195 children lost one parent to Covid, 108 lost both: Maharashtra task forces
At least 195 children in Maharashtra have lost their parents due to Covid-19, so far. Of them, 108 have lost both their parents, the task forces appointed by the state government informed.
After the Supreme Court (SC) directives taking cognisance of the reports in the social media that children orphaned after losing their parents due to the virus were being illegally adopted, the state government’s woman and child welfare department (WCD) formed task forces in every (36) district to identify such children two weeks ago.
This was to ensure that the orphaned children are in safe custody and are given their financial and property right. The step also assures that the children are safeguarded from illegal custody and trafficking.
The task forces have found at least 195 such children in the state have lost their parents, of them, 108 have been orphaned after losing both their parents. 42 children have been brought to the child care institutes (CCIs) run by the state government.
According to the figures collated by the WCD, Mumbai had no such children, while Nandurbar had the highest 93 children, of which 66 have lost both their parents. Hingoli, Jalna and Gondia have 18, 16 and 12 children who have lost one of their parents. Thane has 11 children who have lost both their parents due to the Covid-19.
WCD minister Yashomati Thakur said that the number of affected children is expected to be 400 in the state. “We have galvanised the machinery to take care of all these children with the help of the child care institutes we have at district levels. First, we try to give the children family parenting with the help of Bal Sangopan and foster parenting schemes. If that is not possible then these children are brought to the child care institutes. We have increased the age limit of their stay in these institutions to 23 years from 18 years so that they are protected until they stand on their feet. We are guardians of these children and will continue to take their care,” Thakur said.
The district administrations have started visiting their houses to take review and extend the help required by the children.
“As the basic principle of the Juvenile Justice Act (JJ Act), we prefer the custody to be retained by the extended family of the children who lost both their parents. Family care is important for their upbringing. Such children in custody with relatives like uncle or grandparents are given financial assistance of ₹1,125 per month under our Bal Sangopan scheme. In case such custody in the extended family is not possible, the children are brought to CCIs by following due process,” said an official from the department.
In a government resolution issued on May 11, the state government has made it mandatory for the hospitals to note the information from the Covid-19 patients about their minor children about their custody during the treatment. The districts level task forces, headed by district collectors, have been assigned with the task to keep a tab of the custody of the children of the parents admitted for treatment or in case of their deaths. The task force has also been directed to take steps to avoid any illegal adoption and extending legal aid to such children to protect their rights. The GR also has mandated counselling wherever required.
Manisha Birasis, assistant commissioner, woman and child development department, said that the district level task forces will take care of the legal rights of the children. “The GR is self-explanatory on various fronts. It also has stated how to safeguard the rights of the children in a property once they attain a majority of their age. The district authorities will ensure that their property rights are not entangled in family disputes,” she said.
The WCD has also directed the district authorities to take action against the people involved in the illegal adoption of such children. Cases have been filed in such attempts under various sections of the JJ Act and Indian Penal Code.
Besides this, the department has also directed the district administrations to extend the counselling to women who have lost their spouse due to Covid-19. “Such women can be given aid through 130 counselling centres and 31 shelter homes for women in the state,” said the official.