Priyanka and Sonia (first names have been changed) are still in shock. At the beginning of May, it only took a few days for Covid-19 to take the mother of the two young girls and turn their lives upside down. The health of their mother, a farm worker, deteriorated sharply on May 5. “Her temperature was rising, she was short of breath”, remembers the youngest, Priyanka. The mother of the family died the same day, in the ambulance that took her to the hospital, located thirty kilometers from their village in the state of Telangana, in the south of the country. Already fatherless, Priyanka, 16, and Sonia, 19, found themselves on their own.
Since the start of the pandemic, many Indian children have lost at least one parent. According to data collected by the National Commission for the Protection of the Rights of the Child, 3,621 have been orphaned by both parents in the country since 1is April 2020, and 26,176 others have lost one of their parents.
The pandemic is not only a health crisis but also a “Child rights crisis”, according to Unicef. “These children are not only experiencing an emotional tragedy, they are also at high risk of neglect, abuse and exploitation”, warns Yasmin Ali Haque, the organization’s representative in India.
In the case of Priyanka and Sonia, it was a local resident who sounded the alarm. The informant, anonymous, warned Bachpan Bachao Andolan (“Save the youth movement”), the NGO of child rights activist Kailash Satyarthi, 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner. “We immediately notified the authorities, then we provided the two girls with provisions, before assessing their security and protection situation”, says Venkateshwarlu Ande, who coordinates the organization’s activities in the region.
Illegal offers concealing traps
When offers of illegal adoption started appearing on social media in early May 2021, India suddenly became aware of the great vulnerability of children orphaned by Covid-19.
Some ads are chilling. “2 year old girl, 2 month old baby boy… Father and mother died of Covid. If anyone is interested in an adoption (…) Brahmin children ”, can we read on a WhatsApp message that has been widely circulated, referring to the Hindu caste of the Brahmins, considered superior to all the others. Adopting or having children adopted outside official channels is illegal, and the Minister for Women and Child Development, Smriti Irani, warned on May 4 against these offers which conceal ” traps “.
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