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Orphaned children of Uttarakhand face grim future

By Ians English

Dehradun, July 16: A two-and-a-half-year-old toddler from Uttarakhand who became the centre of national attention as she was lodged in a Doon hospital with broken limbs may have been identified, but her future remains uncertain as she has no family left for support.

Jyoti, the toddler who came to be known as Pari (fairy) to the doctors, nurses and social workers around her, has lost her family. While her mother had "disappeared" a year ago, her father and grandmother who were taking care of her died in the floods. No one from her village has claimed her so far, and the adoption route is difficult with its lengthy legal hassles.

The brunt of the calamity has affected thousands of children in the mountain state in many ways. While those left orphaned are looking to the government for support, those who have families are no better off as the adults have lost the means to support the children.

No future for orphaned Uttarakhand kids

Take the case of Anjali, nearly nine years old, who is at present in the Unkhimath area of Uttarakhand. The girl had lost her parents some time back and was living with her uncle, who did odd jobs near the Kedarnath temple to support his family.

On the unfortunate day, Anjali and her uncle were saved from the floods but her uncle could not survive. According to social worker Usha Negi, whose NGO is now taking care of the girl, she spent the whole night holding her uncle's lifeless body, crying, unable to understand why he was not responding. She was brought to one of the relief camps by some unknown people. The traumatised girl is not talking to anyone.

Negi, whose NGO Akhila Bhartiya Mahila Panchayat has been taking care of many such children, said the calamity has put a question mark on the fate of hundreds of children.

"There are at least 60 children our NGO is in touch with, their age ranging from one year to 12-13 years. These children have lost their families," said Negi.

"But this is not even the tip of the iceberg; there can be many more who are left orphaned, while thousands face uncertainty about their future with lack of basic things like education and nutrition," she said.

Negi lamented the uncertainty over the fate of the orphaned children as the legal procedures for adoption are complicated.

"There were people willing to adopt Pari (Jyoti), but initially we were not sure if she had a family. And now that we know they are dead, the legal procedure for adoption is cumbersome. How long can she stay in the hospital, or like many other children, in the local anganwadi? These children need a family," Negi pointed out.

"Children are worst sufferers of such calamities," said Devendra Tak, who works with NGO Save The Children.

The NGO estimates, based on official figures, that 1,227 children are missing.

"This is just an official estimate, the real number can be more," said Tak.

"Schools have been destroyed, the buildings left are being used as relief camps or distribution centres. There are several other school buildings which have become dangerous and need serious assessment," he said.

According the the NGO's estimates, 250,000 children in Uttarakhand are now out of school and 180 schools need repairs or rebuilding.

"In some areas like Tiwara and Vijaynagar, schools have been completely washed away. There is the Takshila High School that was flooded and - because the river level has risen almost 20 metres due to the silt - is now in permanent danger of being flooded whenever there is heavy rain," said Tak.

"The scene is such that there are villages that have no children. The families have sent them to relatives in other areas as nothing is left," he said, adding: "Imagine their trauma."

Tak added that the threat of trafficking and exploitation has increased and the NGO is keeping an eye on the situation to prevent this.

He, however, complained that the government's rehabilitation efforts are totally ignoring the children.

"They must come up with a policy for rehabilitation of these children. There is a serious threat to their growth as healthy human beings," Tak said.

"Children have special needs, and they are easily forgotten," he added.

Negi agreed, saying the children need psycho-social support.

"Many of them are too young to understand what happened. Many of them are not even talking. Pari (Jyoti) had just started returning to normal, but she is very young and she will not remember the trauma. For children like Anjali the images (of the floods) keep coming back, causing serious psychological damage," she said.

Negi also expressed fears that if action is not taken in time, many of the affected children may get misled.

"We are a frontier state. If the needs of children and youth are not addressed, I am afraid they might divert towards extremist factions like the Naxals (Maoists)," she added.


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