The Supreme Court Juvenile Justice Committee, in coordination with UNICEF, highlighted the need to urgently provide care and protect children suddenly made vulnerable by the loss of one or both parents to the second wave of COVID-19.
Supreme Court judge, Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, who is the Chairperson of the court’s Juvenile Justice Committee, in a review meeting held with High Courts, representatives of States and the Centre, said concerted efforts should be made to provide interim care for children who have been orphaned, abandoned or even left unaccompanied in their own homes.
“These children are more vulnerable now than ever before,” Justice Bhat noted.
A statement released by the Supreme Court on Saturday said some of the measures discussed were the setting up State-level nodal officers and a district task force for rapid response for the care and protection of such children. Other steps include sponsorship for children who had lost parent/s or bread-earners or were facing economic hardship.
Justice Bhat highlighted the need for clear guidance on steps to be taken in the event when such children in an extremely vulnerable state had been exposed to the virus or showed symptoms of infection. Care measures for their isolation and treatment needed to be stepped up, he said. In this regard, Justice Bhat said that caregivers and employees of childcare institutions — both government and private — should be vaccinated as frontline professionals. He said childcare institutions should be declared “essential services”. The judge emphasised the need to provide heightened medical watch for children in institutional care.
The Supreme Court has been nudging the Centre to prepare for the third wave of the pandemic. Recently, a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud had highlighted reports that children would be affected in the third wave. The court has pushed for aggressive vaccination, especially for parents of young children, who would be accompanying their children to hospitals as primary caregivers. Justice Bhat is also part of the Special Bench hearing issues regarding COVID-19 management and lapses.
Concerted efforts should be made by all the key stakeholders to ensure the care and protection of children during the second wave of COVID-19. Justice Bhat further spoke of the need to develop a mechanism to address the interim care needs of orphaned, separated, or unaccompanied children, including clear guidance on steps to be taken in the event that such a child has been exposed or has symptoms of the virus and requires a period of isolation and treatment.
Juvenile Justice Committees represented by judges, as well as State and Union Territories, also highlighted the measures they were taking to stop the spread of COVID-19 in childcare institutions, and the medical treatment and care of children who contracted the disease.
Ms. Aastha Khatwani, Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, said an advisory has been issued against illegal adoption, and for the care and protection of children who had lost either or both parents to COVID-19.
Vandhana Kandhari, Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF India, highlighted “in most cases, parents will be able to rely on other family members and relatives to step in to care for their children when they are in hospital or under medical care; however, in some cases, alternative care arrangements will be needed”. She said that a “fit person” could be appointed among family members, trusted friends, good neighbours or community members to provide interim care for children who had been left in dire straits due to COVID-19.