Covid Coverage: Children in Protection Homes: 7th June 2021

The Bench directed States to continue efforts to identify children orphaned due to COVID in order to provide them with basic needs.

The Central Government was given extra time to furnish the particulars of the scheme under the PM Cares Fund. Specifically with regards to the mechanism of implementation. Nodal officers were appointed to each State and Union Territory who will provide daily reports.

Amici Gaurav Agrawal stated that he was satisfied with the response from all 10 states mentioned in the last hearing barring Tamil Nadu which has yet to furnish the necessary identification details. The Bench requested that the Advocate instruct the State Government to expedite the process. The Amici also provided a checklist for local authorities for identification and providing for immediate needs.

The Amici made further suggestions regarding the obligations of the District Child Protection Officer (DCPO). He stated that the DCPO must meet the child and the guardians virtually or physically and make an account of the social and financial situation of the child in order to determine the ability of the Guardian to care for the child. Associated NGO’s with the State Government may help and the Amici stressed the importance of prioritising immediate care and interim financial assistance over a long bureaucratic procedure.

Justice Nageswara Rao brought attention to the vacancies in the Child Welfare Centers (CWC) in multiple situations. The Amici pointed out that the term of recruitment is 3 years and for many officers that term ended during the pandemic.

With regards to the role of the CWC, the Amici suggested that the first step must be to conduct a social investigation report in order to assess the individual needs of the child, not just financial. A significant aspect brought up was school admissions, with specific regard to children in private schools who cannot continue to afford fees. And enrolling children who haven’t been enrolled in school.

The Amici then brought attention to the obligations of the CWC to continuously monitor the situation of these children. The suggestion was to monitor each child every 6 months and ensure that information on future entitlements of each child (if there are schemes providing for such) are filed with a mechanism for long-term maintenance of the files.

The Amici then brought up the issue of property rights of the child if they’ve lost both parents. Justice Bose suggested that NALSA can handle such situations and people can be deputed at the Taluka level. The Bench then directed that this particular matter be taken up on a later date.

The Amici concluded with specific reference to the plight of girl children who have been orphaned. He suggested that the States should provide additional support in these instances, possibly with higher benefits being provided. He also suggested that the DCPO monitor these situations in particular due to the higher risk of trafficking.

The Bench then heard Assistant Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj representing the NCPCR. He brought attention to the 6 stages of information upload onto the Bal Swaraj Portal. The Bench acknowledged that addressing all 6 stages currently would be difficult for States and directed them to focus on the first two. These stages include uploading the basic details of the child and the filing of a social investigation report.

ASG Nataraj then pointed towards the failure of Delhi and Bihar to upload any significant information. The Bench directed the advocate representing GNCTD to inform the State Government to make use of their task forces and upload the information without waiting for orders. The Bench castigated the Advocate from West Bengal for “seeking refuge under confusion” while other states have managed to upload the data.

ASG Nataraj pointed out certain problems with the current process. Some authorities have disclosed the identities of the children and their information. Some NGO’s have been collecting funds in the name of the child’s welfare and the ASG noted that this must be done in accordance to law and without disclosing the information pertaining to the child. The ASG also stressed the need for Counsellors in each district as well as combating illegal adoption by ensuring that all adoption take place through legal processes.

The Bench directed the states to continue their identification efforts and produce them before the CWC before stating that they would upload the Order on the next day.