With COVID-19 cases rising steeply, the National Human Rights Commission has expressed concern about the vulnerability of children to the contagion.

A press release issued by the rights body today said it had recently carried out on-site monitoring of various schools in Kathmandu to take stock of safety measures and compliance with health protocols. "Our monitoring found that children in government schools were more susceptible to the disease than their counterparts in private schools due to higher number of students.

Teachers of government schools lamented that they were struggling to implement the health guidelines, including physical distancing, owing to the higher number of pupils. Even students developing symptoms like that of COVID-19, were not isolated from others," warned the NHRC.

As per the rights body, it had received information from the health authorities that more than 300 children were infected with the deadly virus over a period of two weeks. It also warned that most schools were still running physical classes, regardless of the appeal from the Ministry of Health and Population to opt for online classes in 14 risk-prone districts, including Kathmandu valley. "The situation is likely to worsen in the future, thereby risking the rights and lives of the children," the rights body said.

Schoolchildren were exposed to COVID-19 after schools reopened following the lockdown.

They are more vulnerable than others as no vaccine has been developed for them so far. In schools, children mostly participate in outdoor activities, gatherings and other functions, which put them at risk of being infected.

They can be virus-carriers and pose threat when it comes to spreading the contagion to their peer groups and family members.

The NHRC has urged the authorities concerned to ensure that national and international laws related to child rights are fully guaranteed, taking into consideration the health of children. It has also appealed to the stakeholders to run online classes until the coronavirus subsides.

According to a recent report published by the UNICEF, COV- ID-19 has caused dire poverty.

Children have been bearing the brunt of poverty disproportionately in Nepal, it added. The number of children living in poverty rose from an estimated 1.3 million before the pandemic to about seven million in August.

Many of those children are suffering multiple deprivations, that include lack of access to nutritious food and education.

A version of this article appears in the print on April 19, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.