Children in more than 30,000 families were abandoned, became orphans or lost at least one of their parents between April 2020 and last week, according to the latest data submitted to the Supreme Court by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), which is by far the most comprehensive estimate provided by states on the status of children affected by the pandemic.
The figures were uploaded by the respective states and Union territories on the NCPCR website “Bal Swaraj”. The commission in an affidavit filed before the top court added a disclaimer stating that the reason for death of parent(s) could be any and not just Covid-19.
“The Commission is presenting the number of children who have lost either their mother or father or both parents from April 1, 2020 to June 5, 2021, based upon the information uploaded on “Bal Swaraj” portal up to 5th June 2021,” the affidavit of the NCPCR filed through advocate Swarupama Chaturvedi on Sunday said.
The reason of death was not uploaded by the states/UTs, leaving open the possibility of the death of parent(s) having occurred for reasons other than Covid-19.
The latest data shows that among 30,071 children affected during the pandemic, 3,621 lost both parents, a significantly high number of 26,176 lost either parent while 274 were left abandoned. Of the affected children, there are 15,620 boys, 14,447 girls and four transgenders. The commission categorised the data into age-wise brackets. This showed that more than 11,800 children are in the age group of 8 to 13 years, requiring urgent care. About 10,247 are between 14 and 18 years of age.
This is the second affidavit filed by the commission in response to a query put by the top court on the number of children affected due to the pandemic. The possibility of a significantly high number of orphans during the pandemic and an urgent need to cater to their care and protection was raised by amicus curiae advocate Gaurav Agrawal, assisting the court in a suo motu petition on steps to contain the spread of Covid-19 in child care homes. The earlier affidavit filed by NCPCR on May 31 did not contain complete figures of affected children as many states faced technical challenges to upload data on the “Bal Swaraj” portal.
The matter is fixed for hearing on Monday before a bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose. Along with the affidavit by NCPCR, a note prepared by Agrawal focusing on 10 states with regard to an identification mechanism of children affected by Covid-19 and steps taken to provide them care under various central and state schemes. These 10 states are Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar and Jharkhand.
Agrawal has made suggestions on protecting the property rights of orphans/children. His note stated, “A large number of children have lost their father, who was the earning member of the family. In some cases, there is absolutely no income, no insurance benefits and no property with the widow.”
Agrawal suggested that when orphans or children in need of care and protection are produced before the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), it could assess the financial capacity of the family or guardian and award an amount of ₹5,000 per child as financial assistance. Some states have already announced special financial schemes for such children, Agrawal added.
According to data from NCPCR, most among the affected 30,000-odd children are at their homes with the single parent, guardian or family member, with only 819 in children homes (including observation homes and shelter homes), 41 in orphanages, and 62 with special adoption agencies.
Among the states, Maharashtra recorded the highest number with 217 children orphaned and over 6,800 losing either parent. Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan recorded high numbers of orphans at 706 and 671, respectively. The NCPCR affidavit has requested the court to direct states and UTs not to share names or information about children in the public domain or provide it to any person/entity/organisation, making these children susceptible to trafficking, abuse, illegal adoption, etc.