Hyderabad: One of the most heartbreaking ramifications of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the innumerable stories of children losing both their parents to the disease. While helplines and NGOs are flooded with calls for help for such children, there is also a rise in social media posts asking for people to help children in such situations. However, the most concerning among these requests are the ones sharing details of children and putting them up for adoption.
Some tweets also spread false information about a three-day-old baby girl and a six-month-old baby being up for adoption with the contact number of an activist working with victims of domestic violence, without her knowledge.
Several activists have raised an alarm about the potential harm that could arise from such posts like abuse, trafficking or harvesting of organs. It should also be noted that this process of adoption without involving the concerned authorities is illegal.
Anurag Kundu, chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) has written to The Commissioner of Police, Delhi to bring their attention to such social media posts. “As the head of the statutory authority meant to protect the rights of the children, I am concerned about the future of the children who have lost their parents and ensuring that they don’t fall prey to trafficking is the minimum we can do,” he said in the letter.
He also noted that there have been updates to these posts that the children have adopted and requested an inquiry into such cases.
The biggest concern among many is how to help such children legally. The first thing one should do is to inform Childline India by dialing 1098. Their social workers will guide you through the procedure of helping these children. One can also reach out to the local police, Child Welfare Committees (CWC), District Child Protection Committees or a recognized child-care institution. Taking charge of abandoned or orphaned children without informing any of the above authorities is a punishable offence under the Juvenile Justice Act (2015) and could result in six months of imprisonment or a penalty of ten thousand rupees.
The National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has requested all the states and union territories to inform the child rights authorities about the children who have lost both the parents due to COVID-19, reported the PTI.
The chairperson of NCPCR Priyank Kanoongo in his letter to the states and UTs said, “In such a sad situation of surge in COVID-19 cases in the country there are situations arising where the child has lost both its parents or is found to be abandoned. It may be noted that the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 provides for the procedure to be followed for children who have lost their family support and have become children in need of care and protection.”
“The procedure under the JJ Act, 2015 ensures that children are provided all the minimum standards of care and their rights are upheld and protected. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that these children who have lost their family support must be produced before the child protection authorities of the district, and information about these children must be shared with the authorities,” he added.
NCPCR and the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development have announced that a helpline (1800 121 2830) has been set up for the purpose of counseling and assistance for children in need.
Some states have set up their own special help desks for the purpose. Telangana state’s ministry of Women Development and Child welfare has directed people to call 040 23733665 to seek assistance for children who have lost their parents or guardians and for children residing in childcare institutions.
Any individual who wants to adopt children in need must contact the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) (Link http://cara.nic.in/ ) which is under the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development. Every state has a State Adoption Resource Agency that can also help you in the procedure (http://cara.nic.in/Stakeholders/state-adoption-resource-agency.html ).
Your local Special Adoption Agencies and CWCs can be of help as well. It is important to recognize that the family and extended family of the child will be prioritized in the process and only if no such people come forward do the authorities take further steps.
Concerned activists on Twitter have come together to collate resources that could be used by people to get help for abandoned or orphaned children. The following spreadsheet consists of contact numbers of various authorities working in child welfare and protection.
Natasha Ramarathnam, CEO of Hyderabad-based NGO Nirmaan Organization said, “While we are mindful of the tragedy, we should take care that we follow due processes. The Women and Child Department should be informed of all cases of children who have been orphaned or semi-orphaned due to COVID. They will conduct due evaluation and either let the child stay with her extended family, or if the family is not able to take care of her, will place her in a foster home and ensure adoption.”
Adoption processes are usually strict in order to safeguard children from any potential harm. There have also been many cases of parents wanting to return children. “At a time like this, we tend to be emotional and let the heart lead the decisions that we take. However, the emotional and physical safety of the child is paramount and can be best ensured by following due processes,” added Natasha.