The union ministry of home affairs has stepped in for the protection of children orphaned by Covid-19 and other vulnerable groups like women and senior citizens who are suffering because of the pandemic. In an advisory issued to states and union territories this week, the MHA has said special care must be taken so that orphaned children among others do not become victims of trafficking.
“In the current Covid-19 pandemic where children may have been orphaned due to the sad demise of their parents due to Covid-19, States/Union Territories are requested to put in place suitable mechanisms, including engaging at panchayat/ local body level and undertaking IEC activities involving community for ensuring greater awareness on the anti-trafficking support available in the State/Union Territories," the advisory said.
Concerns have been raised by child-protection bodies about the fate of children who have seen both their parents die because of Covid-19. High Courts, including Delhi’s, have sought compliance reports from the government while NGOs have raised concerns about social media posts calling for the adoption of such orphans. Experts fear many of these adoptions could be a cover for abuse or trafficking.
Taking note of these concerns, the MHA’s women safety division has called on states and UTs to take steps for “protection of vulnerable sections of society such as women, children, senior citizens and scheduled caste/ scheduled tribe, etc-reg", and refers to previous standard operating procedures (SOPs) issued by the ministry last year. The advisory says the government has taken cognisance of the impact Covid-19 and requested states/union territories “to put in place adequate mechanisms for ensuring dedicated support and assistance in a timely manner to such persons".
In terms of measures suggested, the MHA has called for the strengthening of the women’s help desk at various police stations. “The Desk envisages to have enlisted panel of experts like lawyers, psychologists, NGOs who can assist in accessing support, provide shelter, rehabilitation etc. and help in registration and follow-up in the cases giving required assurance and support to the women approaching them," the advisory says. States have been advised to utilise the Rs 107.5 crore that has been released for this purpose. A reference has been made to similar allocations of Rs 100 crore for Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) in every district.
Enlisting the various laws and schemes that have empowered states and UTs to act in this regard, the ministry has also advised that states can refer to the best practices of each other to provide protection to vulnerable groups. States and union territories have been asked to rely on Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS), National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, Crime Multi Agency Centre (CMAC) and other such IT-enabled platforms to look for missing persons and secure their interests.
For senior citizens and transgender people, the MHA said, “A central citizen service on digitalpolicecitizenservice.gov.in portal is now available to citizens for online search on missing persons. Further, the Ministry has also circulated guidelines and SoP for supporting senior citizens during Covid-19 (copy enclosed). The guidelines provides for steps to be taken to ensure necessary monitoring and support to senior citizens. The Union Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment has issued an advisory for transgender persons to protect themselves during Covid-19 ."
The MHA also called for a review of the existing practices. “In order to meet the new challenges arising out of recent wave of Covid-19 affliction, it is requested to undertake an immediate review of the existing facilities for vulnerable groups inter-alia on the lines of the measures given in the various advisories issued by the MHA, especially for children who have been orphaned, senior citizens who may require timely assistance and support (medical as well as safety & security), and members of scheduled castes/ scheduled tribes who may need guidance to access Government support facilities," the ministry said.
The review, the MHA, said should include steps for sensitisation of police personnel, coordination with agencies/ departments concerned, as also communities and civil society organisations.