SC concerned about debt burden of pandemic orphans

The Supreme Court is concerned for children, some as young as six, whose parents died suddenly of COVID-19, leaving behind unpaid debts, mortgages, loans and insurance premiums.

The National Commission for the Protection of Children’s Rights (NCPCR) has so far identified 1,47,773 children who have lost a parent and 10,600 others who have been orphaned between April 1, 2020 and March 15, 2022 – the worst months of the pandemic.

A bench headed by Judge L. Nageswara Rao said Monday it would look into the matter.

The NCPCR has flagged unsettled financial commitments as a major issue facing children, who may not yet have recovered from the trauma of losing their parents to the pandemic. Equally important is the fact that many of these children may have assets or possessions that would become vital sources of income to help them become financially independent and support themselves and their education.

To find out the full extent of the problem, the Commission suggested to the Supreme Court in an affidavit that states upload asset and liability details to its Bal Swaraj portal, an NCPCR platform dedicated to identification and rehabilitation of children affected by the pandemic.

The NCPCR urged the court to order district magistrates to “take action regarding financial liabilities such as loans, mortgages, insurance premiums, etc., owed to these children.”

Furthermore, he said that “heads of major banks should raise the issue with the banks/insurance companies under the supervision of the district magistrates. One of the fundamental problems would be to manage bank accounts in the case of orphans who have not been nominated. The available cash would be a great source of comfort for emotionally ragged children who suddenly feel stuck without their parents.

The Commission said district magistrates could also “see” whether deceased parents left any property and ensure children’s property rights are protected.

The Supreme Court’s amicus curiae, barrister Gaurav Agarwal, suggested in a memorandum that district authorities can engage District Legal Services Authorities (DLSAs) to explore legal options and ensure that assets deceased parents are protected and that the child is not deprived of property.

“DLSA can also help work out the terms of settlement for loans, mortgages, insurance premiums for children who have lost both parents or a single parent during the pandemic,” Mr. Agarwal said.

The NCPCR further informed the court that it had, to date, identified 19,546 children in “street situations”. The tribunal examines the impact of the pandemic on homeless children and those living in slums without basic care and protection. the NCPCR, in its affidavit, said 10,401 children live with their families on the streets. A “substantial number” of them, 8,236, live in slums.

“They end up spending time on the streets during the day,” the NCPCR affidavit referenced in its memorandum to the Supreme Court. He suggested connecting these children with neighboring Anganwadis, opening shelters and enrolling them in schools offering midday meals.

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John A. Bogar