Tragedy Within Tragedy

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States should ensure well being of children orphaned by coronavirus

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has informed the Supreme Court that as many as 30,071 children were orphaned, lost a parent or were abandoned mostly due to the coronavirus pandemic as per data submitted by different states till June 5. According to the NCPCR, of the total 30,071 such children 26,176 lost a parent, 3,621 have been orphaned and 274 abandoned. Among the affected are 15,620 boys, 14,447 girls and four transgenders. The NCPCR has informed the Supreme Court that most children (11,815) were in the age group of 8 to 13 years. The children affected between the age group of 0 to 3 years accounted for 2,902, while those in the age group of four to seven years were 5,107 and those in the age group of 14 to 15 years were 4,908. The number of the children affected in the age group between 16 and below 18 years were 5,339.

These children stare at a bleak future. Maharashtra, which has recorded the largest number of COVID cases and deaths, also leads in the number of children orphaned by the death of parents or abandoned. In the state 7,084 children have been orphaned, abandoned or have lost a parent. The other states where children are most affected are Uttar Pradesh (3,172), Rajasthan (2,482), Haryana (2,438), Madhya Pradesh (2,243), Andhra Pradesh (2,089), Kerala (2,002), Bihar (1,634) and Odisha (1,073). Madhya Pradesh with 226 cases tops the chart in regard to abandoned children.

The plight of the 30,000-plus children that have been orphaned or abandoned constitutes a tragedy within tragedy. The first tragedy was the death of one or both the parents of the children on account of COVID-19. In these times families are becoming nuclear. So there are rare persons among close relations that want to take the responsibility for children who have lost their parents. At the end it boils down to money terms: where a nuclear family would be able to take the burden of children of another nuclear family that has lost its breadwinner.

On top of this, there is another dark tragedy playing up. The NCPCR has received complaints that some private persons and organisations are engaged in an unethical and illegal business of  giving away orphaned children to families for adoption without following the procedure given under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. What is more worrying is that the NCPCR has received  information that government officials are helping these private persons and organisations by providing them the names and addresses of the hapless children. Here is a warning for the concerned government departments:  while uploading data about the children in need of care and protection for real-time tracking they should take utmost care to see that it was not misused by unscrupulous elements. It is for both the central government and the state governments to exercise and enforce discretion in the disclosure of the identity of the children in need.

The Supreme Court, which had taken suo moto cognizance of the plight of the children whose parents were victims of the pandemic, has ordered the states and Union Territories to ensure there was no break in the education of these children. The court has asked the governments to make provisions for continuance of education of the children both in state as well as private schools. Apart from education, such children would also need accommodation. It would be better to place them in schools which also have hostel facilities. If that is not possible, children should be accommodated in homes run by the government and charitable organisations. The children who have gone through the shock of losing their parents will also need regular counselling to overcome their dark feelings. Both the central and state governments need to take strong action against the unscrupulous persons and organisations that are trying to capitalize on the tragedies faced by the children. The governments should also improve on the data collection on such hapless children and include those who were left out.