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Covid-19: Are the Orphans being taken care of?

Covid has hooked humanity in an unparalleled way. We came to terms with the ultimate reality of life — death — and the uncertainties that loom. We readily understand this reality till it strikes us when you love a person you love or your close ones. Then the only thing you understand is an irreparable loss, gut-wrenching pain and regrets. The reality seems blurry and everything is disillusioned, or emotion,  worries that are unexplainable. But everything increases multifold when a child bears such loss, not just a close one but the parent(s). An early confidant, friends, supporter and guidance who would love you unconditionally. For the Covid has left them orphaned — and many wouldn’t even know what it means to be an orphan.

The Covid-19 pandemic has orphaned over 1,700 children, led to 140 children being abandoned while more than 7,400 children lost one of their parents, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) told the Supreme Court in an affidavit submitted.

According to the affidavit, data of 9,346 affected children have been uploaded on the newly created Bal Swaraj portal, which includes data on 1,742 children who lost both parents, 7,464 now in a single-parent household, 140 have been abandoned from March 2020 to May 29, 2021.

Out of all these children, 1,224 are now living with a guardian, 985 with a family member, however, not their legal guardian, while 6612 are living with a single parent. In addition, 31 children have been sent to the special adoption agency.

The age division of the children further shows that the “vulnerable children” include: 

788 children under 3 years of age. 

1,515 children in 4to 7-year age group.

3,711 children in 8 to 13-year age group.

1,620 children in 14 to 15-year age group.

1,712 children in 16 to 17-year age group.

According to the data submitted to the Supreme Court, the maximum number of orphaned and abandoned children were seen in Madhya Pradesh where 318 children were orphaned and 104 were abandoned.

Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of children who lost one parent 1,830 children are now living in single-parent households after the death of a parent due to Covid-19.

UP also has the highest number of children in a “vulnerable position” with 2,110 children in total who have been orphaned, abandoned or have lost one parent. Bihar has the second-highest number, with 1,327 vulnerable children, including 292 orphaned and 1,035 in single-parent households.

The “Commission is of the opinion that the children who have lost either of the parent to Covid-19 and have been placed with the surviving single parent are also in need of financial assistance and can be entitled to implemented government schemes”, the NCPCR affidavit stated.

“The financial assistance would ensure that the child continues his or her education while continuing to live in the same environment, which is essential for the mental health of the child, who is already trying to cope up with that loss of a parent,” the NCPCR stated in its affidavit filed through advocate Swarupama Chaturvedi.

It further told the apex court that these children run a high risk of being pushed into trafficking and the flesh trade. There is thus no doubt that time is of the essence here.

Centre and State Governments Response

Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government announced its measures to help orphaned children, with around 1 million rupees (€11,220, $13,700) set aside to be given to each child as a stipend, from the ages of 18 to 23. The funds would be offered from the PM-CARES scheme.

Various state governments have also announced initiatives to assist children.

Maharashtra:

The Maharashtra government announced a scheme of financial assistance for children who lost their parents to COVID-19. A sum of ₹5 lakh per child would be set up as a fixed deposit and will cover those below 18 years who have lost both parents to COVID-19 since March 1, 2020. Children who had already lost one parent and lost the surviving parent to the virus will also be covered by the scheme. The amount kept as a fixed deposit will be handed over to the individual after the completion of 21 years of age.

Delhi: Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has announced an aid of Rs 2,500 per month for the children who have lost both their parents to COVID-19 till they turn 25 years old, and expenses for their education will be borne by the Delhi government,

Karnataka: The Karnataka government has decided to rehabilitate children up to 18 years of age who are orphaned by the second wave of the pandemic. 

Jammu and Kashmir: Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha has announced special scholarships for kids who lost their parents to the pandemic.

Chhattisgarh: Under the ‘Chhattisgarh Mahtari Dular Yojna’, the Chhattisgarh government will be bearing the cost of educating children who have lost their parents to COVID-19.

Madhya Pradesh: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has announced that the state government will provide aid worth Rs 5,000 per month to children orphaned due to COVID-19 and also provide free education and ration to them.

Andhra Pradesh: Andhra Chief Minister Jagan Reddy has announced fixed deposit accounts worth Rs 10 lakh for children orphaned by the coronavirus pandemic. Government officials have been directed to collaborate with banks and work out a financial package that would provide a steady income to the children till they are 25 years of age.

Jharkhand: The Jharkhand government has announced that it will rehabilitate children orphaned by COVID-19 and also guaranteed financial assistance to the caretakers.

More than Financial Assistance

The grim situation is in need of more holistic resolutions than just financial aid. Child care institutions, child protection agencies and activists believe that the promise of financial assistance alone will not ensure the well-being of children affected by the pandemic.

One of the major concern of the centre and government schemes is the lack of a thorough roadmap of endeavouring assistance to the orphaned children. There are no elaborate strategies about the utilisation of the money and procedural formalities of the implementation of the schemes.

Benefits from several social welfare schemes never reach the intended beneficiaries because they are unaware of their eligibility or cannot manage the complicated procedures and documentation requirements needed to access the aid.

Guidelines issued by the Ministry of Women and Child Development

Addressing the urgency of the issue, Ministry of Women and Child Development Secretary Ram Mohan Mishra has issued an official letter to the chief secretaries of all the states and union territories. It finds the mention of some action points in efforts to protect, rescue, and provide relief to these children in distress:

Database: The letter proposed the urgency to first identify the children through outreach and surveys and concurrently uploading their specific needs, requirements along with their profiles on the ‘Track Child’ portal.

Child Care Institutions (CCI): Establishing temporary CCI to house children whose parents have been infected by Covid-19 and do not have extended families to take care of them.

Rehabilitation Facilities: Temporary rehabilitation of children through pre-existing childcare facilities supported under the Child Protection Services scheme

Child psychologists and counsellors: A roaster of child psychologists or counsellors who would visit facilities and interact with the children is to be prepared by states.

Local helpline: States to launch a local helpline number to provide psychosocial care or support to the children by experts.

The government is now accountable for its implementation of schemes and taking care of the worst-hit vulnerable children.

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