NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched a welfare program for thousands of children who lost their parents to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The public health outbreak devastated India, which saw its hospitals run out of staff, beds, and oxygen at the peak of the crisis.
The country reported an official death toll of around 525,000, while the World Health Organization estimated that 4.7 million Indians lost their lives to coronavirus.
More than 147,000 children lost at least one of their parents to COVID-19 in India, according to data from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. Of this estimate, over 10,000 lost both their parents.
Under the welfare program, called “PM-Cares for Children,” those who lost their guardians to COVID-19 are eligible for financial assistance, scholarships, as well as a monthly stipend of about $52 for their daily needs.
“I know how difficult the situation is for people who have lost their family members during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Modi said during the program’s launch.
“This program is for the children who lost their parents during the pandemic. If a child needs an education loan for professional courses, for higher education, then PM-CARES will help in that too.”
Nitish Kumar Mehta, who lives in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, is among those who stand to benefit from the program.
He and his two sisters lost both their parents last May when India saw its most devastating wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Any help is important,” Mehta told Arab News. “My elder sister is 18 and my youngest one is 13, and we need support. This money can help us in educating ourselves and finding a job.”
Child rights activists welcomed the new initiative but raised concerns over the program’s implementation.
“The announcement is the first thing about the policy in our country, the next step really is the implementation of the policy and who will be in charge of it,” Anindit Roy Chowdhury, chief program officer of Save the Children, told Arab News.
Chowdhury said civil society should watch over the program to ensure that “what has been committed in the policy actually gets done on the ground.”
Suresh Kumar, who heads the Bihar-based Human Liberty Network, a group of NGOs working to stop child trafficking, said some children may not have the necessary documents to prove their parents had died of coronavirus.
“Orphan children need all the support. Whatever Modi announced was needed, but at the same time, he has to make it very transparent and every child can get access to it online,” Kumar told Arab News.
“The government support should not be mechanical and charity-based; they should be humane and rights-based. These children, like other children, are holders of a bunch of rights.”