LONDON, February 24, 2022 – Nearly six children per minute on average have lost at least one parent or guardian to COVID-19 and now face an increased risk of violence, exploitation and abuse, as well as the danger of being institutionalized, Save the Children said.
A new modeling study published in The Lancet today revealed that around 5.2 million children lost at least one caregiver to COVID-19 in the first 20 months of the pandemic, with Peru having the highest rate of orphan cases per capita with eight out of 1,000 children affected followed by South Africa.
In the 20 countries studied, children were more than three times more likely to have lost a father than a mother. The report also suggested that older children were more affected than younger children, with teenagers aged 10 to 17 accounting for nearly two in three children who have lost a parent to COVID-19.
Save the Children is sounding the alarm that these children urgently need protection and a safe family environment to avoid adverse consequences on their health and well-being. Many institutional care settings lack the resources to help children cope with grief and deal with the loss of loved ones.
Before the pandemic, an estimated 5.3 million children around the world lived in orphanages, although most of them had one or both living parents. Evidence suggests that children who grow up in institutions, such as orphanages, compared to those who live in a family environment, face significantly more difficulties later in life.
Young children placed in institutions suffer from poor health, physical and mental underdevelopment and emotional attachment disorders. Consequently, these children generally learn at a slower pace and have a reduced ability to socialize. Older children struggle to transition into adulthood and reintegrate into the community after leaving care.
Save the Children calls on governments to take responsibility for investing in the social care workforce and developing reliable alternative care options for these children. This should include supporting extended family members to care for orphaned parents.
The aid organization also calls for ensuring children are involved in decision-making that affects their lives, and for all countries to include plans and resources to integrate family-based alternative care. – where children can grow up in a supportive home environment – in their COVID-19 Response Strategies.
Rebecca Smith, Head of Child Protection Programs at Save the Children, said:
“COVID-19 has torn children’s lives apart for the past two years, and now we are facing a pandemic within a pandemic. Many children have lost a parent or guardian to COVID-19 and are now without care or protection. We fear that many of these children, especially vulnerable children such as those living with disabilities, will end up in orphanages, putting their health and well-being at serious risk.
“For many people, the term ‘orphan’ conjures up images of Oliver Twist, a poor child whose parents have died, leaving the child no choice but to live in an orphanage. However, in reality, many children in orphanages have living parents who are able and willing to care for them.
“Governments must urgently protect these vulnerable children as part of their COVID-19 response plans to ensure they can grow up in a safe and loving family environment. Orphanages should always be the last resort.
Save the Children trains social workers and provides case management to monitor, support, track and respond to the needs of children who have lost their parents and guardians, including to COVID-19. The organization also reunites separated and unaccompanied children with their families, and where this is not possible, Save the Children teams ensure alternative family-based care options are available. The children’s charity also helps families prevent child abandonment through counselling, parental support and cash assistance.
Notes to Editor:
According to the Lancet report, approximately 5.2 million children lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19 between March 2020 and October 31, 2021 – or approximately 5.93 children per minute (with approximately 876,000 minutes over a period of 20 months). Over the entire 20-month period of the study, the Lancet team estimates that a minimum of 3,367,000 children worldwide were orphaned, suffering the loss of a parent. In addition, 1,833,300 children were affected by the death of a grandparent or older adult caregiver living in their own home. The 20 countries studied are: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, England and Wales, France, Germany, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Spain, United States and Zimbabwe.
According to a 2020 Lancet article, an estimated 5.37 million children live in institutions, such as orphanages. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanchi/article/PIIS2352-4642(20)30022-5/fulltext
Save the Children co-founded Rethinking orphanages to help redirect overseas aid and development that supports orphanages to community-based initiatives aimed at strengthening families to prevent family separation.
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