The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the state governments and union territories to prevent any NGO from collecting funds in the names of children orphaned by COVID-19, by disclosing their identity and inviting interested persons to adopt them.
A Bench of Justice L Nageswara Rao and Justice Aniruddha Bose directed the governments to take action against NGOs or individuals who are indulging in illegal adoptions.
“The State governments/Union Territories are directed to take action against those NGOs/individuals who are indulging in illegal adoptions. No adoption of affected children should be permitted contrary to the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (JJ) Act, 2015,” stated the order.
The NCPCR had sounded the alarm on a spate of complaints about illegal adoption of children orphaned by COVID-19 through private individual and organisations and added that it has received many complaints in May that private individuals and organisations have been actively collecting data on these children while claiming that they want to assist families and children in adoption.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) statistics show that 3,621 children were orphaned, 26,176 children lost either parent and 274 children were abandoned between April 1, 2021, to June 5, 2021.
The top court also directed that financial assistance which the disconsolate child is entitled to under the prevailing schemes by the Central Government and the State Governments/Union Territories should be provided without any delay.
The Bench in its order further directed the state governments and union territories to continue identifying the children who have become orphans or lost a parent after March 2020 either due to Covid-19 or otherwise and provide the data on the website of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) without any delay.
It directed that the identification of the affected children can be done through Childline (1098), health officials, Panchayati Raj Institutions, police authorities, NGOs, etc.
The District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) is directed to contact the affected child and the guardian immediately on receipt of information about the death of the parent/parents, the Bench stated in its order.
“Assessment shall be made about the suitability and willingness of the guardian to take care of the child. The DCPU should ensure that adequate provisions are made for ration, food, medicine, clothing, etc. for the affected child. Financial assistance to which the disconsolate child is entitled to under the prevailing schemes by the Central Government and the State Governments/Union Territories should be provided without any delay,” the order stated.
It further added that the District Child Protection Officer (DCPO) should furnish his phone number and the name and phone number of the local official who can be contacted by the guardian and the child. There should be a regular follow-up by the concerned authorities with the child at least once a month.
The order also said that if the DCPO is of the prima facie opinion that the guardian is not suitable to take care of the child, he should produce the child before the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) immediately and the CWC should provide for the essential needs of the child during the pendency of the inquiry without fail. “The inquiry should be completed expeditiously. CWC shall ensure that all financial benefits to which the child is entitled are provided without any delay,” added the Bench.
The State Governments/Union Territories are directed to make provisions for continuance of education of the children both in Government as well as in private schools, it further stated.
The top court order came on an application seeking directions in respect of children affected due to Covid-19 pandemic by losing one or both parents and increased incidents of child trafficking, especially of the girl child.
The application was filed by amicus curiae, advocate Gaurav Agarwal, who has been assisting the Bench in the case taken by it suo moto relating to COVID-19 spread in children shelter homes across India.
Further in its order, the Bench asked governments that wide publicity should be given to the provisions of the JJ Act, 2015 and the prevailing schemes of the Union of India and the State Governments/Union Territories which would benefit the affected children.
It said that DPCO shall take the assistance of government servants at the Gram Panchayat level to monitor the welfare of the disconsolate children who are devastated by the catastrophe of losing their parent/parents.
Posting the matter for hearing on July 27, the Bench said in the meanwhile, Amicus Curiae shall contact the nodal officers to be appointed by the States of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, Uttarakhand, NCT of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and UT of Jammu and Kashmir to obtain the information relating to the welfare of the children who are in a dolorous state due to loss of their parent/parents and submit a report.
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