In the last week of April, when the COVID-19 daily caseload in India crossed the catastrophic 4,00,000 mark, a five-year-old girl staying with her COVID-19 contracted parents in Mangalore’s Father Mullers Hospital became an orphan overnight, losing three family members within hours.
“She came to the hospital with her parents and grandmother where all three of them were tested positive for COVID. A couple of days later we received a call from hospital authorities, saying three of them passed away and the 5-year-old has nowhere to go,” Ziya, a volunteer of a child rehabilitation group, Hidayah Foundation told Maktoob.
On 29 May, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights released a report that states nearly 10,000 children have lost either one or both parents due to the pandemic that hit India last year. Reports of massive undercount in COVID death by Indian authorities hint that the actual numbers could be far higher.
“We immediately went to the hospital took care of hospital formalities and tried reaching the relatives of the child. We somehow managed to connect with the child’s grandfather who is 90 years old and happens to reside in Bangalore which is 8 hours away from Mangalore. We as an organisation took the responsibility of escorting the child safely to her grandfather in Bangalore,” Ziya adds.
Another four-year-old kid got matriculated in an NGO in Bangalore after losing both his parents and grandparents overnight. The pandemic has resulted in toddlers being given up as orphans, as relatives are unable to raise a child due to the financial crunch and educational monetary responsibility.
Official records suggest worrying situation
The data provided by Bal Swaraj, the online tracking portal of NCPCR shows there are approximately 9346 children in the country as of 29th May 2021 who are gravely in need of care and protection, among them 7464 kids lost one of the parents, and 1742 lost both due to the corona virus. And around 140 kids have been forsaken by their parents.
Out of 9346, 4486 are girls and the 4860 are boys, with 788 kids happening to fall under the age group of zero to three, and almost 1500 kids are of four to seven years of age.
The rest of the 3711 kids, are in the ages of 8 to 13 years and 1620 kids are in the age group of 14 and 15. 1712 more kids are in the age group of 16 and 17.
The commission expounded that ‘Bal Swaraj’ is the medium to collect data of such children as these children can be an easy target and under high risk of being put into trafficking and flesh trade, NCPCR informed the Supreme court.
The report by NCPCR also said, “The Commission has laid out specific recommendations at source, transit and destination hotspots, which outlines basic indicators for the identification of vulnerable families and children at risk of trafficking at the urban level of habitation and will provide a safety mesh at the family level.”
It also obligatory that every child affected by COVID-19 pandemic or found to be in any kind of anguish must be brought before the concerned Child Welfare Committee under Section 31 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.
The state-wise data is much petrifying, UP has a staggering number of such 2110 children. Followed by Bihar 1327, with 1035 of them losing one of the parents and Maharashtra 796.
In Madhya Pradesh 318 children have lost both parents, 104 children being abandoned (highest among all states) and 290 being the single parent case out of a total of 712 children. In Gujarat, the number is nearly 500.
States announce special package
Madhya Pradesh government was the first to launch the ‘Covid orphans’ scheme. Uttar Pradesh government has announced a scheme for such children where they would be getting 4000 INR/month from the government.
MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced the ‘CM Covid-19 Bal Kalyan Yojana’, which would disburse Rs 5,000 a month for ‘Covid orphans’ — referring to those who have lost their parents to the virus — and “those families who have lost their father, the earning guardian”.
“Education of all such children will be made free of cost so that they can continue their studies,” the CM had then said.
But many criticised and said it has too many lapses — like when the guidelines of the scheme were released a week later, they didn’t match the CM’s declaration. The eligibility criteria of the scheme, instead, said the children should “have lost both mother and father to Covid-19” and that the deaths should have occurred between 1 March and 30 June 2021 — during the second wave.
Child rights’ activists point out that all the children who lost their parents to Covid before 1 March will be deprived of this scheme.
Karnataka’s Minister for Women and Child Welfare Shashikala Jolle did a video conference with children on the 02 June and guaranteed them support. Minister, along with a nodal officer for Covid-impacted children and Pallavi Akurathi, Director of Integrated Child Protection Scheme, informed the children that the State has launched “Bala Seva”, a programme for children orphaned due to Covid, and the government directive on the same will be issued soon.
Karnataka officials clarified that rules had been altered since the CM’s announcement. Director of Women and Child Development of the state said the reason the scheme in its final form to shield the easy target and under high risk of being put into trafficking, and hence they need to be protected “on priority”.
The Bihar government on the 30th of May said they would provide ₹1,500 each month to those children who have lost their parents to COVID-19 in the State. The children will get financial assistance till the age of 18 and will be housed in State child care centres.
Also, the Maharashtra State Cabinet announced a scheme of financial aid for children who lost their parents due to COVID-19, in which a sum of ₹5 lakh per child will be set up as a fixed deposit. Kerala has also announced a special package to address the crisis. Many states may follow it, as the central government remain silent about the protection of these children.
Ehab Qadeer is an intern with Maktoob.