New Delhi: Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the country in earnest, at least 3,621 children have been orphaned while over 26,000 have lost one parent, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) told the Supreme Court on Monday.
The panel, in an affidavit, said that as many as 30,071 children were orphaned, lost a parent or were abandoned, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the total, 26,176 children have lost a parent, 3,621 have been orphaned and 274 have been abandoned.
However, the child rights body said that the deaths of parents, as reflected in its affidavit, were not just related to COVID-19 and could be due to other reasons too.
According to news agency PTI, the commission said that the state-wise data received regarding children who have lost either their mother or father or both parents from April 1, 2020 to June 5, 2021, irrespective of their reason of death (not only death due to COVID-19), was uploaded on its ‘Bal Swaraj’ portal and collated by it.
During this period, Maharashtra is the worst affected state, with 7,084 children being orphaned, abandoned or have lost a parent, mostly to the coronavirus. The NCPCR said that other states which reported high numbers were 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).
It said that in Maharashtra out of the total 7,084 children, 6,865 have lost one parent, 217 have been orphaned and two children have been abandoned, while Madhya Pradesh tops the chart where 226 have been abandoned.
Across the country, a large number of children who were affected were between the ages of 8-13. NCPCR said 11,815 children in this age group were either abandoned, lost a parent or were orphaned. Additionally, 2,902 children between the ages of 0-3 years were affected, while in the 4-7 years group, 5,107 were affected and in the 14-15 year age group, 4,908 were affected. It said that children affected between 16 to below 18 years are 5,339 in numbers.
The commission said that the data in the latest affidavit includes that which was already submitted to the top court on May 31, which said that 9,346 children were abandoned, orphaned or lost a parent, mostly to the COVID-19 pandemic, until May 29.
It said that data uploading is an ongoing process, which would help in the identification of ‘child in need of care and protection’ (CNCPs) and the real time tracking to ensure welfare for those children.
According to the Indian Express, the Supreme Court on Monday pulled up the governments of West Bengal and Delhi after additional solicitor general K.M. Nataraj, appearing for NCPCR, told the bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and Anirudha Bose that the two states had not uploaded details on the portal.
“You have seen the order passed by us…We said gather information pertaining to children orphaned post March 2020, and upload details. All the other states have understood it properly and have uploaded the information. How is it that only West Bengal doesn’t understand the order?” the bench asked.
The child rights panel once again flagged its concern that there are some private people and organisations involved in data collection who are putting up orphaned children for adoption “without following the procedure given under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015”.
The Act, besides providing for an extensive procedure for children who have lost family support or are in need of assistance, also prescribes an exhaustive procedure for the adoption of orphaned, abandoned or surrendered children.
The NCPCR said it is also receiving information regarding the disclosure of childrens’ identity or information by government authorities to private NGOs and organisations.
“It is further humbly submitted that care must be taken by the authorities to ensure that their any action is not in violation of Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. It is humbly submitted that the aforesaid provision prohibits disclosure of identity of children with regard to the name, school, age, address etc. of the child, which would reveal the essential details of the child and could help in identifying the child,” the affidavit said.
The commission sought directions to all states and Union Territories that any confidential information about children must not be placed in the public domain or provided to any person, entity or organisation.
The affidavit said that the commission is also concerned to note that several NGOs are seeking monetary support for children impacted by COVID-19. “Considering that the Children in distress situations are wards of State, it is imperative for all concerned to immediately inform the statutory authority about any such child noticed by them.
“The Court may be pleased to direct the NGOs, if they find a ‘child in need of care and protection’ then state/ district authorities must be alerted in consonance with Government of India instructions to states,” it said.
On May 29, the Centre announced a number of welfare measures for children orphaned by the COVID-19 pandemic. This included a corpus of Rs 10 lakh, whose interest they will receive as a stipend for five years when they turn 18, followed by the handing over of the principal. Administrative and financial support for the education of these children was also announced. The money for these schemes will come from the PM CARES fund.