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Covid-19: NHRC issues advisories to states and UTs

Advisories deal with how to assist women, children, prisoners, police personnel, differently abled people and patients with mental illnesses to cope better with the pandemic.

Adeeti Singh 14 Oct 2020

NHRC

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is a statutory body under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 that aims to protect and promote the cause of Human Rights in India. It looks into violations of human rights by any State actors, recommend measures for the effective implementation of Human rights, to encourage organisations within the infrastructure in furtherance of human rights agendas, etc. Criticised for not effective action on human rights abuses across the country, it has in the past six months, issued a string of advisories on issues related to food and nutrition, mental health, women and children, childcare workers (ASHA) workers in the unorganised sector etc. Most or all of these have been issued at the tail end of the Pandemic led lockdown (end September 2020 onwards)!

In these unexpected times, the NHRC has appreciated the significance of mental health, right to health, right to food, rights of women, children and informal sector workers, prison conditions and disabilities as important facets of basic human existence with dignity. It has issued advisories on the same themes to engage people in such discussions and promote awareness.

I. Human Rights advisory on Right to Mental Health in context of the Covid 19 pandemic

Latest data released by the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) has revealed that more than 1.39 lakh Indians died by suicide in the year 2019, 67 per cent of which were young adults. The NCRB report titled 'Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2019', released shows that of the total 1.39 lakh 2019 suicides, 93,061 were young adults. Compared to 2018 numbers (89,407), youth suicides in India have risen by 4 per cent. The overall suicide figures rose by 3.4 per cent in the same time.

According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2019-report, India has the highest suicide rate in the South-East Asian region with one person still dying every 40 seconds from suicide with 16.5 suicides per 1,00,000 people, as reported by The Indian Express.

Taking into consideration, the detrimental impact of the lockdown on people’s mental health due to job losses, being trapped in abusive households, uncertainty in exam schedules, crashing job markets, financial crunch, the NHRC issued an advisory to the Ministry of Health and Family welfare on mental health by constituting a committee of experts, civil society organization representatives and elected representatives of relevant department s.

It has highlighted the importance of:

  1. Right to Information (24*7 helpline, information to mental illness patients, caregivers informing family of Covid admitted patients)

  2. Right to access mental health care (enough community health centres, affordable, telephonic services, no discrimination on any grounds, etc)

  3. Covid treatment facilities (proper advice on precautions, recreational activities for patients, proper standard of care prior to testing and hospital admission)

  4. Right to protection from inhuman, cruel treatment (adequate sanitary living conditions)

  5. Right to Confidentiality (respecting the dignity of every Covid patient, sharing the status and test results with family, protect patient from harm or violence)

  6. Promotion of mental health and preventive programmes

  7. Police personnel (training and sensitizing police officials towards mental illness patients with or without Covid)

  8. Post Covid management (counselling with respect to anxiety, fear, apprehensions in precautions, follow up procedures, etc)

The entire advisory may be read here.

II. Human Rights Advisory on Rights to Women in the context of Covid 19.

The NHRC advisory on rights of women, in the context of Covid-19, was issued on October 7, 2020 to the Ministry of Women and Child development, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, all States and Union Territories and was based on an impact assessment done by experts.

The NHRC advisory has suggested that sex workers should be recognised as informal workers and temporary documents should be issued to enable them to access welfare measures such as rations under the public distribution system. Ensuring access and maternal health facilities to women and girls from marginalised communities, migrants, nutritional support, continuous supply chain of medicines and equipment’s to manage safe delivery, free contraceptives has been emphasised on.

Steps to ensure access to healthcare facilities and sanitary living conditions, educating them about the pandemic, testing, concept of quarantining for women belonging to Scheduled Castes and Tribes, women in prison have been crafted by the NHRC. Other recommendations in the advisory include setting up a task force on gender-based violence to coordinate and monitor support and prevention services, providing free contraception and giving moratoriums for all loans taken by women workers.

