India’s COVID-19 Crisis: Sharp Increase in Child Trafficking and Abuse Risks amid Social Media Pleas to Adopt COVID Orphans

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (May 7, 2021)—Save the Children is deeply concerned about the growing number of children who have lost parents to COVID-19 in India. Desperate pleas to adopt orphaned children have circulated on social media, leaving them vulnerable to trafficking and abuse.

India has reported a record number of deaths from COVID-19 recently. While some children who lose their parents are taken in by relatives or guardians, others are left to fend for themselves, putting them at risk of child trafficking.

Save the Children is urging people not to share details about orphaned children online, and instead to contact the government helpline, 1098, to protect children from falling prey to child traffickers.

One post shared on social media read: “Kids aged 2 yrs old baby girl and 2 months old baby boy whose parents have passed away due to Covid. These kids need a home. If anyone close to you is looking for adoption, please contact…”

In order to prevent illegal adoptions, hospitals across the country have reportedly been told to take declarations from sick parents, to confirm who their children should go to in case of their deaths.

Meanwhile, Save the Children operates helplines for children and their caregivers in some Indian states, offering psychological support during the pandemic. Some calls are from children who have no one else to turn to for help.

“This is an incredibly confusing and difficult time for children, especially for those who have lost their parents,” said Sanjay Sharma, Deputy Programs Director for Save the Children in India. “Every day, we receive around 80 distress calls from children in just one state, and we’re concerned that things will get even worse as the pandemic spreads.”

Kushal,* age 9, and Preti,* 10, first reached out to Save the Children for help when their mother started suffering from a fever and was diagnosed with COVID-19. Despite being admitted to a local clinic where she was given oxygen, she passed away. Kushal* and Preti* weren’t allowed to attend her funeral due to local restrictions. Their father is not able to take care of them while he’s at work. U­­­nable to get their usual meals at school, the children were going hungry. Save the Children staff are arranging care for both children.

“Children who lose their caregivers and are left to fend for themselves are extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, and we’re doing everything we can to protect them from falling victim to illegal adoption or trafficking,” continued Sharma.

“Besides the immediate threat to their safety, we’re also extremely concerned about the toll this crisis is taking on children’s mental health. In many cases, these children will have had to watch their parents suffer without access to oxygen or proper medical care, which is likely to leave them extremely distressed. Children from poorer families might also have to work to support their families, or care for younger brothers or sisters, which means they’ll have to drop out of school, trapping them in a cycle of poverty.”

*Names changed to protect identities

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