Covid orphans: Supreme Court bench faced with need to tackle lack of information, and how to protect such information

The Supreme Court Bench of Justices Nageswara Rao and Aniruddha Bose, while hearing its suo motu case regarding the pandemic hit Children Protection Homes and how to take care of children orphaned in the pandemic or those who have lost one parent, came up with several issues faced by states. The basic problem was in getting the information, but the new issue was about protecting that information from getting out into the public so that the rights of the child is protected. The bench was told that already messages are doing the rights on social media, saying such and such child is available for adoption, an illegal process.

For Delhi, it was a lack of information. So the bench suggested that Delhi could be divided into smaller sectors and have a task force for each sector to search out cases and report them.

As the day’s hearing started, the bench said: “We have received a note of a list of dates of action taken by the ministries and nothing else is there in the note.”

Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati: “We need more time to figure out the modalities with respect to PM CARES.”Bench: “Let the amicus make the suggestions.”

Amicus Curiae, advocate Gaurav Agrawal: “The identification of children has been satisfactory except in Tamil Nadu. In Tamil Nadu, the situation is difficult in terms of Covid. They are only identifying those who have lost one or both parents due to Covid19.”

Amicus: “That approach may not be helpful in locating all children who may be affected. My request with respect to identification to states is that Tamil Nadu may expedite the process and identify all children.”Bench: “The basic need of children should be considered as food, shelter etc.”

Justice Nageswara Rao: “We understand that the positivity rate in TN is very high. But when you have the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), child protection units, I think you should activate all these authorities to make efforts for all these children. They might be definitely distressed. Please instruct authorities to expedite the identification. That’s the threshold. Only when we identify can we take steps.”

Advocate Aristotle, Tamil Nadu: “We have come back with the scheme of paying Rs 5 lakhs when both parents have passed away, and will be given when they turn 18. If one parent has died, Rs 3 lakhs is being given to the surviving parent. The education fee will be taken care of. Some more schemes are being formulated.”

The bench asks that the identification issues be discussed first. It addressed advocate Aristotle, saying: “Please instruct your officers that each of the children is identified by district officers/ units and should be reported to CWC, as according to guidelines they have to be produced in 24 hours before CWC. In many districts no children have been produced. Please alert your administration to see this.”

Amicus: “After receiving the information of child – the figure is over 30,000 now – the DCPO should take care of the immediate needs of the child. This is what they are already doing, but if a direction comes from the court, it will help. The Delhi High Court had taken cognizance and an elaborate meeting had taken place. I have a suggestion for taking care of the immediate needs of the child. The DCPO must meet with the child and the guardian as soon as possible. An assessment of the immediate needs of the child should be ascertained. Each state government has a scheme, like beti or palanhar scheme, under which prima facie fund is given to the children, from state funding.”

Bench, addressing the Amicus, said: “You don’t have to wait for bureaucratic procedure to give some interim financial assistance to the child. Some modalities may be worked out.”

Amicus: “The CWC has to assess the individual needs of a child. All aspects of a child’s needs should be addressed other than financial needs also. There are a large number of children who were in private schools. In Jharkhand, out of 9 children, 2 are in private schools. The same is the case in Karnataka. Those children who are in government schools should attend the school and it should be ensured by the state authorities. If the child is of school-going age, and if he is not going to school, then the state should ensure that those children should be enrolled in school.”

Bench: “There are 30,000 children. Therefore the CWC will have to appoint a person in such areas to monitor the child who has lost his parents. [As per the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights’ (NCPCR) latest data, among 30,071 children affected during the pandemic, 3,621 lost both parents, a significantly high number of 26,176 lost either parent while 274 were left abandoned.

Amicus: “This is a problem which requires large finances. The states may come up with their own ways to tackle it. But, in the meanwhile, for 4-5 months, the measures suggested by the CWC must be implemented. An insurance scheme should be there for such children. For example, there was a scheme of the central government which said that every year Rs 12 was charged for the cover of Rs 2 lakh.”

Bench: “This can wait. Tell us the issue which requires immediate direction.”

Amicus: “Consider children who have lost the earning parent. In Maharashtra, this number is 6,000. There are sponsorship schemes and some states have schemes for widows. States have a consensus that children may be produced before CWC and Rs 4,000 to be provided per child.”

ASG Nataraj: “We have created a portal called Bal Swaraj for continuous monitoring as per the continuous monitoring emphasised by Justice Bose. The affidavit of May 31 lays down the manner in which the Bal Swaraj portal works.” He explained the six stages of functioning of the portal. “First stage has the basic details of the child. The second stage has the social investigation report and the third requires details on the type of individual care plan. Then there is stage 4, in which the CWC orders have to be uploaded. The govt benefit schemes have been listed, and that have to be selected. The last is to upload the follow up forms, if any filed by the officers.”

Bench: “Concern was expressed before by the counsel for Maharashtra regarding information to be uploaded on all the stages. At this stage it may not be possible to put up all information. We had said that at least let them give the report in respect of first two stages. We will see to it that states comply with all these stages, but they would need time, can’t be done immediately. Now what we want is at least stage one.

Advocate Shroff for GNCTD: “We’re facing the problem of nonavailability of information, which means we are not getting information from the CWC. In other states, the DM is providing the information.”

Justice Rao: “You can divide Delhi into small sectors and appoint a task force for each sector. This would make things easier. Luckily, the numbers are less now. You can work on these aspects. You have to attend to the children and ensure that the schemes are being implemented. At least provide them shelters. We’ll look at other aspects later. Immediately identify these children and then upload.”

Advocate Sayandeep for the State of West Bengal said: “I’ve talked to the officials. They are having problems collecting this data because of Covid.”

Justice Rao to Advocate Sayandeep: “By our order dated June 1 we had asked the states to update information on the portal. It’s your responsibility to identify the children who have lost their parent and update on NCPCR immediately. Ask your state govt to provide data.”

Amicus: “I can guide the state of West Bengal in this regard.”

ASG KM Natraj: “Uploading the information would help in continuous monitoring. Urgent direction is required on this aspect. Further, their identity is not confidential. This would have an impact on the society and the states. We therefore request for not disclosing child’s identity. By giving information and uploading, there will be continuous monitoring. That information will be required to be protected, for the child’s rights.”

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Advocate Shobha Gupta for WWI: “There are posts which are circulating on the social media saying there are children of this age, please contact for adoption. That is illegal. Adoption without approaching CARA and through the procedure under the act is not legal. Please direct that any such post, police may take action.

“Maybe on paper great work is being done. The government has been able to identify the children. My concern is the other way round. The JJ Act requires wide publicity of provisions of the act, unfortunately, no such publicity we have come across.”

Source: ILNS
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