Official estimates peg the number of children missing in Uttarakhand post the flashfloods in June at 1,227 and as the State embarks on an exercise to assess its damage and rebuild what it has lost, it is not only struggling to locate these missing children but to also to bring back on track the life of nearly 2.5 lakh children who are currently out of school.
There are no schools to go to in flood-ravaged Uttarakhand, at least for now. While some have been entirely washed away, a large number are just dilapidated buildings and others have been transformed into shelters.
“The schools are still shut. We have begun the process of assessing the condition of school buildings and so far have found 180 such schools that need repair and rebuilding. The survey is underway and we still don’t have the figures for severely-affected areas of Uttarkashi, Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Pithoragarh and Kumaon,” Manisha Pawar, Secretary School Education, Uttarakhand told The Hindu .
Rehabilitation and counselling
The State Government is working out a financial package to rebuild schools and has announced a one-time grant of Rs. 500 per student to help them buy books and uniforms. “The district magistrates have been given the authorisation to decide when to open the schools. Depending on the weather forecasts and the conditions on the ground, they can take a call on whether schools can be reopened. Officially, all schools are shut till July 10. After that we will focus on how to make up for the lost days,” Ms. Pawar said.
While the authorities are concerned about the disturbance to the academic calendar, non-government organisations are worried about the impact that the closure of schools will have on these students, and how the State will ensure their rehabilitation and counselling to deal with the trauma that they have had to face.
Step up vigilance
Organisations like the Bachpan Bachao Aandolan have also cautioned against possible child trafficking in the State. Chairperson of NGO Global March Against Child Labour and founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Kailash Satyarthi said based on the experiences of previous natural disasters, he feared that Uttarakhand might turn out to be a hunting ground for child traffickers.
“I have seen this before during the tsunami, during the Assam and Bihar floods. Children who are orphaned or lose contact with their families become easy targets for the traffickers. In Bihar, during the Kosi floods, we rescued about 24 children from various places, including from trains,” he said.
Urging the government to step up vigilance and monitor movement at railway stations, airports and bus stands, Mr. Satyarthi said the administration should take pre-emptive measures to ensure that the traffickers cannot make inroads into the State.
Vulnerable to trafficking
His concerns about trafficking are shared by the administration and other NGOs, though they are quick to point out that there have been no instances of children being trafficked so far. “Right now the focus is on finding the missing children. Of the nearly 600-plus deaths confirmed in Kedar Valley, nearly 30 per cent were children. As per the official data, there is only one girl child whose parents cannot be traced and she is currently in Doon Hospital,” said Suresh Balodi, state manager, Plan India.
Child and women trafficking, he said, is a “possibility” given that a large number of families in several villages have lost their earning members.
“Young women, especially the ones who were recently married and have now lost their husbands; young children, out-of-school children are all vulnerable to trafficking. The administration and the social organisations working in the State will have to keep an eye on them and work out a plan for their rehabilitation to ensure that no instances of trafficking take place,” Mr. Balodi stressed.