India’s COVID crisis has left a wave of new orphans to fend for themselves, prompting concerns about child trafficking. The social media messages seem innocent enough but local authorities in India say these alerts popping up in phones across India are doing more harm than good.
In a country with an estimated 20 million orphans already , the virus is adding to those ranks with speed.
Their parents are dying in hospitals or homes across the country, and newly-orphaned children wait, alone, for someone to come help.
But usually, neighbours are too worried about contracting the virus themselves to help, or distant relatives won't take them in because they can’t provide for them.
In one case in rural north India, a toddler was left to fend for himself when both parents died after contracting the virus.
Save the Children India CEO Sudarshan Suchi says the neighbours could hear the cries of the child but they were wary of being infected.
“People were reluctant to rush in and were struggling as to what to do or how to respond. They were afraid, and they were concerned. And that is when they reached out.”
In the past few weeks, the stories of India’s COVID orphans are emerging across social and mainstream media.
In one video circulating on Twitter, three young children sit crying outside their home after the body of their mother, wrapped in a white sheet, is dragged out by neighbours.
The problem is so acute that around India, hotlines are being set up by government agencies, NGOs and aid groups to allow people to report children orphaned by COVID, and those in need of immediate care because their parents are too ill.
Click on the player at the top of the page to listen to this audio in Punjabi.
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