New Delhi: “Mom, I want to go to school. When can I go to school?” This question over lunch by a 12-year-old has led to the Delhi High Court seeking the central government and the Delhi government’s response on vaccination of 12- to 17-year-old children.
12-year-old Tia Gupta has approached the Delhi High Court through her mother Neoma Vasdev Gupta. The petition has been filed jointly with another Delhi resident, Roma Raheja, who is the mother of an 8-year-old. The petition demands a direction to the authorities to put in place a vaccination protocol for children residing in Delhi as well as to give priority to parents of children in Delhi.
Narrating the story of how the idea for the petition took shape, Neoma told ThePrint, “We were having lunch a few months ago and Tia said that she wanted to go to school. So I said once you are vaccinated.”
“This conversation happened about a month and a half back when the second wave had come and it had really hit home that this virus is here to destroy us. I had no answers to her queries,” she said. This is when they started doing some research and realised that there was no clear vaccination plan in place for children. They then decided to file the PIL.
“In America and some other countries children aged 12-17 years are getting vaccinated and going back to school. If India is on a global platform, why should Indian children not be educated?” Neoma asked.
The PIL came up on Friday before a bench comprising Chief Justice D.N. Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh. The court issued notice to the Centre and the Delhi government and listed the matter for 4 June along with a similar plea.
‘Anxiety adding to mental trauma of children’
The petition, filed through advocates Bihu Sharma and Abhinav Mukerji, says that Tia “is extremely anxious after reading reports/news articles and such anxiety is only adding up to the mental trauma being faced by children her age who are susceptible to the infection, as there are no measures being taken by the Respondents to ensure that they are protected from the virulence of the COVID-19 infection.”
Describing her as an “aware and tech-savvy child”, the petition asserts that Tia keeps wondering why the authorities “are not attempting to protect their fundamental right of life, by ensuring mitigation measures such as access to vaccination for children in India.”
The petition, therefore, asserts that “if the children of this nation are not protected against the deadly virus with vaccination, it will put the future generation of this country in an extremely vulnerable state”.
As for Raheja, the petition says that she has read about cases where infected parents succumbed to the virus, leaving children orphaned and at the mercy of child traffickers. The petition, therefore, demands that the government, “being custodian of its citizens have a constitutional obligation to include parents of children as a priority, in order to avoid their children being orphaned in case they succumb to the virus.”
‘Children deprived of fundamental right to education’
The petition alleges that the “inaction” of the authorities on vaccinating children has resulted in deprivation of their rights guaranteed under Articles 14 (equality before law) and 21 (right to life and personal liberty) of the Constitution.
The plea submits that the pandemic has deprived children of their fundamental right to education as enshrined under Article 21A of the Constitution as well as the Right to Education Act 2009.
“Even though the medium of education has now shifted to online, the Respondents have not come up with any comprehensive, long-term reformative policy for education governance. To compound the situation, the Respondents have not come up with any measures for students to protect them from COVID-19 so that schools can be restarted and education imparted as before,” it says.
It further pointed out, “Vaccines for children are being produced and administered in countries such as Canada, United States of America (USA), for children between the ages of 12-17 years and being administered very effectively in the said countries,”
The petition seeks a direction to the government to “formulate a comprehensive National Plan with respect to children covering all aspects of their protection from the ill effects of the pandemic.”
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