New Delhi: The Supreme Court has directed all the states and Union Territories (UTs) to take “stringent action” against NGOs and individuals who are indulging in illegal adoptions of children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The apex court was Monday informed by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) that as per data submitted by different states and UTs till June 5, as many as 30,071 children were orphaned, lost a parent, or abandoned mostly due to the pandemic.
The top court, which passed a slew of directions for care and protection of minors who have become orphans or have lost one parent or abandoned, said the invitation for the adoption of orphans is contrary to law as no adoption can be permitted without the involvement of Central Adoption Resource Authority.
A bench of Justices L N Rao and Aniruddha Bose said wide publicity should be given to provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 and the prevailing schemes of the Centre, states and UTs which would benefit the affected children.
It directed the states and UTs to continue identifying children who have become orphans or lost a parent after March last year either due to COVID-19 or otherwise and provide the data on website of NCPCR without any delay. “Child Welfare Committee (CWC) shall ensure that all financial benefits to which the child is entitled are provided without any delay,” it said, adding, “The state governments/Union Territories are directed to take action against those NGOs/individuals who are indulging in illegal adoptions.” The bench directed District Child Protection Units (DCPU) to contact the affected child and his or her guardian immediately on receipt of information about death of the parent/parents and said that assessment shall be made about the suitability and willingness of guardian to take care of the child.
The top court, which had earlier asked the authorities to provide food and other immediate basic needs to orphaned children, said DCPU should ensure that adequate provisions are made for ration, food, medicine, clothing and others for the affected child. “Financial assistance to which the disconsolate child is entitled to under the prevailing schemes by the central government and the state governments/Union Territories should be provided without any delay,” the bench said in its June 7 order which was uploaded on the apex court website on Tuesday.
It directed the states and UTs to make provisions for the continuance of education of children both in government as well as in private schools.
It said identification of affected children can be done through Childline (1098), health officials, Panchayati Raj institutions, police authorities, NGOs and others.
“The DCPO (district child protection officer) should furnish his phone number and the name and phone number of the local official who can be contacted by the guardian and the child. There should be a regular follow up by the concerned authorities with the child at least once in a month,” it said.
“If the DCPO is of the prima facie opinion that the guardian is not suitable to take care of the child, he should produce the child before the CWC (Chile Welfare Committee) immediately,” it said.
The bench said CWC should provide for essential needs of child during pendency of the inquiry without fail and inquiry should be completed expeditiously. It said DCPO shall take assistance of government servants at gram panchayat level to monitor welfare of “disconsolate children who are devastated by the catastrophe of losing their parent/parents.” The bench said other issues in the matter shall be taken up on July 27.
It noted that NCPCR’s counsel has raised issue about certain NGOs collecting funds in the names of affected children and also that identity of such minors is being disclosed in public announcements by certain “unscrupulous agencies and individuals who are inviting interested persons to adopt the affected children”.
“The state governments/Union Territories are directed to prevent any NGO from collecting funds in the names of the affected children by disclosing their identity and inviting interested persons to adopt them,” the bench noted. “Stringent action shall be taken by the state governments/Union Territories against agencies/individuals who are responsible for indulging in this illegal activity,” it said.
It said majority of populace are not aware of their rights and entitlement to several benefits announced by governments.
“The state governments/Union Territories are directed to give wide publicity not only to the provisions of the JJ Act, 2015 but also to the several schemes that have been announced by the central government and the state governments/Union Territories benefiting the children who have become orphans and children in need of care and protection,” it said.
It said there is a need for continuous monitoring of implementation of schemes in favour of affected children and special juvenile police unit in each district and city shall be constituted as provided in JJ Act.
It granted four-week time to the Centre to file affidavit giving details of recently launched ‘PM-CARES for Children’ scheme for kids orphaned by COVID-19 and the manner of its implementation.
The directions came while hearing an application filed by advocate Gaurav Agrawal, who is assisting the court as an amicus curiae in a suo motu matter on the contagion of COVID-19 in children protection homes.