Multiple estimates from different agencies indicate a very high number of orphaned children in the country following deaths due to COVID-19. However, the number of new registrations on the CARINGS portal has decreased continuously in the last three years and the number of adoptions has also come down.
A study led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the national public health agency of the USA, estimates that as of 01 May 2022, around 10.5 million children globally have experienced the loss of a parent or caregiver due to COVID-19-related deaths. An increase in the likelihood of poverty, abuse, delayed development, mental health challenges, reduced access to education, etc. is a few of the potential risks that such children are exposed to.
This model estimates that around 2 million children in India have experienced orphanhood (death or one or both of the parents) due to COVID-19.
Government of India estimates that 4,345 children have lost both the parents during pandemic
As per the update provided in Lok Sabha on 09 December 2022, a total of 4,345 children have lost both the parents due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This information is based on applications approved under PM CARES for Children scheme.
Maharashtra has the highest number of orphaned children (those who lost both the parents) due to COVID-19 with 790, as identified by the government. It ought to be noted that the State recorded the highest number of COVID-19 cases as well as the highest number of deaths. Uttar Pradesh & Madhya Pradesh have recorded 441 and 428 children.
In an earlier update in Lok Sabha on 04 February 2022, the government stated that 26,176 children have lost a single parent either due to the COVID-19 pandemic or other reasons during the period April 2020 to June 2021. During that period, the number of children who lost both the parents is 3,661. Considering that the number of children orphaned has increased as per the more recent updates, there are chances that the number of children who have lost a single parent due to COVID-19 has also increased over this period. As per the response in Lok Sabha, Maharashtra has the highest number of such children with more than 6.8 thousand. Uttar Pradesh has 2.7 thousand and Haryana, 2.3 thousand.
More than 9 thousand applications received under PM CARES scheme
The Government of India launched the PM Cares for Children Scheme to support children who lost both their parents or legal guardian or adoptive parents or surviving parents due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The scheme was launched on 29 May 2021. The Scheme aims to provide comprehensive care and protection of children in a sustained manner and make them achieve self-sufficient existence by the time they reach the age of 23 years. Factly’s detailed explainer of the scheme can be read here.
As per the latest information available on the portal, a total of 9,170 applications were received across the States & UTs. The highest number of applications were received from Rajasthan with 1553, followed by Maharashtra with 1505. Rajasthan is among the states with the lowest approval rate with only 207 approved out of the 1.5 thousand applications.
Overall, just about half the applications received are approved. Even considering the number of applications received, there is a large variance compared to the earlier mentioned international estimate of a number of children who might have been orphaned in India due to COVID-19.
Very few of the Orphaned children registered under CARINGS
The Child Adoption Resource Information & Guidance System (CARINGS) is an online platform, which purpose is to bring transparency to the adoption system and curtail the delays in the process. This is part of the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA), which is a statutory body that functions as the nodal agency for the adoption of Indian children. Criteria & guidelines related to Adoption in India can be read here.
As per the response provided in Lok Sabha, 336 orphaned children were registered on the CARINGS portal during 2019-20. This fell further to 273 and 272 during 2020-21 and 2021-22 respectively. Compared to the number of children who are recognised by the government as having lost both the parents, the number of children registered for adoption is low.
If the trends among the states are considered, Uttar Pradesh is among the states with the highest number of newly registered orphans across the three years. In the case of Maharashtra, there was an increase in 2020-21 with 78 orphans registering for adoption, compared to 16 in the previous year. However, this fell to 11 in 2021-22. Andhra Pradesh which had 35 registrations prior to the pandemic in 2019-20, has only 9 in the next two years.
Fall in the number of adoptions in 2021-22
According to the data available on CARA, there were 2,991 in-country adoptions in 2021-22. Comparatively, in the previous year, the total number of in-country adoptions was 3,142. Since 2019-20, there has been a year-on-year decline in the number of in-country adoptions.
The number of inter-country adoptions also fell to 414 in 2021-22 compared to 417 in the previous year. Compared to the earlier years, there is a comparative decline in the number of inter-country adoptions as well.
As was the case in the earlier years, a higher number of girls were adopted in 2021-22 with 1,957, compared to boys with 1,448. This is true in the case of both in-country adoptions as well as inter-country adoptions. A response in Lok Sabha from July 2022, provides details of ‘Children with Special Needs’ (CWSN) who were adopted. There is a year-on-year increase in the number of such children adopted.
The Lok Sabha answer refers to CARINGS as the source of information.
Highest number of Adoptions recorded in Maharashtra during 2021-22
As was the case in the earlier year, the highest number of in-country adoptions during 2021-22 was in Maharashtra. Out of the 2,991 in-country adoptions, Maharashtra accounted for 499. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal, and Telangana have registered the next highest number of adoptions during 2021-22. Together, these 5 states accounted for nearly half of the total in-country adoptions during the year. No varying trend can be seen with respect to gender, with these states reporting a higher number of adoptions in terms of both boys and girls. Maharashtra also has the highest number of inter-country adoptions with 65 of the 414 such adoptions in Maharashtra. Our analysis of the State-wise trends for the earlier years can be read here.
Institutional & Process delays might have contributed to lower number of registrations and adoptions
As indicated in the aforementioned global estimates, the number of orphaned children (single and both parents) in India is estimated to be around 2 million. However, the number of applications that were received and approved as beneficiaries under ‘PM CARES for Children’ is comparatively very low. The data provided in the parliament by the government is based on these applications and there is no other open data available for the estimate of orphaned children. This raises questions on either the estimates or on the efficacy of the scheme. In the latter case, the challenges could be around the availability of information, and the simplicity of application process, among other things. The lower rate of approval (around 50%) also raises questions about the process.
Another aspect regarding orphaned children is related to the adoption process. As highlighted in the story, fewer children are registered for adoption on the CARINGS portal even after the pandemic. One would have expected an increase in the number of registrations.
Furthermore, there is also a drop in the number of adoptions during 2021-22. This is not the case of the lack of Prospective Adoptive Parents (PAPS). As per the data available from 2019, there are around 25 thousand PAPS within the country. In an earlier story, we highlighted the delays in the adoption process and also the amendments made to the policy to improve the process.
However, the trends in 2021-22 do not indicate any visible improvement in the process as the numbers have not improved. In view of the pandemic-induced situation, it is of utmost importance that the adoption process is improved, and future of more orphans is secured.