Updated: May 27, 2021 7:44:30 am
The ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic have been felt on language as much as on health and the economy. A new coinage — Covid orphans — especially, is a painful reminder that beyond the death counts, the weight of loss will be borne by a generation of vulnerable children for many years to come. According to the ministry of women and child development, 577 children have been orphaned by the second wave of the pandemic in the last two months. That number might well go up. For both state and society, the well-being and protection of these children must be a foremost priority.
The pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to India’s children, with the closure of schools and a digital switch to education leaving a majority excluded. In the first wave, the most fragile children were at the risk of falling through the cracks, of being forced into marriage or child labour, as an investigation by this newspaper last year revealed. Therefore, the ministry of women and child development did the right thing in warning against social media messages that offered to adopt children who have lost their parents to Covid-19, given the risk of child traffickers preying on helpless children. Communities and governments must come together to ring-fence children from any such eventuality. The government has done well to entrust the task of tracking vulnerable children to child welfare committees. It is also important, as much as possible, to not uproot traumatised children and place them in institutional care, if kinship care is available. The Centre had also asked the ministry of health to ask patients admitted to hospitals to specify in whose custody they would wish to leave their children in case of death.
The state must also make provisions for supporting the education of orphaned children, as well as oversight of families that take them in to ensure that they have a hospitable environment to grow and flourish in. The government can consider making an exception to ease the adoption of children orphaned by Covid-19, without compromising on checks and balances. The adoption process in India can sometimes run into years. Finally, each child must also be provided mental health support, as unresolved trauma and grief of this scale increase the chances of producing a broken generation. Both state and society owe these most vulnerable children empathy, kindness and protection. They cannot afford to fail them.
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