Updated: July 11, 2021 7:15:02 pm
Maharashtra Women and Child Development Minister Yashomati Thakur tells The Indian Express about the state government’s plans for children who lost their parents to the Covid-19 pandemic, the challenges in the process and the long-term solutions.
How did the idea to support children who lost their parents come about?
Yashomati Thakur: In the first wave of the pandemic, we didn’t see that many cases but during the second wave, we kept getting reports about people circulating messages that children were up for adoption because their parents had passed away. People are not aware of adoption laws and we realised it was time we should do something.
Around the same time, my cousin and her husband died. She did not inform us that she was not well and her entire family was infected. Her death was very shocking for me. We then made a task force and the police, Gram Vikas and the revenue system helped track these children.
We made the collector the chairman of the committee and asked them to get us the statistics. To date, more than 400 children have lost both their parents to the virus. There would be more. We are trying our best to not leave out a single child. Every child has a different story, a difficult situation.
Most cases are of children who lost a single parent. Is the existing financial aid enough?
Yashomati Thakur: We have proposed to increase the financial aid under Bal Sangopan Yojana (for children who lost a single parent) from Rs 1,125 to Rs 2,500 per month. The government is yet to make a decision on it. I have been a single parent and there were times when I did not have any money in my pocket. So, I know how difficult it is.
The aid of Rs 5 lakh is for only orphan children. I have said that children who lost a single parent have to be given equal importance as children who lost both parents. We cannot give Rs 5 lakh to all, but the government must at least increase the amount under the Bal Sangopan Yojana. There are a lot of schemes for widows and all of those will be implemented.
While Maharashtra is training 50 counsellors, they are still inadequate for thousands of children tracked, so far, who lost their parents.
Yashomati Thakur: See, we can’t keep declaring and not implement. We can only announce what is doable. We need more people. We have associated with the Psychiatric Association of India to provide counsellors. We have created WhatsApp groups for this and are personally looking into it. There is a need to coordinate between the WCD, Education and Public Health departments on this because it is also their responsibility. Mental health is one of the most important subjects that we have to look into. Our department is taking efforts for children.
One issue the ground staff reports is a lack of manpower. There are huge vacancies in the WCD department.
Yashomati Thakur: If the government gives permission, we will recruit. The last government did not give permission for recruitment. The first thing I did when I took charge was to employ 50,000 people. There are more to come, but there are norms that none of us can break unless the CM decides to give us free hand and allows us to recruit. Having said that the existing staff has to work hard to streamline the scheme for children. We are also tying up with NGOs to help us with these children.
Private NGOs look for profit in public-private partnerships.
These NGOs are ready to work pro-bono. I wanted to give laptops and mobile phones to children who were orphaned due to the pandemic but economic situation does not allow that from government funds. If there are NGOs that are willing to provide this support and aid education of these children, we are ready to partner. There is an MoU signed and we follow up closely. The NGO Project Mumbai has said they will pay tuition fees for three years for Covid orphans.
There are children who lost parents to suspected Covid but there is no RT-PCR report. Are they eligible for government aid?
Yashomati Thakur: Yes, absolutely. We have instructed our staff to also record them and provide them aid.
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