The Delhi High Court today directed the Delhi government to take steps to gather information on the minors who have been rendered orphans during the COVID-19 pandemic and are in a vulnerable situation due to loss of one or both parents.
"Loss of one or both parents not only damages the children, it also puts them in vulnerable situation which could be manipulated to their disadvantage," a bench of Justices Vipin Sanghi and Jasmeet Singh said.
The high court directed various departments of Delhi government to call all residents' welfare associations, police stations, schools, anganwadi workers and hospitals to give information on children whose one or both parents have died.
It asked the Principal Secretary (health) of the Delhi government to issue directions to all the hospitals here to furnish the information of patients, where one or both the parents died and their kids were rendered orphans, to the Department of Women and Child Development without any delay, preferable within a day of occurrence of the death.
The bench, which heard the matter for over six hours, said just like birth and death certificates are compulsory, it is also necessary for the states to gather information of children who are rendered orphans and keep it confidential as required under the law.
The observation came as advocate Prabhsahay Kaur, representing NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan, submitted that there was a complete lack of information on number of children who have become orphan during the pandemic and their identities.
She said while DCPCR has reported 1,436 children who have lost one or both parents in Delhi, the Child Welfare Committees (CWC) have given information of 15 such kids.
The court was informed by senior Delhi government officer Rashmi Singh that there were several family members who were not ready to give details of their children.
Senior advocate Rahul Mehra for Delhi government said they are in the process of formulating a policy to provide compensation to children who have lost their parents and agreed that some counselling is also required for kids' relatives.
On the issue of making facilities available for Covid positive children with special needs, Ms Kaur said Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS) could play an important role in this regard.
The court was informed by IHBAS director Dr Nimesh G Desai that they are in the process of expansion of Mobile Mental Health Unit (MMHU) which will be available in every district here and necessary approvals have been granted by the Delhi government.
MMHU contains a patient transport ambulance, counselor, medical officer, staff nurse, nursing orderly and a driver and this will help in providing help to children in need at the doorstep, Mr Desai said.
The court said this facility will greatly help in providing mental health care to children at door steps and added that it expects that this should be made operational in next 15 days and asked the authorities to file a status report.
Mr Desai further told the court that they have eight isolation beds and eight Covid care beds where children with special needs can also be treated and generally kids are brought to the institute through CWC and Juvenile Justice Board (JJB) but even parents can bring their wards and they will examine them.
On the issue of giving more publicity to helplines, the court was also informed that the Delhi government has taken help of professional anchor Shami Narang and his recording has been done on helpline for children (1098) and senior citizens (14567).
The court was informed that the recording will be played on municipal corporations' garbage collection vehicles which go to different colonies and advocates for the three MCDs, NDMC and Delhi Cantonment Board also assured that the publicity campaign will be undertaken without any delay.
Kaur also said there is no plan for street children who are not even given basic facilities like mask, sanitisers, medical care and check-up such as temperature and oxygen saturation level and basic medicine paracetamol.
She said only open shelters available for street children where they could use toilet, have food and use as night shelters.
On this, Mehra said the department concerned has scheduled a meeting for June 5 where details of campaign to provide facilities to street children relating to COVID-19 will be discussed and decisions will be taken.
The court also expressed dismay that even though the Juvenile Justice Act was enacted in 2015 and the Delhi government was mandated to enforce its provisions, little progress has been made regarding provisions for foster care of children.
The bench said it appeared that after the court turned its focus on these issues, some favourable activities have been undertaken as if the department has now woken up to the reality.
The court said the Delhi government is bound by its statement that steps are being taken in this regard and asked it to comply with the timelines.
The court said at this stage, it was not getting into the aspect of failure of Delhi government to implement the statutory schemes under the JJ Act as it wishes to look forward and given an opportunity to the authorities to commence the work.
However, it made clear that if the schemes are not implemented, it will proceed to deal with the aspect of failure of the government and consequences shall follow for those responsible for it.