Editorial: Work left
Given the devastation wrought by Covid-19 in India, can there be a sliver of hope for those who have been worst affected? The Centre seems to have taken a step in that direction by announcing a special ‘PM-Cares for Children’ scheme for children who have been orphaned on account of Covid-19. It will include a corpus of Rs 10 lakh for each child when they turn 18. Thereafter, each beneficiary is slated to receive a monthly stipend for the next five years — the period during which they pursue higher education — for their personal needs; upon reaching the age of 23, they will receive the corpus amount as a lump sum. This is a welcome step, coming as it does in the wake of a tragedy of gargantuan proportions for bereaved children, many of whom run the risk of falling prey to traffickers or being denied their basic rights to food, health and education. Such relief packages have also been announced by several states such as Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. Kerala, in fact, announced its scheme before the Centre did. The pledge by the Centre came soon after but ought it not to have been leading the charge? There are also conflicting reports pertaining to numbers. The Centre has identified a total of 577 Covid orphans. The actual number is likely to be significantly higher, as the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights informed the Supreme Court that the tentative figure of children in need of care and protection, including orphans, since March 2020 is 9,346.
Some other needs of children, orphaned or otherwise, must be addressed as well. The pandemic, periodic lockdowns and disruptions in the education calendar have had a profound impact on children’s mental health; calls to an Indian helpline for children in distress increased sharply since the pandemic began. And yet, the Centre has allocated a paltry 0.05 per cent of its health budget towards mental health. It stands to reason that within that, the funds allotted for child and adolescent mental health, if any, will be negligible. An unimaginative push towards online classes without ensuring supplementary needs — gadgets, reliable internet connectivity and so on — has put education out of reach for around 56 per cent of students. There is concern about the State’s ability to protect children and young adults in the face of a possible ‘third wave’ of the pandemic even though an expert panel has submitted a plan to bolster India’s preparations for tackling paediatric Covid-19 cases. The Supreme Court has said that the “modalities” of the Centre’s new scheme for Covid orphans need to be “worked out”. The Centre must get to work immediately.