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COVID-19 | Odisha faces many hurdles in rehabilitation of orphaned children

As of now, 54 children have lost both their parents while 967 have been left with single parent due to the pandemic in Odisha.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The devastating super cyclone in 1999 left hundreds of children of Odisha orphaned throwing them into a sea of despair and loneliness and forcing them to fight the battle of life too early. Two decades later, COVID-19, that has so far taken the lives of 3,500 people in Odisha, may leave scores of children facing a gloomy future.

As of now, 54 children have lost both their parents while 967 have been left with single parent due to the pandemic in the State.

In Rayagada district, a migrant couple died of COVID-19 last month, leaving their twin daughters in the lurch. In Bhograi block of Balasore district, the sight of a seven-year girl cradling her 18-month-old brother after their parents succumbed to the viral infection in quick succession leaves people in tears.

In Khaparakhol block of Balangir, three kids aged below 14 lost their father who had COVID-19-like symptoms, a year after their mother died. There have been several such instances which have rendered children orphans.

Also read: Adoption pleas for COVID-19 orphans are illegal, detrimental: Experts

While the twin girls of Rayagada are being looked after by their maternal uncle, in Balasore district it is the family of the father of the seven-year-old girl and her 18-month-old brother who are concerned with their well-being. In case of the three orphans of Balangir, the government sent them to shelter home after much hue and cry.

“Government officials have assured us that these girls will be admitted to Navadoya School in Rayagada, but what after that,” asked Uttam Kumar Choudhury, maternal uncle of the girls in Rayagada.

Trauma of losing parents

Psychologists say while taking care of their food and clothes is a short-term solution, the bigger problem would be addressing the trauma due to loss of parents.

No one knows this better than Utkal Maity. At the age of seven, Maity kept clinging on to a leaf stalk of coconut tree while his mother and elder sister were swept away by a tidal wave in front of him in the super cyclone. His father was subsequently washed away.

Though he was fortunate to be rehabilitated in SOS Village, a child care institution, and later became a child right activist, he is still trying to find his home in Jhatibari village.

Also read: ₹10 lakh corpus fund for every child orphaned by COVID-19

“I am still rootless. My parents had dreamt of a beautiful future for me and my sister. But after their death, I could manage an Aadhaar card and residence certificate issued in address of Jhatibari village in Jagatsinghpur district. But, my share of property still eludes me,” he said.

Rajib Paddar, 28, who had lost his both parents and younger brother in the super cyclone, struggled through two decades without family in a childcare institute. He could get a job Rourkela Steel Plant, but still gets nightmares while thinking of the 1999 cyclone.

Till super cyclone struck, Odisha did not have any robust policy or process to deal with children who were orphaned in the wake of a disaster. Soon after the super cyclone, NGOs rushed in to Jagatsinghpur district, ground zero of the cyclone. Community-level monitoring mechanism for orphans was put in place. It helped smoothen the process of rehabilitation in the community.

The experience of rehabilitating orphans during super cyclone can be a good tool in taking care of the ones produced by COVID-19, as the support provided by the immediate family may not last long.

Problem of identification

The biggest problem activists feel is going to begin with identification of COVID-19 orphans.

“Many people died either in post-COVID-19 complications or in home isolation. Children do not have any certificate to prove that their parents have died because of COVID-19. In many death certificates, how to show COVID-19 as reason of death,” asked Benudhar Senapati, a child rights activist.

“The issue of discrimination will also surface. Even if a person dies of non-COVID reason, his children are likely to face the similar hardship like a COVID-19 orphan,” he said.

“The government has a big role to play here. Irrespective of affluent or poor families the orphans belong to, government must carry out multilevel assessment about children’s vulnerability,” said Mihir Mohanty, who worked extensively in the rehabilitation of children orphaned by the super cyclone.

“The property inheritance from family side and government’s promised entitlements for orphans should be documented. Anybody found attempting to tamper with these should be taken to task. The District Collectors should review the status of orphans at regular intervals,” Mr. Mohanty said.

Experts say while people may be ready to extend help to the orphans promising to take care of their education and other needs, a pragmatic approach is needed as everyone is likely to forget their commitments after the pandemic is over.

Super cyclone orphans say there should not be one size that fits all policy while dealing with them.

“In most cases, children are asked to leave childcare homes at the age of 18, the pre-employment period during which a person hones his skill and improves his employability. If they are forced to leave how will they improve their skills,” asked Mr. Maity.

Mr. Paddar who stayed in SOS village after losing his parents to cyclone, was allowed to pursue technical education, but many orphans who were put up in normal orphanages were deprived of the facilities. He suggested children should be rehabilitated in extended family while government should take all responsibilities of providing financial assistance for education and survival and ensure that the orphaned is not subjected to torture.

Getarani Patnaik, State’s nodal officer handling COVID-19 orphan issue, however, assured that due diligence was being taken for ensuring security of these children. “We make sure that all child protection schemes are linked to these children immediately. The State government has already announced free education. Detail modalities will be spelt out soon,” she said.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has already directed the administration to identify parents-less children on priority basis and include them in the Madhubabu Pension Scheme immediately. He directed payment of three-month pension in advance to these children.

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Printable version | Aug 6, 2021 3:48:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/covid-19-odisha-faces-many-hurdles-in-rehabilitation-of-orphaned-children/article34863517.ece

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