A joint family was happily living on the outskirts of village Gauras near Kareli, Madhya Pradesh, away from the hustle-bustle of urban life. The family consisted of an old mother, her three sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren. Agriculture was their only source of income. The eldest son faced some health issues like cough and fever after attending a function. Cough and fever though a clear sign of Covid-19, fear, and anxiety prevented him from going for the test. Being the eldest in the household, nobody forced him to do so.
Hence, all that he got in the name of treatment was glucose administered at the village clinic run by a compounder. As his condition suddenly deteriorated he was to be hospitalized. While the family was still coming to terms with the shock, his younger brother too developed Covid symptoms and was to be admitted to the hospital along and the entire family went into quarantine. In due course of time, the condition of the brothers worsened further eventually leading to their death in a space of a week between them.
With the passing away of the two brothers, their four children, two teenagers, and two college-going students lost the shadow of their fathers over their heads. According to the doctors at the hospital, if only they had taken some measures along with the medication in time, they could have survived.
In another such incident, a teenager lost his sole custodian, his mother, to the dreaded virus in Bhopal. His life is shattered in a quirk of fate. A video showing him crying at the funeral of his mother went viral. He was not even allowed to touch his mother one last time lest he would be breaking the covid protocol, maybe contracting the virus.
In Khandwa, cheerful Shivani was living happily with her husband and their two children, a one-year-old daughter, and a 10-year-old son. Life was all joy for her till she was tested positive for covid in May 2020. She opted for home quarantine. Ever since she was in trauma. Eventually, her anxiety took its toll on her health and she died of a heart attack leaving behind a grieving husband and the two children who have no clue about the tragedy that struck them. In many cases, panic over the disease proved more dangerous than the disease itself.
A couple in their 50s was together running Kevalyam Yoga Academy in Ujjain for 5-6 years. They had dedicated their life to yoga. First, the husband was infected with a covid-19, and then she contracted the dreaded infection from her husband. Both of them were hospitalized, and as per the requirement, plasma was arranged at a short notice but to no avail. Just two days after successful plasma implantation, the couple died leaving their children orphaned. Nobody knows what is in store for the star-crossed children.
While many families have lost their sole breadwinners, there is no dearth of children who have lost both parents. While some still have hope for survival, many are left with none.
One can’t imagine the pain these children, along with their families, must be going through. According to an unconfirmed estimation, more than 30,000 children have lost one or both their parents at a tender age. While they have yet to overcome the emotional trauma of losing their parents, it’s the question of survival and sustenance that has overtaken them. Under the circumstances, these ill-fated children have no option but to look to outside help for financial assistance.
The Central and the state governments have formally announced schemes to rehabilitate the covid orphans. But given the state of the already fragile economy ravaged by the pandemic after suffering heavy blows under the demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), are the governments equipped with enough funds to implement these schemes. Where the funds will come from? Under the circumstances, the question arises whether the government is in a position to do anything worthwhile to ameliorate the grievances of the millions of people affected by the covid.
A compensation of about $7 to $70 for each covid orphan has been announced by the Centre. The states too are contemplating ways to ameliorate the grievances of the millions of people affected by the pandemic in general and the covid orphans in particular. Madhya Pradesh is the first state to propose CM Covid-19 Bal Kalyan Yojana under which Rs 5,000 per month will be given to the orphan kids. CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan assured through a tweet that education will be made available to these children for free.
Not to be left behind, the Maharashtra government has proposed Bal Sangopan Yojana under which every child lost both his/her parents is entitled to compensation ranging from Rs 1,000 to 3,000. But the assurance does not match with the guidelines issued and then several explanations that these schemes are for children who have lost both their parents. So, there was a mismatch between the statements before and after the approval.
As the government is still undecided on the question of compensation a foolproof mechanism to reach out to needy children with their financial doles could not be evolved as yet. In this context, many questions need to be answered. These are: Who will take care of the official documents of generating death certificates to meet all the government schemes proposed. Who will take care of these children at present? If they have only one guardian and lost him or her too, who is going to take care of them?
The circumstances are such that if left to fend for themselves, some of these children can take recourse to unlawful means to meet their basic needs. Such children even run the risk of being exploited by antisocial elements. Taking advantage of their situation, they can engage them in drug peddling, theft, robbery, and many other crimes.
Let’s assume some common situations that the children might encounter. Economic condition of most Indians after the Covid outbreak is too weak to indulge in philanthropy. At a time when people were gradually moving towards normalcy, the sudden second outbreak shattered all their hopes as thousands of families directly or indirectly affected by the pandemic. While some families lost their single earning member, others have lost more than one members. Some children have lost both their parents.
Given the financial instability prevalent among the citizens, how could anybody reach out to the children of a deceased brother or a sister? Without proper financial backup, will they be able to feed the orphan children and look after their day-to-day needs?
The question is what the government is doing on the ground. Are all the schemes launched under PM Cares benefiting the needy?
In May 2021, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the PM Cares fund for Children Scheme for all those kids who have lost both their parents and those families who have lost their earning members or adoptive parents or legal guardians because of covid. Under the scheme, when these children turn 18, a corpus fund of Rs 10 lakh will be provided to each of them. Also, they are entitled to a monthly stipend on reaching 18 years of age to pursue higher education and the interest on education loans will be borne by PM Cares Fund. Will the government facing financial crunch be able to implement these schemes? How will they generate the fund required for the implementation of these welfare measures without putting an additional burden on the already overburdened citizenry.
On July 15, the government launched a portal for all the states and Union territories under which any child who has lost his/her parents or guardians to Covid-19 need to register on the web portal to get all the benefits of the PM Cares scheme. But will a child be able to complete all the formalities required to claim the compensation. If not him/her, who is going to submit all the documents of an orphaned child?
This is one of the many pragmatic questions. Suppose a child under 5 who has lost both parents has no one to look to, how will he get himself registered? How can he produce all necessary documents required for the compensation in the absence of an adult? Supposing an unrelated individual comes forward to help him, what is the guarantee that he will not take advantage of the situation of the child and take away the compensation amount while even relatives cannot be trusted? NGOs play a significant role by tracking all the records and cross-check detail before registering children.
However, all this talk of compensation is meaningless until the government releases the fund for the purpose.
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The opinion expressed in the article is of the writer. Writer is a freelance journalist/journalist based in Delhi