As Covid ravages Delhi, authorities grapple with a question: Where do children who lose both parents go?

On Tuesday afternoon, among the thousands of messages on social media pleading for help for hospital beds, oxygen cylinders and plasma donors, one stood out – a call for help for a 14-year-old child had lost both parents to Covid within days of each other, and needed help.

Amidst a pandemic and its protocol that have left most families to cope by themselves, what has largely gone unnoticed is how children are dealing with disease and deaths — of one or both their parents.

Anurag Kundu, chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR), a statutory body of the Delhi government on matters of child rights, says they have intervened in the case of at least five such cases in the past four days, where both parents are dead or one parent is dead and the other hospitalised.

“For every case that we hear about, many others are going under the radar. Most people do not know who to contact in such cases. How often we are seeing this and how many cases we are getting are in no way a reflection of the problem on the ground… We appeal to people to call our helpline, +91-9311551393, to let us know of these cases,” Kundu said.

Those who want to help can also call 1098 – the Childline number, which also alerts Child Welfare Committees.

In one case, Kundu said, two siblings, aged 15 and 16, had lost both their parents to Covid in a span of a day and were alone at home.

“We called one of the children and spoke about their immediate needs and got in touch with (the NGO) Childline to provide them counselling, as well as their immediate needs of food, monetary help and medical facilities,” said a DCPCR official coordinating the case.

In most cases, Kundu says, there are relatives to take care of the situation and to provide emotional and physical support to children. “But it has to be ensured that they are aware of the situation on the ground and are capable of taking care of the children,” Kundu said, adding that the children in such cases need to be assured that they are not alone and are given urgent initial care.

“They need to be tested as they could be sick or could be asymptomatic. A kit of essential supplies, along with cooked food, has to be ensured. Thankfully, our society is well-knit and a lot of help from relatives and neighbours is available, but these are unprecedented times,” he said.

Officials working in the area of child welfare said the priority is to keep the child with the family and only in situations where that is unviable are institutional care an option.

A thorough background check is to be done on the immediate family, in whose care the child is entrusted, which has to happen only through the intervention of the Child Welfare Committee.

Late Tuesday night, DCPCR received information about two siblings who had lost their father to Covid. They had a funeral to arrange since their mother was in hospital.

“A commission member had a conversation with one of the siblings and on that basis, cremation space at Seemapuri Cremation Ground and an ambulance from the Police Helpline authorities were arranged. The children were also connected to the District Surveillance Officer for medical surveillance and care,” a DCPCR official said.

Among the five cases that DCPCR got recently, only one so far is moving towards the option of institutional care, Kundu said.

“It is the case of a boy whose parents have succumbed to Covid. The immediate family members do not seem keen on caring for the child. Childcare is not just about feeding someone, it also involves love, affection and care. The relatives are ready to pitch in with food, but not in rearing the child. It seems to us that this child will have to be institutionalised. But before that, we will reach out to everyone in his family,” he said.

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