Orphaned Children in India – Explained, Pointwise

Introduction

According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, 577 children across the country have been orphaned since April by the second wave of the pandemic. Experts suggest this is due to the higher mortality rate of the young adults between 30 and 40 age groups. Some children have been totally left alone as their entire immediate family succumbed to the virus. This increased the number of orphaned children in India, where the number was already high.

According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), India has 29.6 million orphaned and abandoned children since 2018. This is more than the population of Sri Lanka. Only a fraction of these children is ending with a family due to low adoption rates in India.

Recently Prime Minister has announced a special PM-CARES for Children scheme. The scheme includes a comprehensive financial aid package for children orphaned due to the pandemic. Apart from the scheme, the government also established a dedicated child helpline number 1098 for the emergency messages about children who have lost their families Covid-19. Though these steps are aimed at providing relief to orphaned children, these steps are not sufficient.

About the PM-CARES for Children scheme

The PM-CARES for Children Scheme will support children who have lost both parents or surviving parents or legal guardian/adoptive parents due to Covid-19. The major features of this scheme are,

  • Fixed Deposit in the name of the child: PM CARES will create a corpus of Rs 10 lakh for each child when s/he reaches 18 years of age.
    • This corpus will be used to give monthly financial support from 18 years of age for the next five years.
    • On reaching the age of 23 years, he or she will get the corpus amount as one lump sum for personal and professional use.
  • Provisions for School Education: The scheme contains provisions for the education of orphaned children under 18 years.
  • Support for Higher Education: The child will be assisted in obtaining an education loan for Higher Education in India as per the existing Education Loan norms. The interest on this loan will be paid by the PM CARES.
  • Health Insurance
    • All children will be enrolled as a beneficiary under Ayushman Bharat Scheme (PM-JAY) with a health insurance cover of Rs. 5 lakhs.
    • The premium amount for these children till the age of 18 years will be paid by PM CARES.
Challenges faced by children orphaned during the pandemic
  1. Increased Child Abuse:  Orphaned children faced more abuse during the pandemic. The amount of SOS calls received to the majority of the helpline numbers witness the increase in child abuse among orphaned children.
  2. High increase in the situation of temporary orphan state: In many cases, a situation arises where one parent has succumbed to the virus and the other remains hospitalized. This resulted in a temporarily orphaned child of a single mother/father till the recovery of hospitalized parents.
  3. Impact of the emotional state of children: There are children, who saw their parents die in front of their own eyes. Delicate counseling is the need of the hour for them. Else, these traumatic events will resurface in their mind and impact the psychological and mental well-being of children.
  4. No available data: Some children whose parents had both died, and now in the care of their aged grandparents. The situation of such children is in a much worse state. Neither the government nor any NGOs have complete data on such orphaned children.
Challenges in providing relief to orphaned children in India
  1. The low number of Child Care Institutions: According to a study, only 0.5% of orphaned children reach orphanages. One in five districts in the country does not have even a single orphanage home. This results in numerous children reach the road and commit petty crimes for their survival.
  2. No separate legislation: In India, Orphans and vulnerable children do not have separate legislation. Instead, they are part of the Juvenile Justice Act. But the primary focus of the Act is to provide punishments to children under 18 Years.
  3. Low adoption rates: Ironically millions of children without parents and there is a rise in the number of infertile couples. But still, the adoption rate is not improved in India. According to the Central Adoption Resource Authority’s (CARA) adoption statistics, there were only 3,276 in-country adoptions in 2017-2018. This is a dismal figure when compared to the number of orphaned children in India. This is due to reasons such as,
    • Adoption is seen as a last resort for an infertile couple.
    • A low number of registered Child Care Institutions(CCI). (Only registered CCI’s can take part in adoption)
    • Patriarchal mindset of Indian society, etc.
Suggestions to improve the life of orphaned children in India
To improve the situation of children orphaned during the pandemic
  1. Relaxation of adoption norms for children orphaned during a pandemic: Instead of demanding institutional stay by the government, it is better for the child to be in kinship care with extended family. The Child Welfare Committee has to consider this option and allow the child to stay within kinship if s/he wishes. The committee can assess the option of a child from time to time to decide the situation.
  2. Creation of Separate Covid-19 isolation centers: The government has to create separate isolation centers with trained child protection staff to take care of children. In that, the government can permit the parent to stay with the young child during distress times.
  3. Role of Grief and trauma counsellors: The government can select high school teachers, nurses, mental health counsellors, and Anganwadi supervisors as a counsellor and train them at district level for improving the physiological well-being of children orphaned during the pandemic.
To improve the life of Orphaned children in India
  1. Creation of a database on orphaned Children: The government has to ensure a proper census or survey of orphans. The government also needs to update them regularly. This will help the government to frame policies and programmes specific to orphaned children.
  2. Creating adequate Child Care Institutions(CCIs): The government has to ensure at least one CCIs in every district. This will ensure each child without effective guardians reaching a Government facility.
  3. Enacting separate legislation: The government has to enact separate legislation for orphaned children. The legislation has to include few important things such as,
    • Adequate legal safeguard for orphaned children’s school and higher education,
    • Provisions for fostering care and adoption of children
    • Heavy punishment for abusing an orphaned child
    • If possible, the government can provide reservation in educational institutions and jobs for orphaned children
    • Provisions for social security, child survivor benefits, etc.
  4. Taking adequate steps to improve adoption: The only lasting solution to the orphaned children situation is improving the adoption rate in India. The government has to take massive awareness campaigns to improve the situation.
Conclusion

India needs a short, medium, and long-term measures to ensure the safety of orphaned children. Third wave of Covid-19 is a possibility. This is why, India must ensure to formulate adequate guidelines for addressing the situation of orphaned children. Further, Indian society also needs to think of adoption from the point of the welfare of the child and not from the point of the parent like the child should have genes, blood, and lineage.

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