On the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA), anganwadi and sanitation workers, the advisory said the remuneration must comply with the minimum wage standards and overtime work should be compensated.

The entire advisory may be read here.

III. Human Rights Advisory on informal workers during Covid19.

On the rights of informal workers, the NHRC recommended the State Governments to set up Worker Facilitation centres at district and city level for registering all of them, providing information regarding all welfare schemes, job opportunities and skill mapping. It also said every migrant worker returning to their homes should be provided MGNREGA job cards. The Officer at the block level shall ensure safety at the worksite by providing face masks, hand gloves, sanitiser, hand wash facility, helmets (where needed) etc.

Domestic workers are required to be provided relief and be linked to Public Distribution System (PDS) and other schemes by registering them through police verification forms, Resident Welfare Association (RWA) records, and domestic workers' collectives was also suggested by NHRC on their advisory issued on October 5, 2020 to the Ministry of Labour and Employment. A national database (portal) may be set up for all informal sector workers, including intra-state, inter-state and inter-country migrant workers to facilitate information for policy-making was also suggested.

NHRC also laid down that all complaints and cases which have been registered against migrant workers under the Disaster Management Act, for violating lockdown guidelines, may be dropped by the State Governments. In case of any arrests, the workers must be released immediately and in case of any fines, the Government may set up a helpline for restitution.

The entire advisory may be read here.

IV. Human Rights Advisory for Protection of rights of Children in the context of Covid 19.

Commission hereby issues an 'Advisory on Protection of the Rights of Children in the context of Covid-19' on September 29, 2020 to the Ministry of Women and Child Development and Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Labour and Employment.

NHRC has suggested to:

  1. Explore safe and staggered re-opening of schools in view of the COVID-19 protocols. Till the schools are reopened, children may be taught in small groups; the use of various mass-media to teach children may be explored.

  2. Develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to be followed when schools reopen including for schools used as quarantine facility.

  3. Develop state guidelines and regulations that need to be followed by schools delivering online classes. Issue guidelines to regulate digital platforms including education-technology platforms offering online classes; make parents aware of available reporting/grievance redress mechanism to report instances of child abuse, bullying and issues of privacy.

  4. Identify and reach the most marginalised and underprivileged and provide them access to education by employing a combination measures including exploring feasibility of daily distribution of printed material

  5. Ensure health and nutrition requirements of adolescent girls through regular supply of iron supplements, Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) services, menstrual hygiene products, and supplementary nutrition through Integrated Child Development Services.

  6. Reports of sexual violence against children in the quarantine centres are a matter of concern. Necessary child protection protocols need to be put in place at the earliest and its compliant needs to be monitored.

  7. Keeping in mind the vulnerability of and risk faced by street connected children, arrange protective gears and ensure access to health care facilities including testing and quarantine facilities as per the norms and protocols being prescribed.

The entire advisory may be read here.

V. Human Rights Advisory on Business and Human rights in the context of Covid 19.

The Commission issued this advisory on October 5, 2020 to the Ministry of Corporate affairs, MSMEs Ministry and Ministry of Heavy Industry and Public Enterprises. The NHRC recommended that all companies that have been badly affected due to Covid should be allowed to adjust expenditure on salaries against their corporate social responsibility obligations for 2 years starting 2021-2022.

Businesses should also closely examine their supply chains to ensure labour trafficking is not occurring as part of the creation and distribution of products. Business continuity management as suggested that covers infrastructure, cyber, employee, business, operational and communication risks, with the aim of managing an organisation that has to face new challenges and risks and wants to ensure continuity of operations and production.

In addition to this, employers should ensure that all employees are provided with health insurance either directly or through Government, but companies should have record. Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining should be respected, also as a basis for a joint employer - workers response to the crisis. It has also been advised that the employers do not terminate any employee on the ground of him/her being a COVID-19 patient or suspected patient and that the employer may, in principle, allow an employee to work from home.

The entire advisory may be read here.

