COVID-19 and India's orphans
According to the UNICEF, India is home to at least 25 million orphaned children; this figure is considered to be a conservative one by most other sources. Most of these children find themselves shunted to the streets where they are delegated to working as ragpickers in cities or selling balloons, pens and other knick-knacks at traffic lights. It doesn't take an analytical mind to recognize the catastrophic impact that COVID-19 must be having on their lives.
What about children in orphanages?
Well, if he/she is lucky enough to be in the 0.5% of all orphans that get to, through a rare concatenation of events, reach an orphanage, then the child has access to some food, limited education (only till age 14) and then at age 18, is shunted out to brave the streets again!
Why do such little numbers reach orphanages? The answer is simple: because there is little infrastructure or for these orphan children. One in five districts in the country does not have even a single orphanage, and majority districts don’t have the minimum three orphanages needed (one for children of less than 6 years of age and one each for boys and girls of 6-18 years respectively). Orphans and vulnerable children do not even have separate legislation in India, they are part of the Juvenile Justice Act. The primary focus being under 18 criminals, even in the law that should protect them, they are lost. This historical neglect could have arisen for many reasons. In India, there are always more beneficiaries and claimants than funds, and orphans and destitute children have no one speaking for them.
Hence, they get lost in the push and pull over competing demands. They do not influence votes, having no parents who are voters. Orphans are not even a prominent social nuisance group. In a democracy, one of the fallouts of majority representation is that policies and funds are often around cornered by those who provide the maximum number of votes, a term we can call the votable bias. It is because of this votable bias, that there are schemes such as mid-day meal, Anganwadi, Ujjwala – schemes that would be of importance to mother’s for the children- because mothers form a large vote bank. It does not help that orphans have no political voice – there are few who speak for them, fatalism and institutional neglect making them a dispersed political entity, ineffectual in fighting for their own rights promised to them under the constitution.
Remember the 20 million figure I alluded to earlier? Well, the Planning Commission and the Government have never had a structured survey of these children. For all we know, this figure could be much higher!.
On the UNICEF database, there are official figures of vulnerable children from countries like Chad, Ethiopia and Indonesia, but the row for India is blank. Due to never officially researching the numbers, the Government has never been aware of a large number of children who have been left out of the progress story of our country.
The concept of Parens Patriae, that the state is your parent if you have none, is truer for no other category of citizens but orphans. Without any parent or effective guardian, orphans are children of the Government. Parents save, spend on and encourage their children in their education, coaching and job or business efforts.
Perhaps expecting the overburdened government to extend its resources in helping this children is asking too much! What then can the rest of us do to help these children?
The role of Reach Lives
Reach Lives works with several orphanages in Karnataka, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. Primarily, we leverage our extensive network of healthcare providers to support the healthy growth and development of children in these homes. We also use our platform to help these organizations access quality produce to support the medical services we offer them.
During COVID-19, we are reaching out to some of our larger supporters and individual donors to continue assisting orphanages with nutritional support. This includes rations for the residents of the orphanages and snacks to lift the spirits of the children during these testing time.
We will also soon be resuming our outreach activities to provide our partner orphanages with sound medical care.
What can you do?
If there's one thing to be learned from the COVID crisis, it is that we need to come together to meaningfully solve any societal problem. The problem faced by our country's orphaned children is also one that requires a coordinated effort.
Non-governmental organizations have begun resuming their operations gradually in post-lockdown India. These organizations provide excellent platforms for you to help fight the issue. But the process of resuming operations is likely to last a few months. In the meantime, please consider reaching out to an orphanage near you and offering support in cash or kind.