Apr 8, 2022

The welfare of children orphaned during the Covid-19 pandemic

Guest Post by Pallavi Mohan

In April 2020, on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court of India decided to look into the situation of children living in Child Care Institutions, children who lived on the streets and those children who were in conflict with the law. However, in May 2021, the Court found out that many children lost one or both their parents because of the deadly Delta variant wave. So, it also started hearing cases about the welfare of children orphaned during the Covid-19 pandemic.

What directions did the Supreme Court issue on identifying children orphaned by the Covid-19 pandemic?

The district authorities of each state, with the help of police authorities, NGOs, health officials, Panchayati Raj Institutions, Anganwadi workers, Asha workers etc were responsible for identifying the affected children. These authorities then had to upload the information of all children who became orphans after March 2020—because of losing their parents to Covid-19 or otherwise—on the portal of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights “Bal Swaraj”. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) is the national-level body created under the Commission for Protection of Child Rights Act 2005, which looks at the rights and welfare of children in India.

After the identification of the children, what were the next steps to be taken for their welfare?

The Supreme Court decided that the District Child Protection Officer (DCPO) should directly contact the affected child and its guardian on receiving news of the death of the parent/parents. The DCPO should assess the guardians on their suitability and willingness to take care of the child.

If the DCPO found the guardian suitable, it could make sure that there was enough money for the basic needs of the affected child, i.e. ration, food, medicine, clothing, etc. The DCPO should also ensure that all financial help promised in schemes announced by the Central Government and the State Governments/Union Territories reached the affected children with no delay. The DCPO should remain in constant touch and conduct a regular follow-up on the child once a month.

However, if the DCPO found the guardian unsuitable, then they should produce the affected child before a Child Welfare Committee (CWC) immediately. A Child Welfare Committee is created in each district under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015 to discharge duties of care and protection of the child as provided in the Act. The CWC should conduct an enquiry and decide within 4 months whether the child should remain with the guardian or stay at a children’s home or shelter until suitable rehabilitation was found. Pending the enquiry, CWC should ensure that it provides for all the essential needs of the child and assist the child in getting access to Government’s financial schemes.

What did the Supreme Court say about the financial assets and liabilities of children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Recently, the Supreme Court has directed the District authorities to find out whether there is any loan or financial liability on the children and any threat to the properties belonging to the deceased parents of the children. The District Child Protection Officers and the District Magistrates of all States, with the help of the District Legal Services Authorities, have to ensure that the properties of the deceased parents are protected and such children are not deprived of these properties because of their parents’ debt. All details of assets and liabilities, i.e., properties, insurance, loans, etc. of children who have lost either, or both parents have to be uploaded on the Bal Swaraj portal.