Dilshad, who lost his job at a garment store in Lakshmi Nagar in April last year, had initially registered his two children in a local anganwadi and recently also enrolled his four-month pregnant wife as well. “My children--a four-year-old son and a five-year-old daughter--were enrolled in a private school in Seelampur. I had to pull out my children from the anganwadi as I was not able to pay the fees in July. I am still out of work and we are struggling to arrange daily meals.”

“I enrolled my children in an anganwadi in August. In March, I got to know that my wife is expecting again. I am still hardly earning anything by cleaning cars in Dilshad Garden. I cannot provide her with the basic nutrition she requires now. Therefore, I had to enrol her at the same centre,” he said.

In some cases, the workers of the child development department themselves identified children whose families’ income was severely hit amid the lockdown. Ankur (goes by the first name), who was working as a cleaner in a factory in Okhla Phase-3, said he is out of work since last year. He said last month, when some officials of the department visited their neighbourhood in Jahangirpuri, the family had nothing to feed their two daughters aged three and five. “They not only provided us with dry ration and some supplementary nutrition but also enrolled my two daughters in an anganwadi,” he said.

Senior officials said the increased enrolment in the programme was also because of the enhanced efforts of officials and workers engaged in these projects. “During the pandemic, maximum efforts have been taken to enhance the outreach services and make the workers serve the needs of vulnerable children in a holistic manner, including having knowledge of children at risk. Massive training exercises were undertaken to sensitise all our workers to identify and help vulnerable children, children in need, and orphaned children,” said a woman and child development department official.

The department trained 11,248 field functionaries between January to May on various themes such as special needs of children, children’s health and nutrition, pre-school education, various child-related acts, and protecting children from any form of physical or mental abuse during the pandemic.

According to the latest data collected by the Delhi Commission for Child Rights Protection (DCPCR), at least 1,436 children lost either one or both their parents to Covid-19. Of them, 59 children lost both parents, 467 lost their mother while 910 lost their father.

The anganwadi workers were also asked to call on helpline number 1098 to report about any children in distress. Officials said the number receives around 500 calls every day. For instance, on May 31, the helpline number received 634 calls, of which 45 were related to Covid-19 or the lockdown. Apart from this, the other dedicated helpline number - 9311551393 - for information about children who need any help or support received at least 2,800 calls as on June 1, data showed.

The Delhi government, in its budget 2021-22 presented in March, announced setting up of 500 Saheli Samanvay Kendras (SSKs) for better outreach to vulnerable women and children. Of the 500, about 101 such SSKs have been made operational as of now. Dr. Rashmi Singh, director of the women and child development department, said SSKs have emerged as emergency response centres catering to women whose livelihood and socio-economic condition have been hit by the pandemic and the lockdown.

“Distribution of additional relief, ration, health supplies, raising awareness on vaccine and other issues related to the Covid-19 is taking place through these centres that are located in densely populated areas which are low on resources and where a large number of migrant workers have settled,” she said.

Meanwhile, civil society organisations in Delhi, said the number of enrolment in the ICDS scheme is still low as compared to the population of the national capital. Amrita Johri of Delhi Rozi Roti Adhikar Abhiyan said, “Income of families has been severely hit amid this second wave due to two reasons. First, the loss of jobs following the lockdown and, second, the unexpected health crisis that had unfolded around us. Many families, who were earning 20,000-30,000 a month, lost all their savings in arranging Covid resources for their loved ones. If we consider this all, the number of enrolment in the ICDS scheme is still low in Delhi.”

“The number of families hit this year was also high. While last year, the number of SOS calls for ration was in thousands, this time, amid the second lockdown, we have received over 1.5 lakh such calls. Hence, more effort needs to be taken to enrol every child and woman in distress under the scheme,” she added.

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