Over the weekend, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi also announced measures to help orphaned children, with a fund of around $13,970 (£9,852) set aside for each child. This will be given to them as a stipend from the ages of 18-23.
India has strict adoption laws – every state has a child protection and welfare commission which appoints officials in districts. A number of NGOs also help the commissions in identifying children who are at risk.
There is a national portal for adoption where people seeking to adopt children can register themselves. Matches are made after all necessary checks are done and the state’s child welfare committee declares a child “legally free for adoption”.
But India’s adoption rates are low – just 3,351 children were adopted in the year to March 2020, while tens of thousands were orphaned. By comparison, more than 66,000 children were adopted in the US in 2019.
And the size of the issue had dramatically increased after the second wave in India, said Anurag Kundu, the chairperson for the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
“In my life I have never heard of so many people die in such a small span of time – they must have left behind so many children who are below the age of 18. It is a national emergency in that sense,” Mr Kundu said.
In India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, more than 1,000 Covid orphans had been identified, said Dr Preeti Verma, a member of the state’s child welfare commission.
As with the national picture, the real number is probably higher, Ms Verma said. The commission had enlisted police constables, village-level healthcare workers and village chiefs to identify such children, she said.
According to Mr Kundu, a short term focus on foster care, rather than full adoption, was required to help alleviate the problem.
“It is a myth that every child is adopted,” he said. “Family members can always come forward. Foster care is a great idea but in our country it has not taken off, even though there is a specific provision in the law.”
Foster care allows children to be looked after by families and friends and they don’t have to wait in overcrowded care homes for someone to adopt them.
Experts say it can help improve India’s dismal adoption rates as more families may come forward to look after such children temporarily, which may eventually motivate them to formally adopt.