As many as 30,071 children in India were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, including those who have been abandoned, orphaned or lost a parent, statistics by the country’s top child rights body show.
The National Commission for Child Rights (NCPCR) said not all the children necessarily lost their parents to Covid but they were impacted during the period 1 April, 2020 to 5 June, 2021.
Out of the total, 3,621 children were orphaned, 26,176 lost either parent and 274 have been abandoned, NCPCR said in its report to the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The child’s rights body sounded alarm over the future of children impacted during the Covid-19 pandemic and a spate of complaints about illegal adoption of orphans on social media.
The apex court directed the states to take stringent action against people, include NGOs who are inviting people to adopt children illegally or revealing their information.
“The State Governments/Union Territories are directed to prevent any NGO from collecting funds in the names of the affected children by disclosing their identity and inviting interested persons to adopt them. No adoption of affected children should be permitted contrary to the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015,” the court ordered.
According to reports, people were found to be offering Covid orphans, as young as a few months old, for adoption on WhatsApp, Facebook and other social media websites, raising fear of them becoming victims of child trafficking.
Last month, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi announced a fund of around $13,970 (£9,852) for each child orphaned by Covid. The stipend would be given to them from the ages of 18-23 from a corpus. He said the government would also provide for their free education.
Several state governments, including Delhi, have announced similar assistance to children impacted by Covid.
The NCPCR also raised concern over some government authorities disclosing children’s identities to private NGOs and organisations. It said that it made these children vulnerable to illegal adoption, trafficking and abuse.
The court noted that there is a lack of knowledge about the rights of children under the Juvenile Justice Act which is leading to illegal adoption of children.
The court also directed the states to publicise the adoption laws as well as benefits announced by the government to the people at regular intervals. “It is true that the majority of the populace are not aware of their rights and entitlement to several benefits announced by the governments,” it noted.
In a suo motu matter taken up by the top court, the NCPCR affidavit gave state-wise break up of children affected during the pandemic.
The worst-hit Indian state of Maharashtra has the largest number of children — 7,084 — “in need of care and protection”, followed by 3,172 in Uttar Pradesh, 2,482 in Rajasthan, and more than 2000 children each in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala.