India sixth highest in number of Covid orphans
The study says that estimates of children affected by Covid-associated orphanhood and caregiver death nearly doubled in the six months from May 1, 2021 to October 31, 2021.
Published: 26th February 2022 02:40 AM | Last Updated: 26th February 2022 02:40 AM | A+A A-
BENGALURU : The number of children estimated to have experienced the death of a parent or caregiver as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, has surged to more than 5.2 million globally, according to a new study that includes India, Iran and 18 other countries.
India becomes the sixth country in the world to record high Covid-associated orphanhood. Italy recorded the highest number, with 55.4 per cent of children in the 10-17 age group becoming paternal orphans.
India recorded 49.8 per cent of children in this age group becoming paternal orphans, and 15.2 per cent becoming maternal orphans. In the 5-7 year age group, 17 per cent lost their father and 4.2 per cent lost their mother. In the 0-4 age group, 8.4 per cent lost their father, and 3.2 lost their mother. The study was published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.
The study says that estimates of children affected by Covid-associated orphanhood and caregiver death nearly doubled in the six months from May 1, 2021 to October 31, 2021, compared with the number after the first 14 months of the pandemic (March 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021).
Additionally, in line with evidence that Covid deaths disproportionately affect men, three out of four children worldwide who experienced the death of a parent, lost fathers. The countries covered in the study are Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, England and Wales, France, Germany, India, Islamic Republic of Iran, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Spain, USA and Zimbabwe.
Agreeing that children who experience the loss of a caregiver have an increased risk of poverty, exploitation, sexual violence or abuse, mental health challenges and severe distress, Dr Ashwini N of Mukta Foundation which works with child abuse, said, “Losing parents has left many children on the streets, the kind of abuse they have been going through, some even by their own relatives, is worse. Such children need to be strictly monitored by the Child Welfare Committees,” she added.
The researchers call for evidence-based programmes for such orphans to be urgently incorporated into pandemic response efforts, including programmes that support economic strengthening, enhanced community and family support, and those that avoid placing children in institutional care.
The study’s lead author, Susan Hillis, who completed the research during her tenure at the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, says: “We estimate that for every person reported to have died as a result of the pandemic, one child is left orphaned or loses a caregiver. That is the equivalent of one child every six seconds facing a heightened risk of lifelong adversity unless given appropriate support in time.”
Thus, support for orphaned children must be immediately integrated into every national Covid response plan. The researcher and lead author call for repairing families that are safe, supporting affected children (through kinship care, foster care, and adoption), and protecting children to reduce risks of poverty, childhood adversity, and violence.