On May 1, a distress message was sent out from Bengaluru's Whitefield area where a 4-year-old boy needed a caregiver after his father died of COVID-19 and mother was hospitalised. After a series of panicked phone calls, it was decided that a neighbour would take the child in until a relative came to the city to pick him up. The incident was the first indication of the issue of children being left alone, sometimes even orphaned, as entire families are infected with COVID-19 in the second wave of the pandemic.
Last week, the Karnataka government appointed KP Mohanraj, who serves as Inspector-General of Registration and Commissioner of Stamps, as a nodal officer who will ensure children orphaned in the state during the pandemic get short-term and long-term assistance. Mohanraj says that there has been no case of children being orphaned in Bengaluru so far. "We have had cases where children are left alone after parents are hospitalised. We are giving support and we are ready to give them temporary care if needed," Mohanraj told TNM.
In most cases, there are relatives to pitch in and take care of children, but child rights activists say that many believe that the children are carriers of the coronavirus and are less generous in helping out now.
There were three cases in Bengaluru where children needed care after the parents were hospitalised due to COVID-19. "The community Whitefield Rising came forward to help in one case in Whitefield. In another case in BTM Layout, a volunteer stepped in and it turned out a relative could take care of the child," a volunteer helping address requests told TNM.
However the volunteer said that of the distress messages they followed up, two cases turned out to be from outside Bengaluru and one other contact given was not reachable.
One case of a child being orphaned during the pandemic was reported in Chamarajanagar, Mohanraj said. But in this case, a relative was taking care of the child even before the death of the parent and will now continue to take care of the child.
Officials say they are checking if there is a close relative or a trusted friend or neighbor who can take children in distress in the pandemic before considering placing the child in a state home. "The priority is to find someone known to the child from the family or a trusted friend or neighbour," the volunteer said.
What should you do if you know about a child without parental care or who has lost both parents due to COVID-19 and has no one to provide care?
> Direct adoption is illegal.
> Do not give away the child to any person or organisation.
> Contact Childline (1098) immediately; 1098 is a 24 hour, toll-free, phone outreach number for children in need of care and protection and distress.
> Or inform your nearest local Police Station.
> Or you can also inform the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) or the concerned State Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
> Or contact the nearest Child Welfare Committee or District Child Protection Officer.