UPDATED: May 4, 2021 15:46 IST
As India battles a raging second wave, cases of children losing their parents to Covid-19 are also mounting. While some have lost both their parents and have no one to look after them, others are in a situation where a single surviving parent is unable to take care of them financially and psychologically.
In Kolkata, a newborn baby recently lost both her parents and grandparents to the virus. The baby too tested positive for Covid-19 but survived. The baby’s relatives were reportedly reluctant to take care of her. Finally, the little girl’s maternal grandparents, who live in another city, took charge.
“A newborn lost both her parents and grandparents from the father’s side to Covid. The baby was positive too but survived. Grandparents from their mother’s side have reluctantly taken her with them after the police insisted. Stories of Covid orphans will haunt us big time,” said Anuradha Sharma, a West Bengal-based journalist.
Sharma said the reluctance of relatives to take care of these children was perhaps temporary but reflected the “fragile mental state we are all in right now”.
In Karnataka, activists on Saturday flagged two cases in which children who lost their parents were left without any support.
In another case, Delhi Police rescued two siblings who were allegedly planning to end their lives after their parents died of Covid-19 last week. In many of these cases, relatives are the first resort. But if that option is not viable, the state machinery has to step in.
Protsahan, an NGO working in about 50 slums in the Uttam Nagar area in Delhi, said they had seen very difficult cases in the recent past.
“There are many cases in which both parents have died. What is important today is an institutional response to such cases. People are calling for adoption but a proper legal mechanism must be followed for the sake of the future and welfare of these children,” said Sonal Kapoor, founder and director of the organisation.
Several calls for the adoption of these children have been circulating on social media. But activists warn that such routes can be detrimental to the welfare of children.
The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) has urged people not to fall for misinformation doing the rounds on social media. The commission advised interested families to follow the legal process to initiate adoption.
“Do not believe anyone who says he/she can give you the child for adoption. They are either lying or misleading or simply involved in illegal practices. Do reach out to your lawyer friends for advice,” tweeted DCPCR chairperson Anurag Kundu.
The commission has launched a helpline (+91-9311551393) to address the needs of children who have lost their parents or whose parents are hospitalised.
Activists said other complicated situations are also emerging as a result of the pandemic. Among the poorer sections of society, the pandemic has left children affected in several ways since last year.
“It is not just this year and in this phase of the pandemic. Last year also, we saw children being affected in many ways. We have found cases of sexual abuse of children in slums because they were left vulnerable,” said Kapoor, the founder of Protsahan.
A report by the NGO documents at least five cases of incest.
“My mother is scared to leave father because she is financially dependent on him. She doesn’t know he is doing something wrong,” the report quotes one adolescent girl. Her parents, like many others, lost their source of income due to the pandemic.
In another case documented in the report, the relatives of a minor girl wanted to get her married. “Her mother died due to Covid. Now we will get her married soon so that she can be with her husband and not our responsibility,” the report quotes the relatives.
The NGO said it was closely following these cases. Even as stories of misery come from across the length and breadth of the country, it is the poorer sections of society that are most vulnerable.