The death of a parent strips away the child of not just the emotional blanket of comfort, but also in several cases takes away the financial support, leaving their futures in a lurch.
According to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), 3,621 children have been orphaned during the pandemic, and over 26,000 children have lost one parent.
Ten-year-old Shatakshi Sinha is one of them.
She lost her father to COVID-19 less than a month back and is trying to get her life back to normal, but her mother Kalpana Sinha said “nothing will ever be normal again”, and who could argue?
The sole breadwinner of the family, her 57-year old-husband — an editor at a Hindi publishing house — was gone almost in a night’s span, without even getting a chance at proper treatment, and now she is at a loss for ideas to secure her daughter’s future.
“He had low grade fever and a slight cough, which actually got better in a few days, but one morning he suddenly collapsed. Although we managed to revive him then… after scrambling for an ambulance and a bed for hours, by the time we reached the hospital, we had lost him,” Kalpana said.
“I remember my little daughter running after the ambulance, pleading with me to take her along,” she added, barely managing to keep it together.
The challenge with Shatakshi’s situation now is that even though she still has a mother to take care of her, the financial support has gone.
“I have always been a housewife. How am I suddenly supposed to start working? Honestly, I don’t even know what I can do. And even if I do find a job, where will I keep my daughter while I am away. We live in times where no one can be trusted,” Kalpana said.
However, she has filled in a form seeking free education at her daughter’s school under the Delhi government’s scheme instructing schools to waive the fees for children who have lost their parents to COVID-19, but she hasn’t heard anything yet.
The story of Gaurang (13) and Daksh Gupta (6), who live in Uttam nagar, is not very different.
Their father, again the only earning member in the family, was an e-rickshaw driver making a living one day at a time, but his death has pushed the family to the depths of hopelessness.
Life was already a challenge with dipping incomes due to the lockdown. The boys’ parents had decided to take the younger son out of school, and shift the older one to a government one to make managing finances a little easier, but before anything could happen, tragedy struck.
“My younger son keeps asking about his father, and I do not have an answer. The little one was really close to him… the elder boy has become indifferent.
“I don’t know what to take care of. My children, their futures, or myself. I am so clueless and scared,” said Madhu Gupta, the mother.
Like Kalpana, Madhu too has applied at her older son’s school for his education to be made free, but nothing has come out of it yet.
A lot of this cluelessness, the widows said, was also because they have nowhere to turn to for guidance. Relatives helped for a few days after the deaths, but not anymore.
In another tale of the cruel twist of fate, three siblings — aged nine, 11 and 13 — lost both their parents to COVID-19 in the first week of May.
To make things worse, their landlord refused to let their tenancy continue unless they paid rent.
Thankfully, their uncle, a welder, came to their rescue and took the three children in.
“They are my sister’s children and I love them. I want to ensure they get an education and have a bright future, but there is only so much that I can do.
“I do not earn enough to fend for three children. I want the best for them, but I will need help,” said Mohammad Asif, who also has to take care of his seven-month pregnant wife.
In an attempt to provide help to caretakers like Asif, and non-earning single parents like Kalpana and Madhu, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA), an NGO led by Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi has been identifying children rendered orphans during the pandemic for almost a year now.
They recently launched a distress helpline asking people to report orphaned children when the death toll increased drastically during the second wave.
Kalpana said she managed to get in touch with a BBA volunteer who assured her help, and is hoping to hear from them soon.
Earlier this month, the organisation also sought the Delhi High Court’s assistance to get information on the number of children who have been orphaned during the pandemic in the capital.
“While our workers have been trying to locate and provide relief to such children by giving them food and shelter wherever necessary, it is important to understand that our organisation too has limitations.
“We have got in touch with state government authorities to provide these children with long-term support. It is the primary responsibility of the government to care for these children,” said Manish Sharma, Director, Bachpan Bachao Andolan.