Aizawl: COVID-19 hit Mizoram on March 24, 2020, a day after India announced its first lockdown, when a 52-year-old pastor returning from the Netherlands was found positive. Although the first phase of the pandemic did not hit Mizoram hard, the same could not be said about the second wave. The state, which was the last state to report a COVID-19 death in the country, had its first COVID-19 casualty on October 29, 2020, and has since reported 685 deaths so far.
Even as COVID-19 cases have finally shown a consistently-downward trend, for many, the damage has been done for a lifetime.
One of the worst-affected sections due to the COVID-19 pandemic was children. In a conversation with EastMojo, C Ramsangzuala, State Child Welfare Commission Chairman said, “As many as 169 children in the state of Mizoram have been orphaned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Of these 169 children, 15 have been shortlisted for sponsorship under the PM Cares Fund, launched by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, on May 29, 2021. The scheme was introduced to support children who lost both parents or surviving parents or legal guardians or adoptive parents due to the pandemic starting from March 11, 2020, through education and to equip them for self-sufficiency.
“As the Mizos are a close-knit family, children who lost their parents mostly have dependents to care for them. But these 15 children were declared by the Child Welfare Commission as orphaned due to COVID-19,” said Ramsangzuala. They received a one-time ex-gratia payment of Rs 50,000 and will also receive a monthly sponsorship of Rs 2000.
Out of the 169, as many as 101 children are living with single parents, while 48 are living with single parents along with relatives. Twenty children have no parents and live with their guardians or relatives. Ninety children are below the age of ten, and seventy-nine are aged between 11 and 17.
As per the government records, counselling has been provided to 143 children, out of which 76 are female and 67 are female. Out of the total families, 56 are based in Aizawl while there are five each from Mamit and Champhai district, 8 from Serchhip district, 7 families from Kolasib district and one each from Lunglei, Lawngtlai and Siaha.
Of the 169 children, 167 are registered at the Baal Swaraj Portal, this portal was created by the central ministry as a digital real-time monitoring mechanism for children who need care and protection and was further extended for tracking children who have lost both their parents or either of the parents during COVID-19.
The State Child Welfare Commission has also conducted an inspection of schools, hostels and orphanages on two occasions, once in 2019 and once in 2021 respectively.
“Of all the schools we inspected, it can be said that most of them failed in terms of infrastructure. The hostels were tightly packed and children of all ages were put together in a room with beds just next to each other. We fear that these may cause incidents concerning sexual abuse/offence incidents. There was a lack of sufficient toilets, the food was not up to mark, and there were many rooms without proper window facilities,” said the state Commission chairman.
The commission will be holding meetings at the upper level to discuss how they can take measures for improvements in these schools.
Constant monitoring to ensure children face no issues
J Sawma, a member of the State Child Welfare Commission said they are monitoring the children closely, “The Child protection society and other concerned departments send reports. Though we are not going into the field for inspection, we are assessing the situation through the reports.”
Amy Lalrinpuii, Principal Programme Manager of the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) of the Social Welfare Department, told EastMojo that these orphans are staying with their families. “The orphans we have identified are staying with relatives and guardians. After studying their case, we found that it was not required for the children to stay at government institutions or homes. They are receiving sponsorship and PM Cares Aid.”
On their education, she said, “They will use the sponsorship for their education and other needs. All the children except one are going to school. One child had already dropped out of school before the pandemic.”
“There are certain criteria for the sponsorship. Children of single parents are not eligible for the sponsorship, it has to be that both parents have died. ICPS is working together with the children and their guardians to ensure that they receive the best possible care. Two children were taken to Delhi for a program of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.”
Regarding other challenges faced by children due to the pandemic, Lalrinpuii said, “In regards to sexual abuse or child abuse cases, the number of cases was lesser during the pandemic.”
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