The Supreme Court Thursday took note of 35 children testing positive for COVID-19 in a government-run shelter home in Tamil Nadu and sought a status report from the state government including steps taken to protect other children at the facility.
A bench of justices L Nageswara Rao, Krishna Murari and S Ravindra Bhat also sought status report from different state governments on steps taken to protect children in shelter homes amid the pandemic, and also compliance of its April 3 order in this regard.
The bench said it appears that 35 out of 57 children in a Protection Home at Royapuram, Chennai have been infected with COVID-19 and are hospitalised, and the remaining children have been shifted to an adjacent building.
“We direct the Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Department, State of Tamil Nadu and secretary to Social Welfare Department to submit a report giving details of the reasons for the spread of COVID-19 in the said Protection Home. The status of the health of children in conflict with law in various protection homes in the State of Tamil Nadu shall be given in the report which shall be submitted by June 15, 2020,” the bench said.
It said a detailed order was passed by the Court on April 3 dealing with all issues pertaining to children in conflict with law and several directions were given to the State Governments for taking preventive measures to protect children from the spread of COVID-19.
The top court said that Juvenile Justice Committees of high courts will circulate a questionnaire of the court among state governments seeking information in relation to the care and protection of children in conflict with law and submit their feedback before June 30.
The top court annexed the questionnaire with the order, saying the format has been developed with the purpose of monitoring the situation of children in institutions and in need of care and protection in Covid-19 situation based on April 3 order.
The bench said that this format would help the court to review the challenges faced by the authorities, child welfare committee, juvenile justice boards and district child protection units in holding virtual sessions, restoring children back to families as well in following up to the constraints of the lockdown and develop measures to deal with these.
On April 3, the top court had taken suo motu (on its own) cognizance of the condition of children in protection, juvenile and foster or kinship homes across the country amid the coronavirus outbreak and had issued directions to the state governments and various other authorities to protect them.
The top court had said as the COVID-19 pandemic is intensifying in the country, it is important that urgent measures are taken on a priority basis to prevent the spread of the virus in child care institutions (CCIs), children in need of care and protection (CNCP), children in contact with the law (CICWL) in observation homes and children in foster and kinship care.
It had said the juvenile justice boards (JJBs) should consider steps to release all children alleged to be in conflict with law residing in observation homes on bail, unless there are clear and valid reasons not to do so.
The top court had issued directions for the child welfare committees (CWCs) across the country and said they would monitor cases telephonically of children sent back to their families and coordinate through the district child protection committees and foster care and adoption committees for those in foster care.
It had directed the JJBs and children’s courts “to pro-actively consider whether a child or children should be kept in CCIs, considering the best interest, health and safety concerns”.
It had said video-conferences or online sittings can be held to prevent contact for speedy disposal of cases and the JJBs should ensure that counselling services are provided for all children in observation homes.
The top court had directed that all state governments shall circulate information to CCIs about how to deal with COVID-19 immediately, with instructions that awareness about it is spread in a timely and effective manner.
It had asked the states to stay prepared for a disaster or emergency situation that may arise and start developing a system to put in place trained volunteers who could step in to care for children.
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