‘Eligibility criteria prevent those deserving from benefiting under COVID scheme’
The Tamil Nadu government has sanctioned ₹33.37 crore as part of the first tranche under a scheme announced by the Chief Minister to support minor children who lost one or both of parents to COVID-19. A total of 101 children who were orphaned and 944 minors who lost either of their parents have benefited from the scheme so far.
A total of eight government orders have been issued since June 15, granting financial assistance to 1,045 children.
One more file, containing proposals to benefit two orphaned children and 242 others who lost one of their parents, has been sent to the Finance Department for concurrence. Officials continue to identify beneficiaries across the State under the scheme.
While acknowledging and welcoming the efforts being made by the State government towards the welfare of such children, some child rights activists claimed the eligibility criteria mentioned in the operational guidelines for implementing the scheme were narrowing down the number of deserving beneficiaries.
AIADMK coordinator and former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, too, had urged “against discriminating [among] children” on the basis of the income of their deceased parents.
Child rights activist R. Vidyasagar questioned why the State government, which extended the COVID-19 financial assistance and relief kit to over two crore rice ration cardholders, was choosing the beneficiaries only from the list of 60 lakh below the poverty line (BPL) families maintained by the Tamil Nadu Corporation For Development of Women Ltd.
“Moreover, the list maintained by the Tamil Nadu Corporation For Development of Women Ltd. may not reflect the latest and actual scenario. COVID-19 has pushed several sections of unorganised workers into poverty, and the list may not include them. The pandemic has been affecting the people for more than a year and a half,” the former Child Protection Specialist with UNICEF said.
The executive director of the Arunodaya Centre for Street Children, Virgil D’Sami, said there had been cases of children losing their parents to post-COVID complications, and the scheme was not covering them.
A report, ‘COVID-19 Reversing the Situation of Child Labour – A Rapid Survey in Tamil Nadu’, which was undertaken by the Campaign Against Child Labour (CACL) last November and involved 767 vulnerable families in 24 districts, said child labour increased by nearly 280% among vulnerable communities due to economic distress.
The government order for the scheme was issued in English and not in Tamil, though its intended beneficiaries are from BPL families. The State government could also advertise the scheme more and involve the State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) to get independent and neutral inputs for the implementation of the scheme.
If the scheme was not implemented properly, it would lead to cases of child labour and child marriage, especially among girl children, activists felt.
When contacted, a senior official told The Hindu, “It is an ongoing scheme, and every day, officials are scrutinising new cases eligible under the scheme. There is talk about the [COVID-19] third wave and, hence, we will scrutinise the cases and identify the beneficiaries.”