New Delhi | PTI: The Women and Child Development Ministry took a slew of measures in 2021 like introducing a bill to raise the marriageable age of women to 21, tackling rising malnutrition during the pandemic and ensuring safety and rehabilitation of over a lakh children who lost either of their parents to Covid.

Even though children remained less susceptible to COVID-19, about 1.32 lakh of them lost either of their parents and were at an increased risk of being exploited and trafficked, proving to be a major concern for the ministry.

Over 9,800 children were orphaned, 508 abandoned and 1.32 lakh lost either of their parents since April 2020 to December 7 this year during the pandemic, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) said.

Taking cognisance of the issue, the government earlier this year launched PM CARES for Children, a scheme that lends support to kids who were orphaned during the pandemic.

NCPCR chairperson Priyank Kanoongo said in 2021 they worked on the social impact of COVID-19 on children.

"We tried that children who were lost during 2021 do not get lost and their care could be ensured as per the provisions of the juvenile justice act," he told PTI.

He said the biggest challenge next year would be to resolve the issue of street children.

"We are working to make states roll out our SOP on street children and we have Supreme Court direction in this regard and we will work as per it. We will also work on substance abuse among children, its action plan we will implement and thirdly different stakeholders in juvenile justice act their proper orientation must be done and helping POCSO victims - psychological, social, financial help is another focus area of NCPCR. NCPCR would do district wise mapping on what is lacking in each state and what could be done to fill the gaps," he said.

Two key bills introduced this year were the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021 and the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021.

To tackle child marriage, the government introduced the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 under which the marriagable age of women was increased to 21 from 18, drawing a mixed reaction from experts and activists.

A bill that seeks to fix 21 years as the uniform age of marriage for women and men was introduced in Lok Sabha. The bill was referred to a standing committee.

The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2021, which sought to amend the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, proposed to increase the role of district magistrates and additional district magistrates with issues concerning child care and adoption was passed in Parliament and has come into force.

The central government also brought out regulations to ease inter-country adoptions under the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (HAMA).

Tackling rising malnutrition among women and children due to pandemic was another major concern of the ministry this year. The Poshan Tracker developed as a governance tool for real-time monitoring of nutritional outcomes was implemented in different states. Anganwadis were trained to use it for entering nutrition data of children and lactating and pregnant women in the app.

National Commission for Women (NCW) chairperson Rekha Sharma said 2021 witnessed many firsts for women across the globe, be it the extraordinary performance of women in Olympics or women of Indian origin achieving heights globally.

NCW launched projects in different fields concerning women, including entrepreneurship, digital literacy, legal awareness, etc, she said.

"NCW has also launched a 24x7 hour helpline to provide assistance to women facing violence and sexual harassment. The new helpline aims to provide 24 hours emergency and non-emergency services to women affected by violence by linking them with appropriate authorities such as police, hospitals, District Legal Service Authority, psychological services etc and providing information about women related government programs," she said.

On what to expect next year, Sharma said one of the major concerns would be changing the mindset of people because as "we can see, despite several changes in policies and laws, and several new initiatives launched by the government, the mindset of people remains to be a major roadblock in the development and progress of women. It is important that we ensure gender equality at homes so that it is reflected in society".

This year, WCD ministry classified all its major programmes under three umbrella schemes -- Mission Poshan 2.0 (strengthen nutritional content, delivery, outreach, and outcomes), Mission Vatsalya (child protection services and child welfare services) and Mission Shakti (policies and schemes for protection and empowerment of women) -- for their better implementation.

Posted By: Mallika Mehzabeen