SC seeks national tally of kids orphaned by Covid
The Supreme Court on Friday sought nationwide information on children orphaned or missing since the pandemic began in March last year and directed the states to provide all basic amenities to them at the earliest.
The vacation bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose directed authorities to immediately take charge of such children and ensure food, ration, clothing, and shelter is provided to them without awaiting further directions.
“The district authorities are directed to upload information of children who became orphans after March 2020 on the portal,” the bench said.
The direction came in suo motu proceedings whereby several orders have already been issued from time to time to protect children lodged in child care institutions during the pandemic.
Amicus curiae and Supreme Court lawyer Gaurav Agrawal, assisting the court in the matter, highlighted the emerging problem of children orphaned during the pandemic and the need to provide them food, ration, shelter and clothing. Some of these children may have lost guardians (having already lost parents) or the sole earning member in the family, making them vulnerable, he said. Agrawal suggested that children in such families were likely to have gone missing, trafficked (especially girls) or engaged in child labour.
Additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati informed the court that under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, there is a requirement to identify not just orphans but even those who are abandoned or seemingly abandoned. The law requires such children to be produced within 24 hours before the Child Welfare Committee. Considering the difficulty to physically present the children, the Centre has allowed virtual production of such children. ASG Bhati said that one child care institution in each district has to be earmarked for such children who are abandoned or in need of care and protection.
The bench said, “We want you (the Centre) to tell us the facts and figures of the havoc caused by the Covid-19 pandemic creating a situation of so many orphans. We also wish to know the steps taken by authorities under the various provisions of law.”
In addition to the information uploaded on the NCPCR website, the court directed the states to gather data from their respective child welfare departments on the number of children who are missing and steps taken to identify and rehabilitate them.
Agrawal also requested the court to pass directions to safeguard the property, assets or houses left by deceased parents/guardians that otherwise belonged to the children orphaned during the pandemic but was open to misuse by relatives or other family members. This aspect would be dealt with by the court in the next hearing.
The court said, “We are of the opinion that the Centre and states should get the latest information of children who have become orphans, whether it be due to the pandemic or otherwise, and steps taken for attending to their basic needs.” This information will be shared by Sunday evening with the amicus curiae, who was requested to prepare a chart showing nationwide data.
NCPCR counsel Swarupama Chaturvedi informed the court that all district child protection units have been given the password to access the portal “Bal Swaraj”. The child rights body sought permission to file an affidavit to bring these facts on record. The court directed the states to take this matter up on priority as it said, “I hope you (states) understand the agony of children on streets. Days are passing with children going hungry without food.”