VI. Human Rights Advisory on the Rights of Prisoners and Police Personnel during Covid19.

This was issued on October 5, 2020 to the Ministry of Home Affairs. On NHRCs advise, the prisoners should be provided with food to increase immunity, healthcare and testing. With respect to the Police the suggestion provided statistics. Over 1.24 lakh police officials have contracted Covid as on September 28, 2020. So, masks, gloves should be provided and lengthy conversations with motorists should be avoided by the Police. It also included advice on mental health issues that could come up recommending a well-being programme with deep breathing, yoga and nutrition.

Ensuring the availability of thermal scanners and non-contact thermometers for prompt and early detection of the contagion, especially at entry and exit locations and times was suggested to curb the spread. In particular to periodically check the health of vulnerable inmates, who are old or suffering from co-morbidities from the general population. These inmates must be identified with their individual health histories recorded and assisted to be away from the general population as well as given assistance if found ill.

For Police officers, the sanitisation of police stations, adequate supply of hygiene and safety supplies at all levels, necessary safety equipment’s based on the nature and place of duty, communicating with police persons’ families was suggested.

The entire advisory may be read here.

VII. Human Rights Advisory on Right to Food security and Nutrition in context of Covid 19.

This NHRC advisory was issued to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, Women & Child Development, Ministry of Education, all States and Union Territories on September 28, 2020. Recognising the shortage of food and basic amenities due to the Global Pandemic, the NHRC had a list of suggestions for child care like:

  1. Expand Public distribution system to include nutritious food like pulses, edible oil, eggs, and sugar.

  2. Timely distribution of food grains must be ensured.

  3. Ensure that sufficient quantity of dry rations (food grains, eggs, milk powder and medicines, etc) and take-home rations are made available to children under three years, as well as pregnant and lactating women.

  4. Wherever possible reopen creche and day care facilities under national creche scheme, with proper monitoring of safety guidelines as per Ministry of Women and Child Development, so that children are protected and cared for, as poor families re-join the workforce for their incomes and sustenance.

  5. Urgently restart growth monitoring and immunisation services, tracking of malnourished and SAM (Severe Acute Malnutrition) children, provide additional nutrition and energy DENSE food for severely malnourished children, supplementary nutrition/mid-day meals for children, pregnant and lactating mothers and adolescent girls.

  6. Ensure mid-day meals to children who usually reside in social welfare hostels, tribal welfare hostels etc. but are now at home due to closure.

The entire advisory may be read here.

VIII. Human Rights Advisory on Right Health in context of Covid 19.

This advisory issued on September 28, 2020 by the NHRC to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare suggests access to transport, cashless payments, testing for all Covid and non-Covid patients, treating dead patients with dignity and respect, maintain confidentiality of all patients, safety and support to old, minors and women, counselling to home isolating patients, a grievance redressal mechanism at all levels, blood transfusion services, defined and humane working hours for healthcare givers, protection of all doctors and nurses and timely payment of salary etc.

The entire advisory may be read here. 

IX. Human Rights Advisory on Rights of Persons with Disabilities in context of Covid19.

The Commissioned had issued an advisory for differently abled people on September 28, 2020 to the Ministries of Social Justice and Empowerment, Heath and Family Welfare, Education and Consumer affairs, Public Distribution System.

The NHRC has suggested that National Crime Records Bureau must record the number of People with disabilities in all states and union territories, deaf and deafblind people should be communicated about covid guidelines, inter departmental taskforce should be set up to ensure proper coordination of all rehabilitation measures for PWDs, specific appointments to be fixed for people with autism and other learning disabilities, livelihood support for all PWDs who have lost their jobs due to the Pandemic and to ensure that District Disability Rehabilitation centres must be manned with professionals for better guidance in all States and Union Territories and proper supply of food and ration to each house with PWDs.

The entire advisory may be read here.

