The ongoing covid-19 pandemic has received the world’s attention. The pandemic has brought India, a country of over a billion people, to halt. In India, multiple states and school districts are using pan-school closures to achieve physical distancing. However, closing schools has other downsides, even if the aim is to reduce the risk of infection and to protect healthcare capacity.
Firstly, the closure of schools has disrupted the midday meal scheme. India has 120 million children enrolled in the midday meal scheme in over 1.26 million schools across the nation.  But due to the lockdown and disruptions associated with the covid-19 outbreak, many states and union territories have had to stop this initiative, thereby depriving children of this concession to life. This meal serves as a huge incentive for children from many homes to attend school and can play a massive role in loss of education and lives. Central government has asked state governments to provide either hot cooked midday meals or a “Food security allowance” for children’s families to buy food. These meals focus on specific calorie dense foods like banana, egg, milk, rice, vegetables and pulses.  A separate challenge in urban areas is that physical distancing and lockdown measures have reduced children’s opportunities for outdoor exercise, and therefore have increased the risks of obesity.
Secondly, India’s adolescents (aged 10-19 years) face challenging gendered-biases and barriers when it comes to accessing essential services. The social and economic impact of covid-19 in rural communities, leaves young women further exposed to domestic violence, abuse, discrimination and malnutrition. According to the National Commission for Women (NCW), during the first week of the nationwide lockdown in India they received 214 complaints, out of which 58 are cases of domestic child abuse. The NCW has already registered 861 cases of domestic violence this year, many of them belonging to the adolescent and pre-adolescent age groups. 
Finally, schools also regularly offer provisions such as sanitary products. These are essential services for adolescent girls, especially given the extreme barriers they face for maintaining basic menstrual hygiene. Menstruation taboos, particularly in rural India, bring with them increased censorship and restrictions on girl’s mobility, concerns of sexual violence, early marriage and serious health risks.
Public health officials must prioritize national plans for how and when to safely reopen schools, with consideration of alternative measures such as reduced hours or staggered lessons. Many children will likely require support as they transition back to normal life, especially those who have experienced bereavement. Covid-19 will have major repercussions for children and adolescent’s health and wellbeing. Timely action can help lessen the effects and improve long-term capacities for mental health services.
Animesh Upadhyay, Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (M.B.B.S), Maharashtra University of Health Sciences
Minaxi Upadhyay, Master of Education, Master of Art; Mumbai University
Poorva Bhide, Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (M.B.B.S), Maharashtra University of Health Sciences
Competing interests: None declared
1 About the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. Available at: http://mdm.nic.in/mdm_website/ [accessed August 6, 2020]
2 Home | Ministry of Health and Family Welfare | GOI. Available at: https://www.mohfw.gov.in/[accessed March 30, 2020].
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