A STUDY ON IMPACT OF LOCKDOWN AND ECONOMIC DISRUPTION ON POOR RURAL HOUSEHOLDS WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO CHILDREN

Summary: 
The present study has brought out that the lockdown has adversely impacted the economy of the households belonging to the lowest economic strata of the society. It has also exposed vulnerable children belonging to the poor households to various forms of exploitation. To restore economic and livelihood stability among rural poor households, so that children are not pushed into labour, and to directly protect children from exploitation of all kinds, there is a need to implement a series of measures ranging from universal free distribution of ration, livelihood support, regeneration of rural economy, renewed and more rigorous efforts for child protection, education for all children, and strengthening public health care infrastructure. It is hoped that the findings and recommendations of the study would help the government and civil society organizations in planning and designing concrete and effective strategies to combat the impact of Covid-19 induced lockdown on the household economy of the rural poor and protecting children from exploitation of all kinds.
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The world has witnessed a huge economic shock due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown of all social activity followed by most countries. In India, the lockdown started across the States on 24 March 2020 and is still ongoing. While several studies have highlighted the plight of migrants due to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, less is known about how low-income households living in rural areas are faring due to the crisis.

The present report brings to light the impact of lockdown on the household economy of people from the lowest economic strata and the subsequent increase in the vulnerabilities of women and children. The present report is based on the primary survey carried out over two phases – an online survey conducted with 53 NGOs working with children and spread across the country in phase-1 (27th April to 5th May 2020), and a household survey of 245 respondents drawn from rural areas of ve States of India, namely, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan in phase-2 (17th May to 24th May 2020). These states are the major sources for child labour and child trafficking for various forms of exploitation. The responses of NGOs were sought because of their close links at the grassroots level, the household survey was conducted to develop an in-depth understanding of the impact of lockdown on households from the lowest economic strata.

The survey has brought out some very interesting ndings, though not completely unanticipated, on the impact of lockdown on a range of issues, such as, trafficking, child labour, child marriage, and schooling of children; indebtedness, risk of bondage, income and savings of poor households in the rural areas, food security; and their plans to deal with the nancial crisis they are facing. Key ndings Trafficking of adults and children to increase: Survey has demonstrated that there is a very high likelihood of increase in trafficking of both adults and children in the post lockdown period for the purpose of labour as 89% of the NGOs covered by the survey have expressed this concern. 76% of the NGOs surveyed anticipate ‘human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation’ and ‘child trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation’ to see an upsurge post the lockdown. Incidences of sexual abuse of children, child labour and child marriage are also likely to increase. 77% of the NGOs working in the areas of child abuse, human trafficking and human rights reported that sexual abuse of children in general (with or without trafficking) may go up in the post lockdown period. Incidents of child labour and child marriage to surge: 93% the NGOs surveyed expect the incidence of child labour to rise. Interestingly, however, the household survey nds that only 21% of the households are potentially ready to send their children into child labour due to their increased v economic vulnerability. Again, while 64% of the NGOs believe child marriages will increase post the lockdown, only 13% of the households indicated willingness to marry their underage daughters off, if they continue to face a financial crisis. Such discrepancies in the findings of the two phases of the primary survey could perhaps be attributed to the increased awareness among people, which often results in households hiding information relating to child labour and child marriage. Rise in school dropouts: The lockdown has adversely impacted the schooling of children as well. Nearly 85% of the NGOs surveyed feel that school dropouts are likely to increase in the post lockdown period. As in the case of child labour and child marriage, the household survey, however, has brought out that only 20% of the respondent households with school-going children are potentially ready to consider withdrawing their children from school due to financial crisis and deny them their right to get educated. This also appears to be a case of underreporting by households. Debt bondage trap to expand among poor households: The economic distress caused by the lockdown is extremely severe. Households belonging to lowest income strata are in the real danger of getting into the trap of debt bondage as 98% of all the NGOs surveyed believe that the number of households under debt shall go up substantially during the post lockdown period, while 81% of them are also of the opinion that households may take cash on credit from local money lenders on high rates of interest.

Drastic reduction in household income and savings: The average monthly household income has been found to have drastically reduced during the lockdown. Nearly 85% of the households reported having absolutely no income at the time of the survey. Before the lockdown, 47% households were in the income range of INR 3,001-10,000 which came down to a meagre 3% during the lockdown. The proportion of those getting less than INR 1,000, dropped from 12% before the lockdown to 5% at the time of the survey. The reduction in income has been the least for agricultural labour who ironically were earning little even before the lockdown. The farmers and non-agricultural labour have suffered substantial reduction in income. Household savings have also been severely impacted. Before the lockdown, 28% of the respondents reported having no savings which increased sharply to 68% at the time of survey. Food shortage and its severity: With almost negligible average household savings, most of the respondent households (72%) reported shortage of food during the lockdown.

Among the broad occupational groups, food shortage was reported least (66%) by non-agricultural labour and most by farmers/cultivators (78%) and agricultural labour (71%). Out of all those households who reported having food shortage during the lockdown (i.e., 176 out of 245), 43% said it was ‘severe’, while 10% reported it was ‘very severe’ and for another 13%, it was ‘somewhat severe’. The other 34% respondents in this group "couldn’t describe' severity of the food scarcity during the lockdown though all of them stated to have experienced the same to some degree. Receipt of ration during the lockdown: Receipt of food grains by a household in possession of a ration card is a legal entitlement as per the provisions of National Food Security Act, 2013. However, vi among the surveyed households, 15% did not receive any ration during the lockdown period.

The Government of India soon after clamping the lockdown had also announced distribution of additional food grains to households to save them from hunger. Survey has brought out that only 32% respondent households had received the additional ration. Plans to mitigate current economic condition: Respondent households were asked about their plans to deal with the nancial crisis they were facing. Most of the respondents were ready to cut their household expenditure on food (77%), followed by reduction in expenditure on education of their children (74%). The proportion of respondents ready to reduce household expenditure on food was higher among households with an average monthly income of ‘less than INR 1,000’ (96%) than those in the income brackets ‘INR 1,000-3,000’ & ‘INR 3,001-10,000’ (75%) and ‘more than INR 10,000’ (70%). This reiterates the fact that that poorer households are most vulnerable to hunger and starvation in times to come. Conclusion

The present study has brought out that the lockdown has adversely impacted the economy of the households belonging to the lowest economic strata of the society. It has also exposed vulnerable children belonging to the poor households to various forms of exploitation. To restore economic and livelihood stability among rural poor households, so that children are not pushed into labour, and to directly protect children from exploitation of all kinds, there is a need to implement a series of measures ranging from universal free distribution of ration, livelihood support, regeneration of rural economy, renewed and more rigorous efforts for child protection, education for all children, and strengthening public health care infrastructure. It is hoped that the findings and recommendations of the study would help the government and civil society organizations in planning and designing concrete and effective strategies to combat the impact of Covid-19 induced lockdown on the household economy of the rural poor and protecting children from exploitation of all kinds.