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With Children Becoming Orphans Due to Covid, NGO’s & Care Centers Struggle to Keep Them Safe

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In a heart wrenching turn of events, several children are orphaned as their parents succumbed to Covid. Child care centers, NGOs and Child Helpline are flooded with calls pertaining to this issue. Not to know where to go, these children are under severe psychological trauma and feel completely lost. Several relatives and neighbors are reaching out to helplines who can take care of these children.

Nagasimha Rao, director, Child Rights Trust, has received a couple of calls from Bengaluru and other parts of the State where children are left to fend for themselves. When both parents are dead, children fail to understand what is happening around. In many cases, old people, generally grandparents, reach out saying they aren’t in a position to take care of the child since they are struggling to fend for themselves.

Rao refers to a case where there is a 6-month-old child whose parents succumbed to Covid. A distant relative volunteers to adopt the child but will have to go through the process according to Cara guidelines. There is also the danger of illegal trafficking racket surfacing due to this.

The south India headquarter of 1098 Child Helpline is in Chennai now and they find it difficult to guide effectively from afar that is delaying to address such cases, says social activist Brinda Adiga who is also getting such calls from different parts of Karnataka. There is a need to decentralise helplines to reach out to people according to their specific needs.

These are very new situations for everyone. Every time there is a case with a specific need, the women and child welfare department adds that point into their standard operating procedures strengthening the set of rules. Ultimately safety and security of the child is the prime agenda here, adds Adiga.

In another case, children aged 3 and 5 were left all alone at their house in Sheshadripuram, Bengaluru while their parents were treated in ICUs for severe lung infection with Covid. Luckily for them, a distant relative stepped in and took the children under care until the parents are healthy and home. But there are several such instances where the children are handed over to child care centers after neighbours or distant relatives call the child helpline.

It has been very difficult to arrange accommodation for such children because in many cases, these children may also be infected. Having them in a registered center where several other non-Covid children live is a tough task. “However, we were able to find safe places for all those who reached us until now”, says Dr Fatima who works with several NGOs that help children in distress.

Situations are worse in nuclear families where children are not very close to other family members. The situation is completely unprecedented. It is very difficult to describe what the child will be going through. Teenagers will be in denial and grief. They behave abnormally and go numb. If the child has also tested positive, even relatives wouldn’t come closer. Suddenly the child will feel he or she is alone in this world and may slip into anxiety and depression. Immediate moral and psychological help with regular long time follow up is very necessary for such children, says Dr Vijay, psychiatrist from Vijaynagar, Bengaluru.

Now probably is the time people realise the importance of knowing one’s neighbours and maintaining a good social relationship with fellow citizens is important as one’s family may not be able to reach in such times, adds Dr Vijay.

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