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Covid-19: NHRC issues advisories to states and UTs

Advisories deal with how to assist women, children, prisoners, police personnel, differently abled people and patients with mental illnesses to cope better with the pandemic.

NHRC

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is a statutory body under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993 that aims to protect and promote the cause of Human Rights in India. It looks into violations of human rights by any State actors, recommend measures for the effective implementation of Human rights, to encourage organisations within the infrastructure in furtherance of human rights agendas, etc. Criticised for not effective action on human rights abuses across the country, it has in the past six months, issued a string of advisories on issues related to food and nutrition, mental health, women and children, childcare workers (ASHA) workers in the unorganised sector etc. Most or all of these have been issued at the tail end of the Pandemic led lockdown (end September 2020 onwards)!

In these unexpected times, the NHRC has appreciated the significance of mental health, right to health, right to food, rights of women, children and informal sector workers, prison conditions and disabilities as important facets of basic human existence with dignity. It has issued advisories on the same themes to engage people in such discussions and promote awareness.

I. Human Rights advisory on Right to Mental Health in context of the Covid 19 pandemic

Latest data released by the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) has revealed that more than 1.39 lakh Indians died by suicide in the year 2019, 67 per cent of which were young adults. The NCRB report titled 'Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2019', released shows that of the total 1.39 lakh 2019 suicides, 93,061 were young adults. Compared to 2018 numbers (89,407), youth suicides in India have risen by 4 per cent. The overall suicide figures rose by 3.4 per cent in the same time.

According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2019-report, India has the highest suicide rate in the South-East Asian region with one person still dying every 40 seconds from suicide with 16.5 suicides per 1,00,000 people, as reported by The Indian Express.

Taking into consideration, the detrimental impact of the lockdown on people’s mental health due to job losses, being trapped in abusive households, uncertainty in exam schedules, crashing job markets, financial crunch, the NHRC issued an advisory to the Ministry of Health and Family welfare on mental health by constituting a committee of experts, civil society organization representatives and elected representatives of relevant department s.

It has highlighted the importance of:

  1. Right to Information (24*7 helpline, information to mental illness patients, caregivers informing family of Covid admitted patients)

  2. Right to access mental health care (enough community health centres, affordable, telephonic services, no discrimination on any grounds, etc)

  3. Covid treatment facilities (proper advice on precautions, recreational activities for patients, proper standard of care prior to testing and hospital admission)

  4. Right to protection from inhuman, cruel treatment (adequate sanitary living conditions)

  5. Right to Confidentiality (respecting the dignity of every Covid patient, sharing the status and test results with family, protect patient from harm or violence)

  6. Promotion of mental health and preventive programmes

  7. Police personnel (training and sensitizing police officials towards mental illness patients with or without Covid)

  8. Post Covid management (counselling with respect to anxiety, fear, apprehensions in precautions, follow up procedures, etc)

The entire advisory may be read here.

II. Human Rights Advisory on Rights to Women in the context of Covid 19.

The NHRC advisory on rights of women, in the context of Covid-19, was issued on October 7, 2020 to the Ministry of Women and Child development, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, all States and Union Territories and was based on an impact assessment done by experts.

The NHRC advisory has suggested that sex workers should be recognised as informal workers and temporary documents should be issued to enable them to access welfare measures such as rations under the public distribution system. Ensuring access and maternal health facilities to women and girls from marginalised communities, migrants, nutritional support, continuous supply chain of medicines and equipment’s to manage safe delivery, free contraceptives has been emphasised on.

Steps to ensure access to healthcare facilities and sanitary living conditions, educating them about the pandemic, testing, concept of quarantining for women belonging to Scheduled Castes and Tribes, women in prison have been crafted by the NHRC. Other recommendations in the advisory include setting up a task force on gender-based violence to coordinate and monitor support and prevention services, providing free contraception and giving moratoriums for all loans taken by women workers.

On the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA), anganwadi and sanitation workers, the advisory said the remuneration must comply with the minimum wage standards and overtime work should be compensated.

