Task force to ensure safe custody for kids of Covid-positive patients

HOSPITALS WILL now have to ask Covid-19 patients at the time of admission if they have minor children and under whose custody are they kept during the treatment. This is among the guidelines given to members of district-level task forces, newly appointed by the Women and Child Development (WCD) department, to ensure children, whose parents are infected with the virus, are in safe custody.

The directions to set up a task force were given following order by the Supreme Court and guidelines by the Union WCD ministry after social media posts were seen circulating with details of children claimed to have lost both parents to Covid-19. The posts, which claimed that such children were up for adoption, were red-flagged by authorities stating that it was illegal.

Each district is required to set up the 10-member task force, headed by the collector. Other members are the civic chief, police commissioner or superintendent of police in rural areas, secretary of the District Legal Services Authority, Chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee, district civil surgeon, district child protection officer and officials of the WCD, health and information departments.

The tasks assigned to the municipal commissioner, district civil surgeon and the district’s health officer include directions to be given to all hospitals under their jurisdiction to ensure information is taken from those being admitted about the custody of their minor children during their stay at the hospital.

The collectors are directed to supervise the task force’s activities and meet once in 15 days to check on the adherence of the guidelines. Health officials are also directed to ensure that Child Helpline 1098 is prominently displayed in the hospital premises.

The guidelines also direct police to ensure that action is initiated against those who put up posts offering illegal adoption of children. The DLSA is directed to offer legal aid to ensure the protection of financial and property rights of the minor children.

The CWC is directed to follow procedures to hand over custody of the child to a relative or follow the CARA guidelines in cases of adoption. The guidelines also state that children should be given counselling wherever required.

The task force members are expected to send information to the district WCD office on a weekly basis which will be submitted to the WCD commissioner. The guidelines also include ensuring periodic medical checks and treatment to those in children’s homes in their districts.

“The increase in cases and deaths due to Covid-19 is also having an impact on children. The situation has given rise to cases where children have lost both parents to Covid-19. This has made such children vulnerable to being victimised and trafficked or pushed into child labour. The task-force is assigned to ensure care and protection of these children,” an official said.