Ensure studies of kids orphaned due to Covid are not hindered: SC
The Supreme Court on Thursday directed all states and Union territories to ensure that the education of children orphaned on account of the Covid-19 pandemic continue without disruption -- including in private schools, at least during the ongoing academic year.
A bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose suggested that this objective can be achieved by asking schools to waive fees or the state bearing half the expenses to reduce the burden on the affected children. The Court asked the states to come out with a policy in this regard in four weeks after having discussion with the private schools.
“State governments are directed to act in cohesion with Child Welfare Committees and District Education Officers in having dialogue with private schools in which children in need are studying and see that their education for this year is not disrupted. This can be done by asking the schools to waive fees or the state bearing burden of part of fees,” the bench said.
While the court was initially dictating the order for Andhra Pradesh in a suo motu case taken up to deal with the issue of such children, it later made it applicable to all states and Union territories.
The court’s observation came on a day when the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) said at least 100,000 children lost one or both parents during the first and second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In an affidavit filed through advocate Swarupama Chaturvedi, the commission, which has been running a dedicated website called Bal Swaraj for collecting such data, said that 101,032 children were abandoned, became orphans or lost one of their parents due to Covid-19 or other reasons between April 1, 2020 and August 23, 2021.
Of this, the commission added, there were 8,161 orphans, 396 children were abandoned and 92,475 lost one of their parents. The affidavit specified that the deaths were caused by a variety of reasons, including Covid-19.
“The data of children uploaded on the Bal Swaraj portal by the states/UTs comprises both categories of children, wherein the child has lost both or either of the parent to Covid-19 disease or otherwise from April 2020 onwards,” the affidavit read.
The affidavit was submitted in response to another suo motu petition being heard by the top court for identification and rehabilitation of children who lost either or both their parents during the pandemic. The court is being assisted by amicus curiae (friend of Court) advocate Gaurav Agrawal in this case.
While going through the report of the amicus curiae for each state, the bench said, “Our main concern is children in distress are taken care of and their education in private schools continues unhindered at least for this academic year.”
In respect of around 2600 children registered under the PM CARES for Children scheme launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in May this year, the court allowed the concerned states to request the Centre for releasing funds to meet the payment of fees of children studying in private schools for this academic year.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati appearing for Centre submitted that PM CARES for Children scheme has provision for providing fees of children orphaned due to COVID-19 at the private schools, besides supporting them with expenses for uniform and books. Bhati said that this benefit is extended only to orphans due to COVID-19 and will not include those abandoned or who still have a surviving parent. Further, the Centre pointed out that the benefit can accrue only when district magistrates approve the beneficiaries. Out of 2600 children, only 418 have been approved till date.
This is the third affidavit filed by the NCPCR in the matter. In an earlier affidavit providing information received from states up to July 23, the commission presented a figure of 6,855 orphans, 68,218 children who lost one parent, and 247 abandoned children.
In its last hearing on July 27, the court pulled up the West Bengal government over the state’s low figure on the number of children orphaned during the pandemic.
The court said it was not prepared to believe that in a big state like West Bengal, only 27 children lost both parents due to Covid-19 since April 1, 2020, and called for a response by the secretary of the Women and Child Welfare department to give the correct particulars.
The latest affidavit of NCPCR showed that the state had registered 308 orphans and 6,270 children who lost either of their parents, besides two children found abandoned from April 2020 till August 23.
Maharashtra is the only state in the country which has recorded a five digit figure of children affected during the reporting period with 470 children orphaned and 14,925 children who lost either of their parents, taking the total number of affected children to 15,401 (including six abandoned children).