The ferocity of the pandemic has killed parents of young children around the country. And out of nearly 10, 386 children who lost their parents – according to data from the Ministry of Women and Child Development in February 2022 – as many as 718 are from , which has the second highest number of vulnerable children in India after Odisha and among the top five states with the highest number of children orphaned during Covid-19.
Now, a survey titled ‘Vulnerable Children of Maharashtra’ by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, an independent think tank – that examined governance responses to children orphaned in the state and interviewed authorities and institutions under the JJ Act to understand the implementation of support measures – has found that although the government was quick to track and offer financial assistance to orphans, just a blanket set of schemes were not enough. There were several bottlenecks, especially in the process of locating orphaned children and in the on-ground implementation of support measures.
One of the key issues that hindered government intervention, according to the study was the requirement of a Covid-19 death certificate to avail of schemes released for orphans during the pandemic. Nearly half the District Child Protection Units (DCPU) deployed by the government in each district to identify and rehabilitate mentioned difficulties in procuring these documents for orphans. “While task force members urged healthcare centers to reissue appropriate certificates, where the suspected cause of death was marked as heart failure or some other disease instead of coronavirus there were many cases where the parents who died had not availed any medical services and the families were unable to procure appropriate documentation with coronavirus as the cause of death,” said Sakshi Pawar, a research fellow at Vidhi Maharashtra and co-author of the report.
The study found that for every child who lost their mother, three children lost their father to Covid in Maharashtra. Around 22,760 children had lost their fathers and 2,678 children lost their mothers. While the loss of either parent meant a significant impact on a child, a greater portion of children losing their father indicated the loss of the main breadwinner for the family. “The provisions available to children who have lost one parent are meager in comparison to the assistance for education, health insurance and a fixed deposit of Rs 15 lakh provided to children orphaned by Covid,” read the report, calling the difference “stark” and “in contradiction” with the spirit of the JJ Act.
While the JJ Act prioritises family-based care over institutional care and more children were sent to relatives and only 4% of children orphaned by Covid were placed in CCIs, such a push may not be in the best interest of a child, stressed Vidhi’s study, given the lack of adequate follow-ups on these children by DCPUs.
“This signifies an unnatural push to place children with their relatives which may not always be in the best interest of the child,” stressed Pawar. “It’s important to bolster both options,” she added following questions about the monitoring mechanisms used during the pandemic which saw Child Welfare Committees raise a flag on DCPUs not conducting inquiries on children’s background. DCPUs, on the other hand, complained of limited staffing, funding, and training.
To address this, the ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) in Maharashtra collaborated with the NGO Arpan, which works on child sexual abuse and personal safety, to provide grief counselling to children in Thane and Mumbai who had lost their parents to Covid. The aim was to help them deal with loss, work through the pain and adjust to life without a parent. “We worked with 500 children and 20 adults who were family members taking care of the children but were struggling to navigate the loss. The counsellors used different expressive arts such as drawing, storytelling, and games to help heal their grief.
“Children grieve differently and painting a picture or writing a letter to their deceased parent about their dreams or a communication that remained unanswered turned out to be cathartic,” said Namrata Joshi, who heads healing services at Arpan.
Source : TimesOfIndia