Help children orphaned by COVID-19, orders Supreme Court

‘We do not know the age of these children starving on the streets or how many of them are there in such a large country’

Updated - May 28, 2021 10:25 pm IST

Published - May 28, 2021 05:23 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File

A view of the Supreme Court of India. File

The Supreme Court on Friday said precious time was being lost as children orphaned, abandoned and traumatised by the COVID-19 pandemic were starving without food on the streets of “this large country”.

The apex court ordered district authorities across the country to immediately fan out and identify these children in need of care and provide them with basic needs like food, shelter and clothes.

“Days are passing by without children getting any food... Hope you will understand [to the Centre and the State governments] the agony these children are undergoing on the streets... We do not know the age of these children starving on the streets or how many of them are there in such a large country,” a visibly anguished Justice L. Nageswara Rao, accompanied by Justice Aniruddha Bose on the Bench, said.

The Centre, represented by Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, said it “anticipates a rise in the number of children”.

Also read: 577 children orphaned by COVID-19 identified across the country: govt.

Justice Rao said the actual number of children abandoned or orphaned may be much more than what has been cited in official and news reports.

Ms. Bhati and advocate Swarupama Chaturvedi, for the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, said the Commission had an online portal ‘Bal Swaraj’ wherein district authorities could individually upload the figures of orphans and children in need of care and protection within their respective jurisdictions. District authorities have already been given the password to operate the portal.

Also read: Special package for children orphaned by COVID-19

The court directed the district authorities in every State to upload the details of children who were orphaned and in a position requiring care and protection after March 2020, the month when the pandemic began in India. The court asked the States to separately provide the facts and figures of such children by Sunday evening. The court scheduled a hearing on Tuesday.

The hearing on Friday was based on an urgent application filed by the amicus curiae , advocate Gaurav Agrawal, who placed on record a report in The Hindu about the plight of children during the pandemic.

Also read: Sonia urges PM to give free education to children who lost parents in pandemic

Mr. Agrawal said the pandemic has wrecked havoc in the lives of many children who hade either lost both parents or guardians to the virus.

He said, quoting the newspaper report, that there has been a marked increase in child trafficking, especially of girls. Mr. Agrawal said the government had an obligation to protect children. He recommended the setting up of task forces in every district to look out for children who have been made vulnerable by the pandemic.

“What have States done for these children? COVID or no COVID, it is the obligation of our authorities to take care of orphans... First, the authorities should identify children orphaned and those in need of immediate care. This has to be done at district or block level, whatever. You have to take care of their immediate needs... You [States] have to come back on Tuesday and tell us what steps you have taken,” Justice Rao addressed the lawyers appearing for the States.

The court acknowledged that some States had already announced welfare policies for children orphaned by COVID-19.

“In Kerala, the government has announced a package to give ₹3 lakh to these children as a lump sum....” Justice Rai said.

The Kerala government would provide a monthly stipend of ₹2,000 to the children till they were 18 years of age. It has also decided to bear the cost of their education up to the degree level.

“So every State may have its own approach, we need to know what they are,” Justice Rao said.

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