COVID-19 | Supreme Court flags impact of third wave on children

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The Supreme Court on Monday expressed a deep sense of anxiety on whether the third wave of the pandemic will put more children, orphaned or abandoned, on the streets.

A Bench of Justices L. Nageswara Rao and B.V. Nagarathna reminded the country’s bureaucracy that fighting COVID also means fighting to keep children off the streets.

“We are not running away from the reality of the pandemic. Bureaucrats are busy... But part of COVID battle is to see that children are off the streets,” Justice Rao addressed the Centre and the States.

Justice Nagarathna said there was every possibility that the third wave may upend the lives of many more children.

“Justice Nagarathna is right... More children may end up on the streets,” Justice Rao said and urged States to come alive to the situation.

Justice Rao said the State governments should wake up on their own rather than the court goading them awake.

The Bench said the estimate of children on the streets may cross 15 lakh in reality.

Advocate Shobha Gupta, for a petitioner, said she could, during every day of her commute in the Capital, see at least eight children begging on the streets at the traffic lights.

“Imagine the condition of these children who live out in the open streets in the bitter cold of Delhi...” Ms. Gupta told the court.

“You are obliged to rescue and rehabilitate these children... Instead, you say the slow pace of the rescue is because of COVID. We have told you to take the support of voluntary organisations, district authorities,” Justice Rao said.

The court contemplated various suggestions, including giving traffic policemen the responsibility to alert authorities, to forming special units to rescue children from the streets.

The issue had been brought to the forefront by an NGO, Save the Children, which had reported that there were two lakh such children in 10 districts of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Delhi alone.

However, an affidavit filed by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), through advocate Swarupama Chaturvedi, said data compiled from States about children orphaned, abandoned and those who lost either parent to COVID add up to just 1,47,492 as of January 11, 2022. The NCPCR has been compiling data on these children since April 2020. It has a dedicated web portal ‘Baal Swaraj Portal - COVID Care’ for this purpose.

Of this, orphans number 10,094, those who lost one parent are 1,36,910 and children abandoned are 488.

Of this Uttar Pradesh has recorded 9,247 children under all the three categories, Delhi 6,629, Andhra Pradesh 8,760, Gujarat 14,770, Kerala 3,773, Maharashtra 19,623, Tamil Nadu 11,014, West Bengal 6,835, and Punjab 1,438.

“There might be lakhs of children in street situation in the remaining parts of the country who need to be rescued and rehabilitated,” the court had responded in an earlier order.

The court said the process of collecting the information with regard to the social background of the children, identification of benefits under the individual care plan and the enquiries have to be conducted by the Child Welfare Committees under the Juvenile Justice law.

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Printable version | May 9, 2022 2:34:49 pm |