Over 1,30,000 people lost their lives in the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Maharashtra alone. This figure shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has grievously impacted the lives of children. An official figure, as revealed by the Women and Child Development (WCD), showed that nearly 15,793 have lost one parent, while close to 490 have become orphans during the pandemic.
In April Ramakant and his wife Ankita contracted the infection along with their children- Neelam Navale (10) and Sunil (15). On 13 April, parents were rushed to hospital. Ramakant succumbed to the infection within 24 hours. The family hadn’t coped up with the loss yet that on 15 April, Ankita was shifted to ICU because of breathlessness. She lost the battle for life on April 25. It was only in June that the relatives told the children about their parents’ deaths.
“Neelam is too young to understand the loss but Sunil has been left completely traumatised,” said their aunt Renuka Ojha. At present, the children are staying with their uncle in Banaras, Uttar Pradesh.
These are not the only stories. Covid-19 has devastated families across the state, orphaning many that include 267 males and 223 female children who have lost their parents in the state.
The highest number of deaths was recorded in the second wave which started in mid-February. A total count of 106 died in the Pune division alone, followed by the Konkan division (104), Nashik division (94), Nagpur division (86), Aurangabad division (62) and Amravati (32).
Pune and Nagpur districts have 21 orphan children each — the highest in the state, followed by Thane and Solapur districts with 15 children. These districts have recorded the highest cases of Covid-19, especially in the second wave.
As infections were higher among men, therefore more deaths were also among them only. This has also been reflected in WCD’s data. A total of 13,540 fathers died due to Covid-19, while 1,763 mothers have succumbed to the infection in the state.
“The latest national serosurvey report released by the Union health ministry showed that the seroprevalence was more in women. This indicates that the infection rate is higher among women but the death rate is more among men. In our hospital, we have witnessed a higher fatality rate among men, which can be attributed to various reasons,” said Dr Ramesh Bharmal, dean of BYL Nair Hospital at Mumbai Central, as quoted by the Hindustan Times.
On the directions of the Supreme Court of India, the state constituted task forces in each district to identify children who have lost their parents to turn away their trafficking and illegal adoptions. The WCD officials have approached families that reported Covid-19 deaths and provided counselling, legal and financial assistance to them. The process for enrolment of orphaned children, whose extended family members are not able to look after them, is ongoing.
IA Kundan, secretary, WCD, said that district-level task forces have been appointed under the chairmanship of district collectors who are helping these children financially and psychologically through child welfare committees.
“We had to identify those children, so we collected the data district-wise. We have got in touch with all the children and have provided counselling in tie-ups with professional psychiatrists,” she added.
Earlier, WCD minister Yashomati Thakur affirmed that the department has taken full responsibility for the further studies of such children. They have already been provided with laptops and android phones to avoid any compromise with the studies.
“We have already announced ₹5 lakh in fixed deposit accounts of these children till they turn 18. Until then, financial aid will be given to children under Balsangopan Yojana,” she added further.
Children in the custody of relatives are given financial assistance of ₹1,125 per month under the Bal Sangopan scheme.
Lately, there were circulars on social media appealing to people to come forward and adopt children who lost their parents in the pandemic. WCD has requested the public to not encourage and entertain such messages as ‘unauthorised’ adoption can lead to child trafficking.
“There are due processes that need to be followed for adoption. If anyone wants to adopt such an orphan child, they need to contact us,” said Kundan.