The Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani tweeted that at least 577 children in the country have lost both their parents from April 1, 2021, to May 25, 2021, to the deadly Coronavirus, which the experts considered an underestimate since the government was still collating the data.
In 2019, the United Nation's Children Fund (UNICEF) had reported that India was home to more than 29.6 million, and the COVID-19 has invariably increased the number. During the national and several state lockdowns, social media was rife with adoption requests of children who have lost their parents.
Statistics Related To Abandoned Children
The data journalism publication Indiaspend reported that only 3.9 per cent of the total 9,346 children who were abandoned or lost their parents due to COVID-19 could be traced in shelter homes, orphanages or special adoption agencies. Rest all were either in the care of a guardian or a surviving parent. The adoption law in India strictly mandates only those parents to sign up for adoption who are looking forward to raising the child, and not a way of charity. Every state in the country has child protection and welfare commissions that appoint regulatory officers to districts.
Even though there exists a national portal for parents looking forward to adopting children, and after several checks, matches are made, the adoption rate in the country is not encouraging. Only 3,350 children were adopted in the year ending in March 2020, while thousands of them were orphaned. In a similar comparison, more than 66,000 children were adopted by families in the United States.
Post the pandemic; the term 'COVID Orphans' was doing rounds, taking attention to the fact that several children go unnoticed after losing their parents to deadly diseases like HIV-AIDS. On May 28, 2021, the Supreme Court had asked the administrations in all the states and union territories to upload the data about children who have been orphaned post-March 2020, either because of COVID-19 or otherwise. On May 31, the National Commission of Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) submitted a report to the Court mentioning that 7,464 children lost one of their parents to COVID, and 1,742 children lost both their parents and 140 children were abandoned between April 2020 and May 29, 2021.
Children who lose their parents are at a higher risk of facing emotional and mental issues. They are vulnerable to depression, anxiety and somatic complaints that can eventually lead to a reduced schooling and lesser academic success. Apart from inadequate child care and deteriorating economic conditions of the family, parental death can push the child to poor mental health, changes in behaviour, and sleep disturbances.
The child is more vulnerable to falling prey to substance use and child trafficking. While several people in India put up children's pictures on social media platforms to request adoption, the downside is that it pushes children at a higher risk of trafficking since their details are out in the open.
Government's Strategy To Help Children
Under the PM CARES for children, the Central Government empowered children orphaned due to COVID-19. The children were entitled to a monthly stipend once they turned 18 and ₹10 lakh once they turned 23 years old. These children would get free education and be assisted with an education loan, and the PM CARES fund would pay the interest amount. All of them would be provided with health insurance worth ₹5 lakh, and the fund would be the payee of the premium to the insurance agencies. The press release quoted the Prime Minister's statement, "It is our duty, as a society, to care for our children and instil hope for a bright future."
While emphasizing further, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned that children represent the country's future and the country would do everything to protect them and raise them as strong citizens for a brighter future.
What Can We Do To Solve This?
India has strict adoption laws that make it for several people to back out of the legal procedure. In times like the pandemic, a little ease in the procedure would push people to come forward and take responsibility for abandoned or orphaned children. In no way, the follow-up steps should be relaxed. Post-adoption regulatory checks would prevent children from falling into the trap of trafficking.
The rising population is a concern in the country, and we are all set to take over China, the most populous country in the next few decades. In such a situation, incentivizing people who prefer to adopt children might prove a positive approach towards motivating people to come forward and shoulder the responsibilities of abandoned and orphaned children.
Even though India's adoption policies are strict and mandate proper checks before letting the prospective parents go with the child, one cannot deny that the policies are discriminative. India houses millions of people belonging to the LGBTQ; however, the adoption policies find them 'ineligible' for raising a family. India decriminalized same-sex relationships; however, same-sex marriages in the country are still not accepted legally. A single person belonging to the LGBTQ category is eligible of adopting a child; however, a same-sex couple cannot bear a family since they would not be able to provide a 'healthy' environment to the child.
While India faces a rising concern of orphans, and their condition seems abysmal, we tend to stick to our rigid beliefs. A little progress on legal and social ends would benefit children and eventually lead to a brighter future.