With the second wave of COVID-19 continuing to wreak havoc across India with more than 4,00,000 daily cases, the deadly pandemic has thrown up a daunting challenge of ensuring the safety of orphaned children and the protection of their rights and inheritances.
Thousands of families have lost their kin to the deadly virus. Data shared by the Indian government clearly shows that the ratio of young adults, in the 30 to 40 age group, dying of the disease is higher than the first wave. This means there are more young children losing their parents and some have been left alone as their entire immediate family has succumbed to the virus.
The government should take immediate steps for the rehabilitation the children who lost their parents. A panel of responsible people should be convened under the watchful eye of the government to keep in touch with hospitals and child welfare committees to ensure that Covid-orphaned kids are rehabilitated. Initiating legal adoption processes to take charge of the growing numbers of vulnerable children rendered bereft of parents will help in saving these children from possible abuse. Such steps have an important common factor: that of identifying the orphans — one that our system is sadly deficient in. When duly followed up with the necessary support as also a continued watch on their welfare, the child’s umbrella of shelter is secured.
Such steps must be amplified across the country. Active governance is needed so that no child suffers for want of timely care. There are instances where children become easy prey for child-trafficking, sexual abuse, child labour, denial of education, child marriage, manipulation, property usurpation et al.
Warning against a potential spurt in such tragic crimes, the Union government has said all cases of children left without guardians must be routed through the government authorities. In this context, spreading messages and appeals for adoption on social media is illegal as it attracts child traffickers and racketeers. The mandate to have a column on children and their custodians (in case of a tragedy) in hospital forms while admitting Covid patients is a necessary first step.
(Dr Naresh Purohit is advisor to the National Communicable Disease Control Programme. He is also Advisor to six other National Health Programmes. He is visiting Professor in five Medical Universities of Southern India including Thrissur based Kerala University of Health Sciences. (The views and opinion expressed in this article are those of the author)