Disaster left only 13 children orphaned, says Uttarakhand government

Tuesday, 3 September 2013 – 8:15am IST | Place: Dehradun | Agency: dna

With thousands feared dead, many moremissing and countless injured, the worst sufferers of the natural catastrophe inUttarakhand are the children, especially those who have been left orphaned.

The extent of destruction left by thefloods remains unfathomable but the state government has added to the irony with the claim that only 13 kids were left orphaned, a figure that’s contested both by the opposition, independent child rights organisations and commissions.

The preliminary report prepared by the disaster management cell of Uttarakhand, a copy of which is with dna, claims that the government will take care of the studies of these 13 children until 12th standard. “As per our records till now (August 26), only 13 children have been orphaned and government will take adequate care of them,” said Bhaskaran Joshi, secretary, disaster management cell.

However, state child rights commission chairperson, Ajay Sethia, at a meeting of state and central government officials in Dehradun raised questions on the figure provided by the disaster management cell of the state. He rubbished the government claims and said that at least 250 children were orphaned.

“If around 445 are married men out of the total 847 locals feared dead or missing, then where is the mention of their children. Do they not come under the category of orphans?” Sethia questioned, in the presence of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights members.

Ironically, Uttarakhand has poor infrastructure for children and poorer mechanism to conduct surveys. With just 32 active child welfare committees out of a total of 65 CWCs, the job to assess actual loss becomes not only tedious but impossible. “Many CWC members were not even aware that they had to work immediately after the disaster,” said a senior government official. Also, the state has just three labour inspectors for 13 districts, who mostly work in the plains, not in the mountainous areas.

The state government, with just three child homes, is also ill-equipped to handle large number of children affected by the disaster. “It could be the reason the government wants to keep the number as low as possible,” said the government official.

Some NGOs and state opposition leaders have contested the government figure. A few of them are carrying out their own independent surveys such as Umeed and Goonj.

Others are working for the rehabilitation of children.

“This government always plays with figures to save its skin.

Scores of children whose parents are missing have not been mentioned in any survey,” says Ajay Bhat, state BJP leader.

He added that the number of deaths is also higher than the government figure. “5,000 dead or missing is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.