Updated: May 30, 2021 1:26:48 pm
In a span of two days, a 17-year-old Class 12 student lost both his parents to Covid-19 in Jamtara district of Jharkhand. In Gumla district, a 17-year-old, a Class 5 dropout, is now the head of the family to three younger siblings, after their mother succumbed to the virus. In Ranchi’s Bero block, a 14-year-old has been fighting nightmares since his mother, his only surviving parent, died.
These are among the children identified officially as Covid-19 orphans in a drive launched by the Hemant Soren government to list families of those who have lost members to the virus, through death records as well as a door-to-door survey. With trafficking common in many parts of Jharkhand, Chief Minister Soren has emphasised that the Covid crisis should not leave children open to any form of exploitation.
For now, the children are battling grief, and struggling to understand this sudden turn in their lives.
The 17-year-old tribal in Chundri Nawatoli village of Gumla lost her mother on May 14. “I was away at the brick kiln factory in Bihar where I work as a daily wager,” she says. The teenager was forced to take up work after her father died a few years ago. Her mother “complained of chest pain and breathlessness”, she says, and nobody knew what to do. “My three sisters and brothers are young.”
When their mother got worse, a younger brother finally approached a neighbour, who informed the village health worker at 3 am one night. By the time their mother was taken to a hospital 12 km away, she was dead.
Their grandfather, 80, sits outside their kuchcha house as the younger children run around, playing with hens.
The District Child Protection Officer (DCPO) and Chief Welfare Committee (CWC) were informed about the family by an NGO which runs a child helpline. Gumla DCPO Ved Prakash said the children will be supported via a scholarship scheme. “The eldest girl and the grandfather will stay together, and the remaining three will be sent to a children’s home as there is no one else to take care of them,” he said, adding that block-level officers also gave the family some money to tide over.
“We are identifying all vulnerable children in the district,” Prakash said, giving the example of a four-year-old who is under state’s protection after her mother died. “We will give an advertisement in newspapers to see if someone can adopt her.”
While the Gumla family owns a small piece of land, there is no one to till it. They depend on the ration they receive. The 17-year-old doesn’t think she will go back to the factory now. “Reh lenge yahan daadu ke saath. Unko bhi to dekhna hai (I will stay with grandfather. I need to look after him too),” she says.
Under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, children identified to be in need of care and protection and who have lost “family support or are without any ostensible means of subsistence” need to be produced before CWCs, which decide whether the child can be kept with the extended family, with support, or at State-run centres.
Ranchi CWC Chairperson Rupa Verma said 12 children who had lost their only parent to Covid-19 had been produced virtually before them. “All the formalities are being followed to link them with Integrated Child Protection Schemes,” she said.
The State Resource Centre for Children run by NGO Bal Kalyan Sangh in Jharkhand has also sent rations to their homes.
The Nodal Department, Women and Child Development, said they are compiling the names of children who need care through hospitals and surveys and then uploading the data. “It is a long drawn process,” said WCD Principal Secretary Avinash Kumar.
The 14-year-old in Bero lost his father in 2019, and mother on May 16. “Dard ho raha tha, fever tha aur saans lene mein bhi dikkat tha (She was in pain, had fever, and had difficulty breathing). I informed people, but I think it got late,” he says. The 14-year-old’s WhatsApp profile has a crying emoticon next to the words “Mummy, Daddy”.
His elder cousin says the family will need help to support him.
The Jamtara 17-year-old lost both his parents within a space of a few days — his father on April 29, and mother on May 1. The cause of death for both is recorded as cardio-respiratory failure.
An ICSE Board Class 10 ‘district topper’, the 17-year-old is battling the grief while waiting for a word on his Class 12 exams. “We had moved to the town area for my studies. My parents had made a lot of sacrifices,” he says, managing to keep his composure.
His father started showing Covid symptoms around April 17, he says. “He was down with fever. My mother cried a lot knowing that something bad was going to happen. A few days later she too fell ill.”
Jamtara Deputy Commissioner Faiz Ahmed Mumtaz said the administration will help the teenager with his education.
The 17-year-old hopes the government will keep that promise. “I want to do engineering and my parents wanted me to get into IIT. Now that they are gone, I will work even harder to crack the entrance. I hope I can get some financial support so I can study.”
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