The entire advisory may be read here.

III. Human Rights Advisory on informal workers during Covid19.

On the rights of informal workers, the NHRC recommended the State Governments to set up Worker Facilitation centres at district and city level for registering all of them, providing information regarding all welfare schemes, job opportunities and skill mapping. It also said every migrant worker returning to their homes should be provided MGNREGA job cards. The Officer at the block level shall ensure safety at the worksite by providing face masks, hand gloves, sanitiser, hand wash facility, helmets (where needed) etc.

Domestic workers are required to be provided relief and be linked to Public Distribution System (PDS) and other schemes by registering them through police verification forms, Resident Welfare Association (RWA) records, and domestic workers' collectives was also suggested by NHRC on their advisory issued on October 5, 2020 to the Ministry of Labour and Employment. A national database (portal) may be set up for all informal sector workers, including intra-state, inter-state and inter-country migrant workers to facilitate information for policy-making was also suggested.

NHRC also laid down that all complaints and cases which have been registered against migrant workers under the Disaster Management Act, for violating lockdown guidelines, may be dropped by the State Governments. In case of any arrests, the workers must be released immediately and in case of any fines, the Government may set up a helpline for restitution.

The entire advisory may be read here.

IV. Human Rights Advisory for Protection of rights of Children in the context of Covid 19.

Commission hereby issues an 'Advisory on Protection of the Rights of Children in the context of Covid-19' on September 29, 2020 to the Ministry of Women and Child Development and Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Labour and Employment.

NHRC has suggested to:

  1. Explore safe and staggered re-opening of schools in view of the COVID-19 protocols. Till the schools are reopened, children may be taught in small groups; the use of various mass-media to teach children may be explored.

  2. Develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to be followed when schools reopen including for schools used as quarantine facility.

  3. Develop state guidelines and regulations that need to be followed by schools delivering online classes. Issue guidelines to regulate digital platforms including education-technology platforms offering online classes; make parents aware of available reporting/grievance redress mechanism to report instances of child abuse, bullying and issues of privacy.

  4. Identify and reach the most marginalised and underprivileged and provide them access to education by employing a combination measures including exploring feasibility of daily distribution of printed material

  5. Ensure health and nutrition requirements of adolescent girls through regular supply of iron supplements, Reproductive and Child Health (RCH) services, menstrual hygiene products, and supplementary nutrition through Integrated Child Development Services.

  6. Reports of sexual violence against children in the quarantine centres are a matter of concern. Necessary child protection protocols need to be put in place at the earliest and its compliant needs to be monitored.

  7. Keeping in mind the vulnerability of and risk faced by street connected children, arrange protective gears and ensure access to health care facilities including testing and quarantine facilities as per the norms and protocols being prescribed.

The entire advisory may be read here.

V. Human Rights Advisory on Business and Human rights in the context of Covid 19.

The Commission issued this advisory on October 5, 2020 to the Ministry of Corporate affairs, MSMEs Ministry and Ministry of Heavy Industry and Public Enterprises. The NHRC recommended that all companies that have been badly affected due to Covid should be allowed to adjust expenditure on salaries against their corporate social responsibility obligations for 2 years starting 2021-2022.

Businesses should also closely examine their supply chains to ensure labour trafficking is not occurring as part of the creation and distribution of products. Business continuity management as suggested that covers infrastructure, cyber, employee, business, operational and communication risks, with the aim of managing an organisation that has to face new challenges and risks and wants to ensure continuity of operations and production.

In addition to this, employers should ensure that all employees are provided with health insurance either directly or through Government, but companies should have record. Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining should be respected, also as a basis for a joint employer - workers response to the crisis. It has also been advised that the employers do not terminate any employee on the ground of him/her being a COVID-19 patient or suspected patient and that the employer may, in principle, allow an employee to work from home.

The entire advisory may be read here.

