Orphans of COVID-19, will these children find care? – The New Indian Express
Express news service
BHUBANEWAR: In Mainabad, a small village under the Simulia block of Balasore, Soumya Ranjan, 10, and her sister Abhilipsa, 18 months, lost their father Ramesh Pradhan on May 15.
“He worked in a garment factory in Maharashtra and returned in March. In the second week of May, he complained of a fever and underwent a Covid test on May 13. He was found positive and local health workers asked him to stay isolated in a small room next to our house. He died two days later, ”said Ramesh’s wife, Basanti.
To date, neither the bloc nor district officials have contacted them, the family said. The only help Basanti has received so far are her family’s food grains and pulses. The children have not been presented to the Child Protection Committee (CWC) as Ramesh’s death from Covid has yet to be reported by the local village employee.
According to the National Commission for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (NCPCR), the number of children orphaned by Covid in the country between April 1 and May 31 stands at 9,346 of which 1,000 children have lost their two parents.
In Odisha government’s Department of Women’s and Children’s Development (WCD) records, 13 of these children – who lost both parents – were identified from April 1 to May 31.
Earlier this week, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik ordered the early identification of widows and orphans due to Covid victims and called on authorities to sanction the Madhu Babu Pension Yojana (MBPY) pension within 15 next days.
An early pension penalty of three months for all beneficiaries of social security will be paid to beneficiaries in cash in their villages, according to the decrees of the CM.
The first incident of Covid orphans was reported in Rayagada where two sisters lost both parents – migrant workers – to Covid within 10 days in May.
The state government has directed all District Child Protection Officers (DCPOs) to track these children and immediately present them to the CWC for institutional support or permission to stay. in foster care for their loved ones.
WCD Department Co-Secretary Geetarani Pattanayak, a nodal agent for identifying Covid orphans, said that in addition to publicizing the helplines – 1098, 1800-345-4494 and 104 – workers at the village level like Anganwadi, ASHA, Sarpanch workers were tasked with identifying these children and submitting their social investigation reports to the department every Thursday.
Child rights activists believe the current number is too low to be true given the deaths from Covid, many of which go unreported.
In fact, the identification of Covid orphans did not begin until May after the NCPCR requested a report from the Odisha government.
Although the government asked its field staff on May 27 to also identify children who have lost one parent (including a salaried parent) to Covid, work on this began last week. and 10 children have been identified so far.
There are many loopholes in the tracking system, the biggest hurdle being that not all deaths are identified as Covid deaths.
Jyoti Prakash Brahma, a child rights activist, said the Covid death toll is largely suppressed at the district level, which is why the true picture of orphaned children is not emerging.
Another key issue is that a number of deaths are attributed to co-morbidities and not attributed to a Covid tag. What happens to children in such cases?
“Additionally, there is very little awareness of Covid testing in rural areas even today. We have encountered several incidents where a parent died of a fever and children subsequently tested positive for Covid. In such cases, government assistance can no longer be given to children as Covid deaths have not been confirmed, ”he said, adding that unless DCPOs engage directly with village communities and are not dependent on village-level workers, many Covid orphans will stay away. government radar.
Ghasiram Panda of ActionAid India supports the point of view. Identifying Covid deaths is a difficult task today as testing in rural areas is still weak according to government statistics, he said.
“To make matters worse, tracking of children who have lost a parent has not yet started in all districts,” he said.
During the first wave, no Covid orphan was identified. There were two issues that were observed last year after the outbreak.
The number of child marriages (over 700 cases between March and August 2019) and child labor have increased.
Also this year, given the economic situation of the people, similar problems can arise if the orphans are not recognized at the earliest.
“Although the government leaves most children in foster care, there has been no counseling or capacity building for those close to them or administrative follow-up on how a child is treated in their extended family. This is where the problems start, ”said Ratnakar Sahoo of the NGO Ashayen who was among the activists who called on the NCPCR to intervene in the issue of Covid orphans after the second wave hit.
According to the State Commission for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (OSCPCR), 33,000 orphans were identified in the state during a campaign carried out before March last year.
Of these, around 8,700 are housed in 238 childcare institutions (CCIs) and the government spends Rs 2,160 on each of these children each month.
The others are in foster care and some are adopted.
Based on social status, if a child remains in foster care, he / she is offered Rs 2,000 per month for a period of three years in accordance with the provisions of the sponsorship program under the Justice Act for minors (care and protection of children), 2015.
Currently, only 1,500 orphans benefit from this assistance.
According to the state government, Covid orphans would also get Rs 2,000 each month under the sponsorship program, financial aid of Rs 500 per month under the MBPY and free education.
Children and their relatives (if they choose to stay with them) will be linked to social security schemes. The Center also announced the PM-Cares for Children program for them.
“PM-Cares has made good arrangements, but it is doubtful how many of these will reach the children unless all orphans are identified. Compared to states like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and even Chhattisgarh, Odisha’s aid in the form of Rs 500 MBPY pension and selective sponsorship benefits is less ” , said Panda.
WCD Nodal Officer Pattanayak said every step was taken to ensure that no child was left behind.
“We will also identify those who lost their parents in the first wave and extend special Covid benefits to them,” she said.
According to UNICEF guidelines, Pattanayak said, the emphasis is on enabling these children to grow up in a family environment rather than under institutional protection.
Depending on the child’s preference, they are either placed in the family care of a guardian or transferred to CCIs and for legal adoption in accordance with the guidelines of the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA).
Of the 8,700 orphans placed in institutions in Odisha, 222 children – 104 boys and 118 girls – were adopted in the country in 2019-2020.
The number was 31 – 13 men and 18 women – in cases of intercountry adoption, according to CARA reports.