The Supreme Court Thursday said the states have to protect children, who have either lost one or both parents during the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensure that their education is not disrupted at least in the current academic session. The apex court said that identification of such children is the starting point to find out their needs and their welfare is of paramount consideration. Even if there are 1,000 children without their parent, just imagine what is going to happen to them. They can be pushed to child labour. They can be landing themselves to hands of undesirable elements in the society. We don't know what will happen to them. These are vulnerable children. So, we have to be extremely careful about these children, a bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose said.
The bench said most of these children may not have the means to fend for themselves. So, it is the state which has to protect them, said the bench, which was hearing a suo motu matter on contagion of COVID-19 in children protection homes.
The top court took note of state-wise details of children, who have become orphans or lost one parent during the pandemic period, and also the status of their identification process so that benefits meant for them could be extended. The bench said states have to take pro-active steps in taking care of these children and also ensure that their education is not disrupted due to the loss of either one or both parents.
It said the states may talk to the private schools, where such children are studying, so that there could be waiver of fee and their education continues at least for this academic session. The bench observed that if the schools are not coming forward or willing to waive off the fee, the states can bear the fee of such children for this academic year at this stage.
The court said it is necessary that benefits announced by the state governments should reach the needy children. It said the district magistrates should take steps to continue uploading the requisite information on the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) Bal Swaraj' portal as delay in this process will be detrimental to the interest of the distressed child.
It noted the state-wise details starting from Andhra Pradesh where 326 children, who have become orphan, have been identified and 7,110 are those who have lost one parent during the period. On July 27, the top court had directed all the states to ensure that children who have either become orphan or lost a parent during the COVID-19 pandemic since March last year are permitted to continue in the same school, be it private or government, at least for the current academic year.
The NCPCR had earlier informed the bench that as many as 30,071 children were orphaned, lost a parent or abandoned mostly due to the pandemic as per the data provided by different states and UTs on the Bal Swaraj' Portal till June 5. The NCPCR had given the break up in its affidavit which said there were 3,621 orphans, 26,176 children who have lost one parent and 274 children who have been abandoned. The apex court had also directed the states and UTs to take stringent action against NGOs and individuals who are indulging in illegal adoptions of children orphaned during the pandemic.
It had earlier passed a slew of directions for care and protection of children who have become orphans or have lost one parent or abandoned during the pandemic.