By: Aparajita Patel

New Delhi: The Supreme Court declared on Thursday that states must “protect” children who have lost one or both parents as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, ensuring that their education is not affected at least for the present academic year.

The Supreme Court stated that identifying such children is the “beginning point” for determining their needs, and that their wellbeing is essential.

“Imagine what will happen to a thousand children who are separated from their parents. They may be forced to work as children. They may find themselves in the clutches of society’s unsavoury elements. We have no idea what will become of them. These are youngsters who are at risk. As a result, we must exercise great caution with these children,” a bench of justices led by L Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose stated.

According to the bench, the majority of these children may not be able to fend for themselves. The bench, which was hearing a suo motu matter regarding COVID-19 contagion in children’s protection homes, remarked, “So it is the state’s responsibility to protect them.”

The Supreme Court took note of state-by-state data of children who became orphans or lost one parent during the epidemic, as well as the progress of their identification process, in order to extend benefits to them.

The court stated that states must take proactive measures to care for these children and guarantee that their education is not disrupted as a result of the death of 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.

The district magistrates should take steps to continue posting the required information to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights’ (NCPCR) ‘Bal Swaraj’ portal, as any delay will be detrimental to the distressed child’s interests, according to the report.

It listed the state-by-state details, beginning with Andhra Pradesh, where 326 children have become orphans and 7,110 have lost one parent during the time period.

On July 27, the Supreme Court ordered all states to ensure that children who have become orphaned or lost a parent as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic since March of last year are allowed to stay in the same school, whether private or public, at least for the present academic year.

According to data submitted by several states and UTs on the ‘Bal Swaraj’ Portal till June 5, a total of 30,071 children were orphaned, lost a parent, or were abandoned as a result of the pandemic.

In its affidavit, the NCPCR stated that there were 3,621 orphans, 26,176 children who had lost a parent, and 274 children who had been abandoned.

The Supreme Court further ordered states and UTs to take “severe punishment” against NGOs and persons involved in illicit adoptions of children orphaned by the pandemic.

It had previously issued a flurry of directives for the care and protection of children who became orphans, lost one parent, or were abandoned as a result of the pandemic.