Child trafficking suspected behind pleas for adoption of Covid ‘orphans’
Social media posts appealing for adoption of kids allegedly orphaned during the Covid-19 pandemic may be a trick played out by child trafficking gangs that generally get activated during such calamities, warned UP police officials and child rights activists. The authorities have not only launched a probe into such posts but also begun gathering data on children actually orphaned by the pandemic.
Multiple messages portraying tragic stories of infants, allegedly left abandoned after the death of their parents due to Covid-19, have been doing the rounds on social media platforms.
One such message in which a person was offering kids for adoption circumventing the legal process alerted a group of child activists in Lucknow. The message read: “If anyone wishes to adopt a girl, please feel free to contact. One girl is 3 days old and another is six months old, and they have lost their parents recently due to Covid. Please help these kids get a new life.”
Sangeeta Sharma, a child rights activist and a member of Child Line, said such messages were in circulation and requested her peers to report them to Child Line.
“I called up one of the contact numbers mentioned in one of the similar messages and found that a man on the other end was promising a girl child for adoption without verifying her identity,” she said.
Sharma said she reported the matter to the Lucknow police and requested cops to trace the person who she feared could possibly be involved in child trafficking and illegal child adoption.
Lucknow commissioner of police DK Thakur confirmed that a team had been deployed to inquire into the case and other similar posts after being alerted by Child Line activists.
Sharma feared many orphaned children were at risk of falling prey to human traffickers or illegal adoption rackets, looking to make a quick buck during the present Covid crisis.
The state’s department of women and child development has also taken cognizance of such messages and has written to all district magistrates across UP to prepare a list of children below 18 years of age who have lost their parents to Covid. The list has to be submitted by May 15 to the director (women welfare) and the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights to facilitate immediate assistance to them, said a senior government official.
In a similar exercise, the director of the department of women and child development Manoj Rai has asked officials to get details of orphaned children from Covid hospitals in the state. The record will be given to child welfare committees.
"We have decided to lend a helping hand to the affected children by providing them financial assistance, even if there are more than two in one family," Rai said.
Another child rights activist Ajit Kushwaha said there were instances of children losing their parents to the deadly virus, making them vulnerable to human traffickers. "A similar thing happened during the Nepal earthquake when a large number of such gangs became active. I think strict government intervention is required to keep such gangs at bay,” Kushwaha said.
Another child rights activist, Sumar Rawat, too said there was a dire need of a system to keep a check on illegal adoptions. She said the government should form dedicated committees to keep an eye on such activities or assign the task to the existing ‘nigrani samitis’.
While a clear and present threat of child trafficking and illegal adoption rackets coming into play during the pandemic exists, several genuine tragedies have come to the attention of child rights activists, who have been helping them out.
For instance, a 16-year-old girl in Lucknow’s Alambagh lost her parents, younger brother and grandmother in 10 days between April 22 and May 2 to the pandemic, while her elder brother was yet to recover from Covid infection, activist Sangeeta Sharma points out. The girl was left abandoned after the tragedy and was later shifted to her relative’s place, she added.
In another case, three infants were found in the past one week after being abandoned by two families in Hardoi and Barabanki. The two infants in Hardoi were handed over to Child Line. They have been kept at Bal Grih on Prag Narain road. The other infant was admitted to the district hospital. The child was found in the bushes on a roadside in Barabanki and was badly injured after apparently being attacked by stray animals.