The Lucknow University has announced that it will take over the responsibility of over 70 Covid orphans who have lost their parents. Teachers and universities across the state are also reaching out to Covid orphans through NGOs to identify such children and provide them support.
The pandemic has torn apart many families and rendered thousands of children orphans. Overnight children have woken to find their lives shattered, without the guidance, love and support that they receive from their parents, leaving them dependent on their relatives, family friends, or in some cases, nobody.
Social media is full of appeals for help for such children, and, heart-wrenchingly, pleas of breastmilk for newborn babies or infants whose mothers were infected with the virus, or succumbed to it.
This makes them vulnerable to neglect and abuse. Many children, especially from financially insecure families, are left with the stress of fending for their future and education.
Further, even after they get assistance financially, for many it becomes difficult to procure basic identification such as Aadhaar cards, PAN cards and other documents.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), last month, had issued an advisory to all states asking them to identify children who had lost one or both parents since April 2020.
As per details furnished by the Commission, as many as 30,071 children were orphaned, lost one parent or were abandoned during the pandemic between April 1, 2021, and June 5, 2021. More than 3,500 were orphaned during the pandemic, 140 abandoned while over 26,000 children had lost one parent since April 2020.
Maharashtra was the worst affected state with 7,084 children orphaned, abandoned or losing a parent, mostly to the coronavirus. Uttar Pradesh came next with 3,172 children.
Help and healing
While nothing can replace the love of a parent, the Supreme Court, Central Government and various states are working towards making the lives of India’s Covid orphans less traumatic.
The Modi-led Government has announced benefits for children orphaned by the pandemic under the PM-Cares for Children scheme. Under the scheme, children will get a monthly stipend once they turn 18 and a corpus of 10 lakhs once they turn 23. Further, children who lose both their parents will get free education along with free health insurance of Rs 5 lakhs from Ayushman Bharat till 18 years with the premium to be paid by PM CARES.
Kerala: The Kerala government has announced an educational expense and relief package for children affected by the pandemic. The educational expenses of children who have lost both their parents will be taken care of by the Government. The state Government has also announced a special package of Rs 3 lakhs as an immediate relief for these students, with Rs 2000 to be provided as monthly support.
Karnataka: The ‘Chief Minister's Bala Seva Scheme' for the welfare of children orphaned due to Covid -19, includes monthly financial assistance of Rs 3,500 for guardians. The Government has also set up separate quarantine facilities as well as hostels for children up to the age of 18.
Children below the age of 10 who do not have guardians will be put under child care institutions and mentorship will be provided for the overall development of the child. Girls who complete 21 years of age will be given Rs 1 lakh for their higher education, marriage expenses and self-employment.
Further, the state Government will also distribute laptops or tablets free of charge to children who have completed the 10th standard to provide them support for their higher education.
Maharashtra: The state Government announced that a fixed deposit of Rs 5 lakhs would be made in the name of each child who has lost at least one parent due to Covid. This is apart from a monthly allowance of Rs 1,125. Further, NGOs and individuals have been invited to support such children and provide them with guidance and counselling, along with any other support they may need.
Uttar Pradesh: According to the state Government, at least 200 children in the state have lost both parents, while another 1,800 have lost at least one parent to Covid. The state government has said that it will take up the responsibility of such children and has set up a task force to identify orphans and bring them into the legal adoption pool.
Under the UP Mukhyamantri Bal Sewa Scheme, children are entitled to a monthly stipend of Rs 4,000 for each child and the state will fund their education and marriage. Beneficiaries of the scheme include those who have lost both their parents those who have lost the single remaining parent and those who have lost the sole breadwinner parent.
Delhi: The Delhi Government has said that it will give a stipend of Rs 2,500 per month to children who have lost their parents, till the age of 25. The Government is also paying for the education of any child who has lost their parents due to the pandemic and will be providing counselling and guidance to these children. A committee is also being formed to resolve the issues that the children are facing.
Tamil Nadu: The state Government has announced a fixed deposit of Rs 5 lakhs for minor children who lose their parents, while children who have lost one of their parents will receive Rs 3 lakhs. The money will be given to them once they turn 18.
The children will also be given priority admission to Government-run hostels and homes with the state taking care of all their expenses up to graduation. Further, the guardians of children who have relatives will receive a monthly stipend of Rs 3,000, till the age of 18.
Assam: Under the Mukhya Mantri Sishu Seva Yojana, the Assam Government has announced financial assistance of Rs 3,500 for this month and a fixed deposit of Rs 7,81,200 against which they will receive Rs 3,500 every month till the age of 24. The State government has also announced a grant of Rs 10 lakhs to each district for non-institutional care of minor Covid orphans.
Gujarat: The state Government announced that Covid orphans will receive an assistance of Rs 4,000 monthly till the age of 18. For beneficiaries between the ages of 20 and 24, a monthly financial aid of Rs 6,000 will be provided.
Odisha: Temporary homes have been created in the 30 districts of the states to support children orphaned during the pandemic. The state will also bear the education expenses for these children, apart from providing a monthly pension of Rs 2,000.
Further, the Women and Child Development and Mission Shakti department has also helpline numbers — 1098, OSCPSR helpline 1800-345-4494 and State Covid helpline 104 — to track and assist vulnerable children.
While social media is full of calls for adopting children who have been orphaned in the pandemic, experts caution against cases where legal processes might be flouted. In fact, the NCPCR has asked social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter to share the origin of posts advertising the adoption of children orphaned due to the pandemic. NCPCR has warned that such adoptions, bypassing the right channels as per the Juvenile Justice Act, are illegal and liable for prosecution.