The COVID 19 pandemic has had a debilitating impact on almost every aspect of our personal and professional lives. As we were slowly limping back to normalcy after a year long battle with the first wave assuming things to become normal, we were yet again caught by a more lethal and monstrous second wave of infections that raged across the country beginning mid March. This wave brought more agonies and miseries than the earlier one. Many people lost their loved ones, countless others faced the worst phases of their lives desperately hunting for hospital beds, timely treatment, medicines and oxygen support. Even though the spate of infections have subsided considerably and the deadly second wave seems flattening, for many, things are not the same as before. Life has become extremely uncertain and difficult for such people. The most vulnerable among these are the children who have lost their parents to the fight against Corona. For these children, the emotional trauma of severance from their parents is compounded by the sense of insecurity about their future. According to the Union Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani, 577 children have been orphaned as per the data collected from various states and union territories between April 1 and May 25. The recent announcement of a comprehensive social security package for these children from the PM CARES (Prime Minister’s Citizens Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations) fund comes as a much needed healing touch to these innocent kids who have witnessed such a merciless jolt at such a tender age.
According to the announcement, all children who have lost both parents or a surviving parent, guardian or adoptive parents due to COVID -19 will be supported by a scheme under PM CARES under which a corpus of Rs 10 lakh will be saved as a fixed deposit. The corpus will be used to pay a monthly stipend once these children attain the age of 18. This could help them with their higher studies in professional courses as well as meet their financial requirements. At the age of 23, the child will receive the corpus amount as lump- sum for his/her personal and professional necessities. This will enable these children to take their own decisions with respect to their career and profession. Also, if they take loans for their higher studies in India, the interest rate on such loans will be borne by the PM CARES fund.
Another noble aspect of this new policy is the provision of health insurance. All such children benefitting from this scheme will be eligible for health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakhs under PM JAY or Ayushman Bharat. The premium amount will be paid from PM CARES fund till a child attains the age of 18.
It has been decided that children below the age of 10 years will be provided admission in the nearest Kendriya Vidyalaya or in a private school as a day scholar. In case the child is admitted to a private school, all expenses ranging from tuition fees to uniform and study materials will be met from PM CARES as per RTE norms. In case of children between 11-18 years of age, they will be given admission in any central government residential school like Sainik Schools or Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas and if the child continues to be under the care of his/her single parent, legal guardian or adoptive parents, then they will be given admission in the nearest KV or private schools and will receive benefits as specified under 10 year category. Further, those without any kind of parental support will be legally placed in child care institutions.
Many states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Odisha too had already announced state specific schemes for children orphaned due to COVID pandemic by announcing free education and monthly financial support for them. The PM CARES, however, comes with a broader and more comprehensive framework to take care of such children.
PM CARES for children comes in the backdrop of a grave humanitarian and societal crisis of elephantine proportion which has shoved millions of families into insurmountable grief and shock. It not only assures of a much warranted social protection and social security measure but also broadens the ambit of social justice by catering to the academic as well as financial needs of the bewildered children. Children are the future of our country, hence it is not only a constitutional duty but also a moral obligation for the government of the day to step in to ameliorate their pain and give them the assurance that they are not alone in their journey. Also, public donations forming the base of PM CARES, utilizing the fund for legitimate purposes like this augments the credibility of the mechanism as well as ensures accountability of the government.