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India’s Covid orphans are the sad legacy of the pandemic

As they sat on the floor of a brightly painted Delhi house She placed another plate of food in front of a framed photograph of her parents. They died a few weeks ago from COVID-19.

The 23-year-old teacher became the primary caretaker and breadwinner for her five siblings, aged four to 14, and a pillar of strength for her 20-year-old older sister. no time to regret

“My biggest fear is whether or not I can love them like my parents,” said Devika, who uses only her real name for privacy.

“I will get money I have faith in myself My sister will also get money. I have faith in you We can do what needs to be done in terms of money. But the absence of parents in their lives is a huge gap. to fill How can we fill that emptiness?” she said.

They are among at least 577 children in India who have lost both parents to COVID-19. Between April 1 and May 25, when India is battling a second wave of outbreaks, citing government figures, but NGOs fear that many other orphans, possibly thousands, Neglected in the official count Due to the difficulty of tracking children who have lost both parents.

Social workers are struggling to keep up with them. Worried that they could be vulnerable to traffickers or end up in the streets if left to fend for themselves.

‘We are together now’

a few months ago Life looked very different for Devika and her family. Devika concentrates on his undergraduate studies. and teaching children in their spare time

Her father worked as a graduate. or a Hindu priest at a temple and visit homes to perform rituals He insisted on leaving for work even as the case escalated in the capital. Her mother was mostly at home, taking care of the children and sometimes helping with the temple work.

at the end of April When India reports more than 350,000 cases a day, adding to hospitals overload and lack of oxygen, Devika’s 38-year-old mother gave her the worrying news that she had a fever.

Devi tried to separate the upper-class children. But it was too late, the whole family, including her 53-year-old father. Developed a fever. Although the children had never been screened for Covid-19, Devika’s mother later tested positive in the hospital.

Devika's parents, both of whom died during India's second wave of Covid-19 outbreak.

The children had recovered, but the mother’s condition worsened and was unable to seek appropriate medical care. After visiting three hospitals in one night Angels eventually found a hospital in a nearby town. to take her mother even if there is no oxygen or ventilator

“We have done nothing wrong. we do everything we can But we failed,” she said.

during the same period Her father was hospitalized in Delhi. When her mother died on April 29, Devi dared to tell him. He had one phrase he would say to his wife a lot: “Without you, life is no fun.”

“My father is interested in mummies. We are together now.”princess

Devi recalls the time when her mother’s body was taken to a hospital in Delhi, where she Her father was undergoing treatment and saw her one last time before cremation.

“Mom is in the ambulance. Father came out of the hospital and he saw He closed his eyes and said nothing, ”said Devika.

After that, she thought her father had lost his will to live. Just a week later, on May 7, he also died of coronavirus.

“We thought he really wanted to go with his mother,” Devika said.

“My father is crazy about mummies. They’re together now,” she added through tears.

Phra Devaka sat watching his parents in front of the court.
Credit: Vijay Bedi/CNN

After her parents died, Devika was worried that the authorities would remove her siblings. She called the government running. Child care hotline for advice

They told her that she was the main parent. And it’s up to you to decide what to do.

The past few weeks have been blurry. Devica took the loan to pay for her parents’ medical bills. And now money can help families stay alive. She juggles to take care of her siblings with university and part-time workloads. The family also received dry rations from NGOs, Prayas and Saideep. Devika still had no time to deal with her own grief. She wants to be strong for her brothers.

“There was so much going on that the tears didn’t flow,” she said.

What do you do?

Devika told the children’s hotline that She lost both her father and mother. But this is not always the case.

organization is Find children who may need help. and relying on social media Words and calls to Childline, a pre-Covid-19 Ministry of Women and Child Development service.

for rural children Accessing help can be difficult. They have less internet access and fewer secure networks, said Save the Children India chief executive Sudarshan Suchi.

“People we don’t know are what worries me more,” Suzy said.