VI. Human Rights Advisory on the Rights of Prisoners and Police Personnel during Covid19.

This was issued on October 5, 2020 to the Ministry of Home Affairs. On NHRCs advise, the prisoners should be provided with food to increase immunity, healthcare and testing. With respect to the Police the suggestion provided statistics. Over 1.24 lakh police officials have contracted Covid as on September 28, 2020. So, masks, gloves should be provided and lengthy conversations with motorists should be avoided by the Police. It also included advice on mental health issues that could come up recommending a well-being programme with deep breathing, yoga and nutrition.

Ensuring the availability of thermal scanners and non-contact thermometers for prompt and early detection of the contagion, especially at entry and exit locations and times was suggested to curb the spread. In particular to periodically check the health of vulnerable inmates, who are old or suffering from co-morbidities from the general population. These inmates must be identified with their individual health histories recorded and assisted to be away from the general population as well as given assistance if found ill.

For Police officers, the sanitisation of police stations, adequate supply of hygiene and safety supplies at all levels, necessary safety equipment’s based on the nature and place of duty, communicating with police persons’ families was suggested.

The entire advisory may be read here.

VII. Human Rights Advisory on Right to Food security and Nutrition in context of Covid 19.

This NHRC advisory was issued to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, Women & Child Development, Ministry of Education, all States and Union Territories on September 28, 2020. Recognising the shortage of food and basic amenities due to the Global Pandemic, the NHRC had a list of suggestions for child care like:

  1. Expand Public distribution system to include nutritious food like pulses, edible oil, eggs, and sugar.

  2. Timely distribution of food grains must be ensured.

  3. Ensure that sufficient quantity of dry rations (food grains, eggs, milk powder and medicines, etc) and take-home rations are made available to children under three years, as well as pregnant and lactating women.

  4. Wherever possible reopen creche and day care facilities under national creche scheme, with proper monitoring of safety guidelines as per Ministry of Women and Child Development, so that children are protected and cared for, as poor families re-join the workforce for their incomes and sustenance.

  5. Urgently restart growth monitoring and immunisation services, tracking of malnourished and SAM (Severe Acute Malnutrition) children, provide additional nutrition and energy DENSE food for severely malnourished children, supplementary nutrition/mid-day meals for children, pregnant and lactating mothers and adolescent girls.

  6. Ensure mid-day meals to children who usually reside in social welfare hostels, tribal welfare hostels etc. but are now at home due to closure.

The entire advisory may be read here.

VIII. Human Rights Advisory on Right Health in context of Covid 19.

This advisory issued on September 28, 2020 by the NHRC to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare suggests access to transport, cashless payments, testing for all Covid and non-Covid patients, treating dead patients with dignity and respect, maintain confidentiality of all patients, safety and support to old, minors and women, counselling to home isolating patients, a grievance redressal mechanism at all levels, blood transfusion services, defined and humane working hours for healthcare givers, protection of all doctors and nurses and timely payment of salary etc.

The entire advisory may be read here. 

IX. Human Rights Advisory on Rights of Persons with Disabilities in context of Covid19.

The Commissioned had issued an advisory for differently abled people on September 28, 2020 to the Ministries of Social Justice and Empowerment, Heath and Family Welfare, Education and Consumer affairs, Public Distribution System.

The NHRC has suggested that National Crime Records Bureau must record the number of People with disabilities in all states and union territories, deaf and deafblind people should be communicated about covid guidelines, inter departmental taskforce should be set up to ensure proper coordination of all rehabilitation measures for PWDs, specific appointments to be fixed for people with autism and other learning disabilities, livelihood support for all PWDs who have lost their jobs due to the Pandemic and to ensure that District Disability Rehabilitation centres must be manned with professionals for better guidance in all States and Union Territories and proper supply of food and ration to each house with PWDs.

The entire advisory may be read here.

Related

NHRC issues advisories to assess Covid-19 pandemic impact

NHRC demands report on Varavara Rao’s health

Does India uphold prisoner’s right to health

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