Need to step up measures for well-being, protection of children during COVID-19 second wave: SC judge

New Delhi, IndiaUpdated: May 09, 2021, 01:02 AM IST

File photo: Supreme Court of India Photograph:(ANI)

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Caregivers and employees of care institutions - both government-managed and private - should be vaccinated, as frontline professionals and also that the services of these institutions should be declared as essential services

Apex court judge and chairperson of the Supreme Court Juvenile Justice Committee S Ravindra Bhat Saturday said there was a need to step up measures to ensure better care, protection and well-being of children during the second wave of COVID-19.

He made the remarks during a review meeting held by the Juvenile Justice Committee of the Supreme Court to take stock of actions taken by various states on care, protection and wellbeing of children during this COVID-19 wave.

In the meeting, held in coordination with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), possible measures and actions that need to be taken to ensure that every child in need gets appropriate care and protection during this time, were also deliberated upon.

Bhat said some children have lost either one or both parents to COVID-19 and there are many without parental supervision and care when their parents are in hospital or under medical care.

"These children are more vulnerable now than ever before. Concerted efforts should be made by all the key stakeholders to ensure the care and protection of children during the second wave of COVID," he said.

He suggested developing a mechanism to address interim care and needs of orphan, separated, or unaccompanied children, including clear guidance on steps to be taken in the event such a child has been exposed or has symptoms of the virus and requires a period of isolation and treatment.

He further emphasised that caregivers and employees of care institutions - both government-managed and private - should be vaccinated, as frontline professionals and also that the services of these institutions should be declared as essential services.

Some key priorities outlined by Justice Bhat were - screening and medical care for the children in the institutional care, provision of emergency medicine, supplies, emergency access to hospitals, and a roster of doctors available for teleconsultation, and on priority vaccination of all staff working in the Child Care Institutions and other frontline Child Protection workers.

Nomination of state and district level nodal officers empowered to take decisions and constitute a task force for rapid emergency response for children during COVID-19 was also highlighted.

On the needs of orphaned children, he reiterated that a coordinated response, in each district, by a committee to ensure temporary foster homes as well as gather and secure all information relating to the deceased parent or parents, for future use should be set up.

Each district CWC should compile all the details of such children, and their needs, it was emphasised.

Justice Bhat also stated that "prevention of and response to the second wave of COVID surge requires close coordination and collaboration between child protection system and health system, a multi-sectoral response ensures that children and caregivers' needs are addressed holistically and it leads to a better outcome for children".

In the review meeting, judges of all high courts and officials of various states and union territories presented the measures which are being undertaken for the care, protection, and well-being of the children during the second wave of COVID.

Some of the measures by the state and union territories were setting up a state-level nodal officers and district task force for rapid response for care and protection children during the current pandemic, sponsorship for the children lost parents or the bread earners lost income or facing economic hardship.

High Court juvenile justice committees represented by judges, as well as state and union territories also highlighted the measures they are taking to stop the spread of COVID-19 in child care institutions and the medical treatment and care of the children who contracted the disease.

Aastha Khatwani, joint secretary in the Ministry of Women and Child Development, said, "Considering the emergency need, the ministry has issued the advisory to stop illegal adoption and care and protection of the children who have lost one either or both the parents to COVID."

She further added that the ministry has developed clear, coordinated, easy to understand, community messaging on children's unique risks, vulnerabilities and need of care and protection during COVID-19, and these messages are disseminated and broadcast through social media and other channels.

Vandhana Kandhari, child protection specialist of UNICEF India highlighted that "efforts to pre-emptively scale up the capacity of family-based care and social protection systems are critical to enhance family resilience and prevent unnecessary recourse to residential care".

Kandhari added that in order to provide interim care to the children, extended family members, trusted friends, good neighbours and or community members can be declared a 'fit person'.

The review meeting was held with the chairpersons and members of juvenile justice committees of various high courts and was also attended by officials of Departments of Women and Child Development, Social Welfare and Health from various states and union territories.