A dire situation in India.
In less than two months, 577 children across the country were orphaned during the second wave of COVID-19, according to the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD). The immediacy of the situation has the ministry requesting an additional line in hospital admission forms, asking patients to specify a guardian for their children in case of death.
Give me more data.
Aangan Trust is a child protection NGO in India. Through informal surveys in four districts, volunteers “identified more than 310 children from marginalized communities whose parents had died or were critically ill.” There are over 700 districts in India. Roshni Chakrborty—a research associate with Aangan—estimates that thousands of children across the country are in a similar situation.
Dr. Preeti Verma, a member of the child welfare commission in Uttar Pradesh—India’s most populous state—confirms that more than 1,000 COVID orphans have been identified in her state alone.
A vulnerable place to be.
These children are in danger of being abused, trafficked, homeless, hungry, and taken advantage of for financial gain through private fundraising on social media.
What happens with these children?
There have been efforts to develop and promote family-based care in the last decade, per United Nations guidelines and the urging of child rights activists. There are legal provisions for foster care, kinship care, and adoption. However, adoption rates are remarkably low.
Announced days ago, the government will incentivize foster care by offering a monthly financial assistance of 2,000 rupees per child to the foster family. By focusing on foster care, the government hopes to get more people involved and on the adoption track.
Of course, institutions continue to be a vital way to care for orphaned children in India. Many of them do a good job, providing a valuable service to kids when there is no family to take them in.
What support is there for COVID orphans?
The MWCD announced it allotted a sum of 1 million rupees per district for non-institutional care of COVID orphans.
Additionally, the Prime Minister announced a fund of 1 million rupees for each child who has lost parents or guardians to COVID. The resources will be dispersed as a stipend from ages 18–23 for personal, educational, and professional use. In addition, these children will be granted free admission to a residential or private day school, health insurance, and help securing loans for higher education.
Is it enough?
While these measures are promising and will provide some relief, the imminent risk is that many of these children will now grow up outside of a loving family.
Legal battle in the United States.
Fulton v. City of Philadelphia was decided in the U.S. Supreme Court, but it has left proponents on both sides asking questions about the future of religious freedom and LGBTQ rights in American foster care.
Who v. What?
In 2018, the city of Philadelphia ended its contract with Catholic Social Services (CSS)—a faith-based foster care agency—when it was revealed it would not certify unmarried and same-sex couples as foster parents due to religious beliefs about marriage.
Two long-time foster mothers and CSS sued, arguing that the city infringed on its right to the free-exercise of religion, a right protected in the U.S. Constitution. The agency maintains that zero same-sex couples have approached them, but it would direct prospective LGBT parents to one of Philadelphia’s other 29 foster-care agencies.
The court ruled unanimously in favor of CSS, in what is being considered a narrow victory for the religious liberty advocates. However, people on both sides of the issue are disappointed in how it was decided.
Justice Samuel Alito, in his opinion, laments that the Court’s ruling “provides no guidance regarding similar controversies in other jurisdictions.” So in one sense, on the issues that matter, the jury is still out.
Beyond the immediate legal case…
There is a societal question: what is in the best interest of children? Some conservative advocates maintain that children deserve a mother and father bound within marriage. Progressive proponents point out the need for more foster parents—regardless of sexual orientation—and the over-representation of LGBTQ+ youth in foster services.
For the most part, faith-based foster care agencies want to be allowed to certify parents who fulfill their understanding of what is a stable, fruitful home. Are they correct in their assessment? Should they be able to use the sexual orientation of parents as a criteria for deciding where to place children? The debates are far from resolved.
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