Three days after their father died from Covid-19, the twins Tripti and Pari, barely six years old, were sleeping next to their mother without knowing that she too had succumbed to the disease and that they were orphans. After knocking in vain, the family members threw water out the window for the girls to wake up and open the door.
Since the start of the pandemic, 283,248 people have died in India, including 4,529 on Wednesday (19).
Thousands of children have lost at least one of their parents in this second epidemic wave ravaging India. The country already had millions of orphans, and now this additional number of abandoned children is becoming more and more worrying.
These children orphaned by Covid-19 “do not only live an emotional tragedy, they risk being neglected, mistreated and exploited”, warns Yasmin Haque, representative of UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) in India .
Tripti and Pari were greeted by their mother’s uncle. “I always tell girls that their parents will come back,” Ramesh says. The names of the three have been changed to keep the girls safe. “I don’t want to tell them the truth for the moment (…) they are too small”, he adds.
After the death of her husband, the mother of the girls, shaken and sick with Covid-19, stopped eating, she reports.
In April, in the state of Maharashtra, the local press reported that a baby was found in the mother’s arms, killed by coronavirus 48 hours ago, without anyone wanting to intervene for fear of being infected.
“We don’t know the death toll, let alone the number of orphans,” says Akancha Srivastava, a cybersecurity expert who has set up a dedicated helpline to help children whose families are affected by the disease.
Demands for donated milk and food for babies who have lost their mothers are flooding social media, where children are illegally offered for adoption.
“Although we do not yet have figures, we are seeing the emergence of illegal adoption offers on social networks, which makes orphans vulnerable to trafficking and mistreatment,” warned Yasmin Haque of Unicef. .
According to Indian law, the orphan condition must be verified by a government official before the child is placed in an institution, if no family member can receive it.
This month, India’s Minister for Women’s and Children’s Development, Smriti Irani, recalled that offers of adoption, outside the official circuit, are illegal and hide pitfalls.
AFP news agency received an adoption offer on WhatsApp, under the headline “Brahmin Children,” which offered a two-year-old girl and a two-month-old boy, suggesting that the two children belong to the upper Indian caste. This number was then deactivated and is the subject of an investigation by the authorities.
According to the Protsahan India Foundation, a children’s rights NGO, many orphans are forced to work, for example doing some kind of street shopping. “This is a generation of children in extreme difficulty, facing serious trauma and who will become devastated adults,” warns the founder of the institution, Sonal Kapoor.