By Prabhat Kishore
A large number of children have lost both parents or surviving parents or legal parents or adoptive parents during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic starting from 11th March 2020 to 28th February 2022. The whole country stands with such children in difficult time. To support such orphan children, the “PM CARES for Children” scheme has been launched across the country on 29th May 2021. The scheme is a determined step taken by the country for a golden future of such children.
The scheme aims to ensure comprehensive care and protection of children who have lost their parents to the COVID pandemic, in a sustained manner, enable their well being through health insurance, empower them through education and equip them for self-sufficient existence with financial support of Rs 10 Lakh on reaching 23 years of age. The child should not have completed 18 years of age on the death of the parents.
The PM CARES for children scheme shall provide educational assistance entitlements – (i) Support for Boarding and Lodging to the extent feasible in the government residential schools, (ii) Uniforms, Textbooks, Tuition Fees, Notebooks, Stationery, Transport facilities to the beneficiaries. Children above 10 years of age can be enrolled in Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Awasiya Vidyalaya, Eklavya Model Schools, Sainik School, Navodaya Vidyalaya as per the guideline of the concerned institution.
All identified and verified children will be enrolled as beneficiaries under the Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri-Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY) Scheme with a health insurance cover of Rs 5 Lakh. The cover under the scheme includes all expenses incurred on Medical examinations, treatment & consultations, Pre-hospitalisation, Medicine & medical consumables, Non-intensive & intensive care services, Diagnostic and laboratory investigations, Medical implantation services, Accommodation benefits, Food services, Complications arising during treatment and Post-hospitalisation follow-up acre upto 15 days.
A lump-sum amount will be directly transferred to the post office account of the beneficiaries. A pro-rata amount will be credited upfront in the account of the beneficiary such that the corpus becomes Rs 10 Lakh at the time of attaining the age of 18 years. On attaining the age of 18 years, the beneficiary will receive a stipend till the age of 23 years by investing the corpus of Rs 10 Lakh. They will receive an amount Rs 10 Lakh on attaining the age of 23 years. The central government has promised Rs 4000/- for daily basic needs of children through other schemes.
For the execution of the scheme, Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) is the nodal Ministry at the central level; Department of Social Justice or Department of Women & child Development is the nodal agency at the State level and District Magistrate is the nodal authority at the district level.
Various Ministries and Departments have a crucial role to play in providing facilities and services to the children as per their needs. The Department of School and Literacy will ensure that the beneficiary children receive educational assistance; Department of Higher Education will facilitate loans and scholarships; The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare will ensure insurance cover under PM-JAY scheme. The Ministry of Social Justice and Employment, Ministry of Tribal Affairs and Ministry of Minority Affairs will accommodate the children identified under their scholarship programme. The Department of Economic Affairs will facilitate investment of the fixed deposit in an instrument to ensure stipend after 18 years of age and lump-sum payment of Rs 10 Lakh at 23 years of age.
Identification of beneficiaries will be done by the District Magistrate with the assistance of police, District Child Protection Unit (DCPU), Child Line & Civil Society organizations. Gram Panchayat, Anganwadi & ASHA network will be sensitized to report such children to CWC. The identified child will be registered within a week time on the online portal developed for the purpose. The detailed verification of the beneficiary will be done by the CWC and will be uploaded on the portal within 15 days. After the recommendation of CWC and confirmation of the DM, the account of eligible beneficiaries will be opened in the Post Office. Children below 18 years of age will have a joint account with DM; whereas in case of children of 18 years or above a single account will be opened.
Upon receiving approved list of beneficiaries on the portal, MoWCD will transfer the lump sum amount to the account of DM. Subsequently, the DM will provide funds to the children’s account and to the institutions responsible for their education, health or other activities. According to MoWCD, uptill now more than 4000 children from all corners of the country have been approved and the process is on.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has claimed that 147492 children have lost either both their parents or one of their parents due to the Covid-19 pandemic and other reasons between March 2020 and 29th May 2021, but data of only due to Covid is not available. According to MoWCD, 9042 applications from 33 States/UTs have been received on the “PM CARES for children” portal, out which 4345 beneficiaries from 31 States/UTs have been approved. In reality, neither the government nor any NGO has complete data of children orphaned during the Covid. The Government should ensure proper survey of such children. Only then, the developed policies and programmes can benefit them. Also the society should come forward to adopt such children for their welfare.
PM CARES for children is a holistic approach to cover children, who lost their parents during the worldwide pandemic Covid-19. It is hoped that through this ambitious scheme, the lives of such unfortunate children will be settled to some extent and they will move ahead on the path of a bright future.
(Author is a technocrat & academician. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected] )