By | 06 Dec 2020 at 9:30 PM

As many as 1.46 lakh children or 64 per cent of those in childcare institutions have been sent back to their families as a precaution against the coronavirus pandemic following directives from the Supreme Court, the UNICEF said on Saturday.

The apex court had taken suo-motu note in April of the condition of the children in protection, juvenile and foster or kinship homes across the country amid the pandemic, issuing directions to the state governments and other authorities to protect them.

It had said juvenile justice boards should consider steps to release on bail all children who are alleged to be in conflict with law and residing in observation home, unless there are clear and valid reasons not to do so.

During a conference last Saturday and Sunday, the Supreme Court juvenile justice committee and the UNICEF reviewed and took stock of the actions taken by various states on child protection during the pandemic, according to a statement.

“Since the passing of the Supreme Court order in April 2020, 64 per cent children in need of care and protection who were in Child Care Institutions have been restored to their families (1,45,788 out of 2,27,518),” the United Nations child rights body said.

“About 60 per cent children in conflict with law (5,155 out of 8,614) were also released to their parents,” the UNICEF said, adding that at least 132 children from childcare institutions across the country reportedly contracted COVID-19.

At the two-day consultation, high courts and states representatives presented an analysis of the access to sponsorship, social protection and welfare schemes of vulnerable families, the UNICEF said.

The discussions focused on the follow up and monitoring of the process. The conference also discussed about bail practices and diversion measures for children in conflict with law, as well as monitoring of cases to ensure sustainable long-term practices.

The key priorities summarised by Justice S Ravindra Bhat and UNICEF were: ensure child protection services are declared essential services and ensure there is a review of child protection schemes to address the magnitude of issues.

They stressed on prevention of violence and family separation, ensuring access to formal and informal education opportunities for all children, among others.

Women and Child Development Ministry Secretary Ram Manohar Mishra said: “We need to focus on quality of services and their impact on the lives of children, and appealed States to draft a detailed district action plans with support of children.” UNICEF India chief of child protection Soledad Herrero highlighted how COVID-19 had become a child rights crisis.

What started as a health pandemic, evolved into a full-blown socioeconomic and human rights crisis, with children among its biggest victims, Herrero said.