Pleas for help in India as COVID-19 leaves children without carers

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When an Indian children’s rights group tracked down two boys aged 6 and 8 after it was told that their parents were both severely ill with COVID-19 and unable to care for them, the children had not eaten for days.

The case, reported by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) group which located the boys in a small town in India’s rural heartland, was one of a growing number of emergencies involving children affected by India’s devastating coronavirus crisis.

The exponential rise in infections and deaths has left some children, particularly in poor communities, without a carer because their parents or other relatives are too ill to cope or have died.

“Because the number of deaths has increased, the crisis is that either children are losing their parents, or their caregivers are hospitalised, and there is no one to take care of them,” said Dhananjay Tingal, executive director of BBA.

India’s underfunded social services are struggling to cope, and in certain parts of the country there is still stigma surrounding people who contract the virus, leaving some children isolated.

“Neighbours and extended family do not want to help because they are afraid of infection, treating these families almost like outcasts,” said Tingal.

He did not share further details of the two boys because of concern for their privacy.

Tingal said BBA, which is headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Kailash Sayarthi, started receiving calls about children in dire situations linked to the COVID-19 outbreak in early April.

The volume of calls increased after Sayarthi posted a helpline number on Twitter on Apr 29.

BBA now receives about 70 calls a day seeking help for children whose parents are dead or seriously ill, and a greater number of calls from parents who have tested positive and want to know if the group can take care of their children if their health fails.

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