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Adoption of COVID Orphans: Why Every Child Must Have Recourse to Kinship Care, Security and Self-Agency


Author: Sanhati Banerjee

 As India continues to be in the grip of the devastating COVID-19 second wave, it has left a number of children without care, homes and parents. Children losing both parents to the deadly coronavirus are now referred to as COVID orphans, a term that has gained much currency on social media in the last few weeks.

Child helpline 1098 has recorded 51 calls between May 1 to May 12 for children whose both parents succumbed to COVID-19. In reality, the number is likely to be much higher as there are numerous other helplines for child emergency and countless unreported cases.

It was in early May that child rights activists started taking cognisance of the alarming number of COVID orphan SOS posts. A fleet of such posts started doing rounds on social media platforms and WhatsApp groups. These posts put up urgent adoption pleas for COVID orphans.

Amid this surge in rapidly circulating messages, there was a growing concern regarding the safety and security of COVID orphans.

Where lies the credibility of such posts? Who can be held accountable? Clearly, the anonymity and the ease of ‘faking’ or communicating via impostor accounts that a social media platform provides is not good news for any family member of such a child as well as child welfare stakeholders.

Several child rights experts have voiced concern against such social media messages often conveying an emotional urgency, and claimed that they could be tricks by “trafficking gangs to expand their pool of clients and targets”. This could, in fact, lead to a vicious chain of events putting trusting children through child sexual abuse and violence. Thus, it is an infringement upon child rights including access to a safe environment and physical/ psychological well-being.

Moreover, the above situation has created an unhealthy ecosystem for children signalling their “availability”, as if it’s a free space where vulnerable children are open to be sampled. It is at odds with justice that ensures the right of the child to protection and dignity.

What the WCD Ministry Said

Taking stock of the situation, Union Minister for Women and Child Development (WCD) Smriti Irani took to Twitter to flag such adoption requests as “illegal” and urged people to prevent trafficking in the garb of adoption, and report all such cases to 1098, police or a Child Welfare Committee (CWC). The Ministry has also asked hospitals to add a column in admission forms asking patients to specify in whose custody their children can be left in case of any eventuality.

The WCD public notice has advised all public stakeholders including adoptive parents to refrain from engaging or encouraging such action, which is in contravention to legal provisions. Stating the course of lawful rehabilitation of children, the WCD ministry has said that the child who has lost both parents to COVID-19 ought to be produced before the District Child Welfare Committee (CWC) within 24 hours, excluding the journey time.

The CWC shall ascertain the immediate need of the child and pass appropriate orders for rehabilitation of the child, either to restore the child to caregivers or place her/him in institutional or non-institutional care, on case-to-case basis,” the WCD Ministry said in a public notice.

The Ministry further said that efforts will be made to sustain children in their family and community environment as far as possible, while ensuring their safety in their surroundings and safeguarding their interest, as prescribed under the Juvenile Justice Act (JJA) 2015.

“If the child is restored to any kind of kinship care, the CWC will continue to check the well-being of the child on regular basis. Care must be taken to protect the identity of the child to avoid undue distress,” the WCD Ministry said.

The Ministry has also asked state governments to intervene through digital platforms in cases where physical interaction is not possible in the current circumstances due to COVID-related curbs.

The Ministry said persons wishing to adopt orphan children may approach Central Adoption Resource Authority ( for lawful adoptions.

Why Kinship Care Should Matter

A child is most likely to develop shared emotional associations with his/her relatives/ extended family members. In the case of an adolescent, he/she is likely to have developed personality traits shaped by the environment of the birth family and influences of kinship bonds. In either case, it is not wise to uproot a child from his/her familiar environment and kinship cycle, anchored by shared linguistic, culinary, cultural roots and even community associations.

“We have learnt from disasters like tsunami of 2004, cyclones in Odisha, and Latur and Kutch earthquakes that if children have faced one crisis such as a loss of family member or separation from their parents due to death and desertion, then the emotional trauma for such children is very high. Over the years we have learnt that the best way to respond to such a crisis is to retain the child within the birth family so that the child doesn’t face double trauma,” said Nilima Mehta, child rights and adoption expert, to the media.

Nicole Rangel, co-founder of child rights organisation Leher India, told Protsahan India Foundation, “News in social media travels fast, but we can’t rush through the process of adoption. The interest of the child is paramount including that of his/her right to property. An older child must be allowed to exercise self-agency in terms of whom they would like to stay with. First, relatives from the kinship cycle must be allowed to step in, and even community members. CWC can determine the ‘fit person/s’ who can be entrusted as the foster caregiver/s in the case of death of parents but as far as possible separation from family is not recommended as it will add to trauma and loss of the cushion of emotional security.”

As the humanitarian crisis of COVID-19 with its massive death toll is impacting the lives and future of India’s children, there is a need to understand that nothing can replace an organic kinship care structure for a child, and only in the absence of kinship care, adoption should be weighed in. Children are currently at the risk of being torn apart from the known socio-cultural fabric of their lives. Adoption is a life-long commitment; any half-hearted measure can ruin the prospects of a child leaving irreparable scars.     ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Summary – Key Points at a Glance

COVID Orphan Adoption: What WCD Ministry Said

  • Report all cases of adoption requests to 1098, the police or a Child Welfare Committee (CWC).
  • Any child who has lost both parents to COVID-19 must be produced before the District CWC within 24 hours, excluding the journey time.
  • The CWC shall ascertain the immediate need of the child and pass appropriate orders for rehabilitation of the child, either to restore the child to caregivers or place her/him in institutional or non-institutional care.
  • Efforts will be for sustaining children in their family and community environment as far as possible, as prescribed under the Juvenile Justice Act (JJA) 2015.
  • Persons wishing to adopt orphan children may approach Central Adoption Resource Authority ( for lawful adoptions.

Protsahan India Foundation, Founder, Sonal Kapoor, says: “The term ‘Covid Orphans’ is problematic. We need to provide care for ALL vulnerable children. What’s with the selective outrage and schemes or donor’s misplaced priorities to only cater to one section of children in distress and completely leave out those children who’s parents may not have died in covid but are facing severe sexual exploitation and labor?”

Kapoor continues, “Institutionalization for a vulnerable child should be the last resort. Law strictly mandates how orphaned or abandoned children are to be cared for, adopted or placed in institutional care in India. This is partly to ensure that children are being adopted by prospective parents who really want them, and not performing an act of charity. It is also to protect them from the threat of traffickers, who target vulnerable children for the sex trade and forced labour. Social media pleas for children to be adopted are thus illegal. Those with good intentions amplifying such posts or forwarding messages for adoption of children may in fact be doing them a disservice. Also, critical to understand is that every orphan doesn’t have to end up in an orphanage. In a case in Delhi, after the mother of three children passed away from Covid-19, the father abandoned his children and ran away. The father’s and mother’s sisters together take care of the children. It’s not parents’ love but it’s still better than a shelter home.”

Shreya Khaitan of Indiaspends spoke to Protsahan India Foundation and the article can be read here.


  1. Adoption issues to the fore as COVID-19 throws up many orphans
  2. Beware of traffickers: social media posts seeking adoption for ‘Covid orphans’ raise concern
  3. Union Minister for Women and Child Development, @smritiirani
  4. @ministryofwomenandchilddevelopment

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