The Supreme Court will be deciding on whether orphaned children should be given reservation in education and in government jobs later in life. There are around two crore orphaned children in India, and about one crore “street children”. These numbers are estimates since India does not enumerate orphans, unlike many comparator and less developed economies—even Ethiopia does this. A PIL asking for the reservations that has led to the apex court issuing notices to the Centre, states & UTs, and the NITI Aayog, highlights that the total budgetary allocation for ‘child protection’ is a mere Rs 725 crore—or just Rs1 per day per orphaned child in the country. Invoking the parens patriae principle that puts the matter under the jurisdiction of the SC, the PIL has asked the apex court to order for reservations for orphaned children since they are equally, if not more, vulnerable as the other groups that get reservations in education and government jobs. While it is imperative to provide support and equal opportunities to orphans, reservations are definitely not the way to do this. Instead, the Centre, as well as the states & UTs, should establish a mechanism to support orphans in all the ways that children should be till they attain some form of higher education or skill training, and become capable of employment.
In the absence of any specific scheme for their welfare and rehabilitation, orphans are pushed to the margins. This makes them vulnerable, both socially and economically. The government and the NITI Aayog would do well to draft policies to support these children so that they emerge employable and ready to join the workforce. Giving them reservations, on the other hand, will just fuel the quota fire with every group perceiving itself as marginalised, even when not so in reality. Besides, reservation in education and jobs does little to ensure the emotional and physical well-being of orphans. Given the state of children’s homes in the country, the government would do better to start improving the conditions there.