Still have to fight the limitations of movement. inaccurate information and fear of contracting covid from neighbors that might help otherwise

In one instance, Save the Children staff discovered two children whose father had died in the hospital and his mother had died at home. both from covid Both children are suspected of being infected with coronavirus. So neighbors in the slums avoided helping and children were unable to use the communal bathrooms, Suu Kyi said.

“If there had been an earthquake or flood in a small village or colony before, everyone came together and found a way to help. when covid arrives The first thought everyone has is to stay away,” Suzy said. “It’s an unknown ghost. People with collective spirits and community customs are wary of these things today.”

Devika's sister prepares a meal in the kitchen of her home in New Delhi on June 2, 2021.

If everything goes smoothly Children can connect with their extended family. The general principle is that institutional care cannot be a first choice and family environments are better for children, said Anurag Kundu, chairman of the New Delhi Protection Board of Child Rights.

But organizations worry about what will happen if fragile children are released from the cracks. Leave them at risk of being left on the streets or being trafficked.

in May Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Z Irani urged those who heard about the orphans to tell the authorities. and do not disclose information about them online. lest they be targeted by human traffickers.

“We all need legal adoption insurance, or the child could be trafficked in the name of adoption,” she tweeted.
Devika's brothers at home in New Delhi on June 2, 2021.
Little is known about the number of children trafficked as a result of the epidemic. But there are already more signs of homeless children. That may be because their parents died of coronavirus. or because their parents can no longer take care of them because they lost their jobs.

“Before the epidemic under normal circumstances More than 2 million children suffer this kind of suffering on the streets every day,” Suu Kyi said in May. “If anything in the pandemic It might get worse. Not any better.”

even before the second wave More and more children live in the streets, Kundu said, most likely falling victim to India’s months-long lockdown. This leaves millions of income earners in the country without work.

“I have never seen as many children on the streets in my life as I have seen in the past 12 months,” Kundu said. “The socioeconomic aspect of it will be felt in the future.”

What will the future be like?

For now, the focus is on keeping children safe. But the coronavirus orphans in India show that last year’s devastation is likely to come long after the pandemic is over.

Government of India has provided financial support to orphans from coronavirus. by giving them free education and provides $13,732 in personal funds monthly. Paid for five years when they turn 18.

“If there had been an earthquake or flood in a small village or colony before, everyone came together and found a way to help. when covid arrives The first thought everyone has is to stay away.”Sudachan Suu Kyi

“Children represent the future of the country. And the country will do everything it can to support and protect children so that they can develop into strong citizens with a bright future,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in May. When such measures are announced .

Suu Kyi said that the first priority is survival.

“These children are already weak. is going to be the bottom in this story. It’s not just a question about COVID sickness – it’s about their education. It’s about their health. It was about their social security structure that suddenly split,” Suu Kyi said, after which support was needed for their future.

“You can’t save a child from the middle of the water and let them drown at the end of a stream or somewhere on the shore.”

Devika, who is currently the guardian of her five siblings. combing her sister’s hair Credit: Vijay Bedi/CNN

Yasmin Ali Hake, UNICEF representative in India, agreed. It said it was not only the physical needs of the child such as shelter, food, education, etc., but also the psychological impact.

“Children are excluded from the loving care of their parents. “Growing up in a family environment,” she said, “the psychosocial impact on a child can last a lifetime.”

“Psychosocial effects on children can last a lifetime.”Yasmin haque

Her siblings’ futures are heavy on Devika.

she didn’t tell her youngest sibling that their parents are dead — now they are informed that their parents have returned to their rural villages.

when her parents were alive Devi asked why they Went out while the plague was severe – the day her mother had a fever, Devika asked her not to help at the temple. Devika told them that staying alive and safe was more important than earning money.

“I never understood why,” she said. “Where am I now? I finally understood them. I can understand why they left the house.”

Vedika Sud and Esha Mitra reporting from New Delhi, Julia Hollingsworth. Written and reported from Hong Kong, Sandi Sidhu contributed reporting, video by Vijay Bedi in New Delhi.

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