India's deadly second wave of COVID-19 has left thousands of young orphans in its wake.

According to reports, in the country's most populous state Uttar Pradesh, some 2,110 children have been orphaned, lost one parent, or abandoned. Bihar and Tamil Nadu has over 1,000 cases respectively, followed by 900 over cases in Kerala.

Child rights activists believe that the real number is significantly higher than the official records as cases in rural areas remain unaccounted for.

The Guardian reported of one such instance, where teenager Nitish Kumar has had to take over the breadwinner's role after both his parents succumbed to the COVID-19 disease.

Kumar's father Birendra Mehta, 40, and mother Priyanka Devi, 32, both succumbed to the virus on May 3, and May 7, respectively.

Left with very little money after managing his parents' hospitalisation fees, and his father's burial, Kumar, with the help of his sisters aged 16 and 12, had to bury his dead mother in their backyard.

The situation was compounded by the fact that the helpless children were shunned by neighbours and relatives alike out of fear of catching the virus.

At the age of 14, Kumar now fears that he has to drop out of school to become the sole breadwinner of the family.

He once dreamed of becoming a doctor, but he had to bury his dreams together with his mother's corpse.

"My first priority now is to arrange food for my sisters rather than continuing with my studies. Right now, we are surviving on relief materials being donated by social workers, but they will not be available all the time.

"I will have to work. With their death, my dream too was buried," the child was quoted saying.

In another heartwrenching case, a pair of six-year-old twins were found lying asleep next to the corpse of their mother, who had died of COVID-19, unaware that she had passed on.

Another case involves a 12-year-old boy from Bihar, who became an orphan after his mother died from the disease. Now, he has to work at a construction site to support himself and his eight-year-old brother.

Officials and child rights NGOs fear that these COVID-19 orphans now face the risk of neglect, and being forced into child labour, or being victimized by human trafficking syndicates, and many of them are taking their own initiatives to ensure that the orphansed children do not fall through the cracks.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a stipend of 1 million rupees (RM56,000) to each orphaned child, to be given from the ages of 18 to 23.

To date, India has more than 29.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 379,000 deaths from the disease.

Source: The Guardian
Photo source: AFP via Getty Images