Coronavirus: The children struggling to survive India’s lockdown

Photo: Collected

The sudden imposition of a 21-day lockdown in India to stop the spread of the coronavirus has thrown the lives of millions of children into chaos.

“During the lockdown, everyone has been told to stay home. But what about the street children? Where do they go?” he asks.

According to one estimate, Delhi has more than 70,000 street children. But Mr Gupta says that number is really much higher.

And these children, he says, are usually very independent.

“They look for their own means of survival. This is the first time they need assistance.

Sanjay Gupta, director of Chetna, a Delhi-based charity that works with child labourers and street children, says the worst affected are the millions of homeless children who live in cities – on streets, under flyovers, or in narrow lanes and bylanes.

Tens of thousands are calling helplines daily while thousands are going to bed hungry as the country shuts down to battle the pandemic.

With 472 million children, India has the largest child population in the world and campaigners say the lockdown has impacted around 40 million children from poor families.

These include those working in farms and fields in rural areas, as well as children who work as ragpickers in cities or sell balloons, pens and other knick-knacks at traffic lights.

So, Mr Gupta says, they have been using innovative ways to keep in touch with the children.

“Many of these children have mobile phones, and because they generally stay in groups, we send them messages or TikTok videos about how to keep safe and what precautions they must take.”

In return, he’s also been receiving video messages from the children, some of which he’s forwarded to me. They give a sense of the dread and uncertainty that has taken hold of their lives.