Among Punjab’s Covid orphans, some too young to know what happened to parents

1 month ago 24
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Punjab has 28 Covid orphans. (Representational photo)

“Sadhe dedda te mumma kad aange saanu ghar le jaan vaste? Oh kithe gaye ne? Unha nu kaho chheti aun, saanu unha di bahut yaad aundi hai (When will mom and dad come to take us back home? Where have they gone? Ask them to come soon, we miss them a lot).”

These are questions that the maternal uncle of five-year-old twin brothers has to doge daily. After losing both their parents to Covid, the twins relocated from their home in a Kapurthala village to Majitha in Amritsar. They have been living here with their maternal uncle for the past three weeks, unaware of having lost their parents to the deadly virus.

Children of a small farmer in his 50s who died in May, the twins lost their mother 22 days after their father’s death.

Their maternal uncle, who is a government employee, told The Indian Express that his sister fell ill on the day of her husband’s bhog ceremony and never recovered. She could not get a ventilator on time and died in a private hospital, he added.

“There were no close relatives — grandparents, uncle or aunt — of these children except me. I am their mama, so I brought them along. Now, they are my responsibility,” he said.

“They talk about their parents all the time. They call their father dedda and always tell me how much their dedda and mumma (mother) used to love them and how they would get them all the toys they wanted,” said the uncle.

“Even when they are playing they suddenly go quiet and start asking about their parents. They cry a lot during the night and repeatedly press me to call their parents insisting they want to sleep with them,” said the uncle, fighting back tears. He added that while earlier the twins were told that their parents had gone to America and will return with lot of toys for them, “now we have started telling them that God has taken them along”.

The maternal aunt of the kids said: “We had seen such scenes in movies, but now all this is happening to people like us. We don’t know how will we handle this situation, but one thing is for sure that we will raise them as our own children.”

It’s a similar story of heartrending loss in Jalandhar, where siblings – a three-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy – lost their parents recently to Covid-19.

Both are being taken care of by their grandparents since.

“They call for their parents through the day. We feel so helpless,” said a relative.

These four children are among the youngest among the state’s Covid orphans.

Details accessed by The Indian Express from the Health Department, which has been sending this information to the social security department for the state, revealed that till date 28 children have been orphaned after loss of both parents in eight out of 22 districts of the state. Rest of the districts are still updating their records.

While 28 is the figure till date, Punjab government has sent details of 23 (orphaned during March 31, 2020 to May 31, 2021) such children to Centre. Every attempt is being made to get these children benefits under existing social security schemes, said government sources.

Out of these 28 children, nine are between 3 to 10 years of age, while 14 children are between 11 to 15 years of age, remaining five children are 16 to 18 years of age. There are 16 male and 12 female children in the list.

While most in the list of 28 have lost both parents to Covid-19, there are a handful who had lost one parent earlier, while the second one was snatched away by the virus during the outbreak.

Punjab has added all 28 to its official list of Covid orphans.

Out of these 28 children, maximum cases were reported from Jalandhar where 18 children of 12 families have become orphans. This list includes 11 children of five families who are siblings. Among these, three sisters — 8, 13, 15 years old — are from one family, two sisters –13 and 8 — are from another family, while one brother and one sister each are from three families.

There are 7 single children from Jalandhar who have been orphaned during this period. Most of these children are from poor families and from rural background as their parents were daily wagers.

Barnala, Kapurthala, Ludhiana districts too have two orphans from each district.

In Barnala two sisters — 13 and 15 — lost their parents to Covid within a two days time in May. Their parents were daily wagers, and now both these girls are living with their brother, who above 18.

A 15-year-old boy from Jagraon in Ludhiana district had lost his mother in May this year to Covid, while his father had died long back. The boy has two elder siblings, both married, and currently, he is living alone at his home, said a relative.

He is also a school drop-out, said sources in the social security department. His mother was a daily wager.

Another 15-year-old boy, a Class 10 student, from Jagraon has lost both parents and now lives with his aunt.

A Class 5 student from Fazilka had lost her father earlier, and her mother died due to Covid in May. The 11-year-old is now being looked after by her paternal aunt.

In a similar cases, a 10-year-old from Mohali and an 8-year-old from Bathinda are also being looked after by their grandmothers after losing both their parents.

In all these cases, the children are either with their maternal or paternal grandparents, while in some cases, they are being looked after by their aunts or uncles. There is no case where there has been a need to send them to government shelter homes.

“They are our children and how can we send them to a shelter home,” said a grandfather in Jalandhar, who is taking care of his granddaughters after losing his son and daughter-in-law.

Principal Secretary, Social Security, Women & Child Development, Punjab, Raji P Srivastava, said that the government will ensure that the benefit of all ongoing schemes is extended to orphaned children without any difficulty.

To ensure the well-being of these children, the government is conducting social investigations, interviewing the relatives and the kids, she said.

“Child Development Project Officers (CDPOs) of each block have been designated as special mentors for each such child and will act as counsellor-cum-motivator for the child. The government of Punjab moved swiftly to ensure that a policy is put in place. We have already held a convergence meeting with all participating departments. All the departments concerned are seized of the issue and working to extend their benefits of existing schemes to such children as well as to those families whose breadwinners died due to Covid,” said Srivastava.

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