Prominent child rights activist from Hyderabad, P Achyuta Rao, passed away while undergoing treatment for COVID-19 at a private hospital in the city. Achyuta, who founded Balala Hakkula Sangham -- a child rights organisation along with his wife Anuradha Rao, had previously served as a member of the State Committee for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR).
He was said to have tested positive for the coronavirus last week and was admitted to the hospital on July 15. Achyuta's brother is also said to have tested positive.
A source in the hospital said that he was suffering from other health ailments as well, such as lung infection and kidney failure. He was also diabetic, the hospital said.
Achyuta would frequently raise issues related to child rights, even moving the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and the Telangana High Court over some cases.
Some of the more well-known cases that he had taken up include the case of Aradhana Samadaria, a 13-year-old girl from the Jain community in Secunderabad, who had died while fasting as part of a religious ceremony.
He had also done extensive work to highlight trafficking of children near the temple town of Yadadri in Telangana and the sale of children to couples in the state's Nalgonda district.
Achyuta was also involved in actively protesting the delay in the constitution of a new SCPCR after the term of the earlier members ended in the state. He had repeatedly highlighted the issue for several months until the state government appointed new members.
The activist was strongly opposed to child marriages and was involved in several rescues operations. Balala Hakkula Sangham organises ‘2K’ walks which focused on issues of child marriages, child abuse, child labour, and girls’ education.
In 2018, the major demand for the walk, which saw thousands of girls participating, was to raise the minimum age for marriage of girls from 18 to 21 years.
He also made regular appearances on Telugu news TV channels to weigh in on issues related to children. In the wake of Intermediate students killing themselves each year after results were announced, Achyuta would issue frequent appeals to parents via the media, not to chide their children for poor grades and to counsel them to do better instead.
He also anticipated that that the COVID-19 induced lockdown will lead to more child labour and child marriages. In an interview just last month to The New Indian Express, he had expressed these concerns, and said that due to restrictions on public gatherings, many people had been marrying off girls in their family quietly.
Balala Hakkula Sangham was founded as a community in 1985. It works against child marriage, child sexual abuse and child labour. Apart from helping survivors and conducting rescues, the organisation also organises cultural activities for children.
As of Tuesday night, Telangana has reported a total of 47,705 cases of COVID-19. With 36,385 people recovered and 429 dead, the number of active cases in the state stands at 10,891. The state has tested 2,93,077 samples so far.