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- Globally, millions of children have become orphans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Orphanhood increases the likelihood of poverty, abuse, delayed development, mental health challenges, reduced access to education, and institutionalization.
- The number of children in urgent need continues to grow, a collaboration of 13 international organizations reveals.
Global Orphanhood Associated with COVID-19
The number of children who have experienced the loss of a parent or caregiver due to COVID-19-related deaths is estimated at 10.5 million globally as of May 1, 2022, a recent modelling study co-led by CDC reveals.
The September 2022 study published in JAMA Pediatrics updates previous findings to provide the most current estimates of COVID-19-associated orphanhood and caregiver loss during the first 26 months of the pandemic (March 1, 2020 – May 1, 2022). The study uses the best available and most conservative COVID-19 excess mortality data published by the World Health Organization (WHO), to update global minimum estimates of orphanhood.
While COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations are declining in some parts of the world, in low-income countries the COVID-19 death toll is four times higher than in high-income countries. Additionally, one-third of the world’s population remains unvaccinated in low-income countries. These conditions pose a continuing threat of orphanhood from COVID-19. COVID-19 can lead to death within weeks among unvaccinated populations and under certain medical conditions, leaving families with little time to prepare children for what they might experience when their caregiver(s) die. Millions of children have entered the state of orphanhood in the pandemic due to COVID-19-related deaths of one or both parents, and/or grandparent caregivers. These children often face risk factors that may increase the likelihood of experiencing poverty, abuse, delayed development, mental health challenges, reduced access to education, and institutionalization.
As most of the world is adapting to life with COVID-19, studies show children who lost a caregiver(s) during the pandemic remain in urgent need of assistance. Multidisciplinary strategies outlined in previous studies present a framework to help affected children, as follows:
- PREVENT: COVID-19 associated death of caregivers by accelerating equitable access to vaccines, mitigation efforts, and healthcare;
- PREPARE: safe and loving family-based care support services (modeled after HIV programs) and avoid orphanages;
- PROTECT: children using evidence-based strategies that address increased risks of vulnerability and abuse, while strengthen their recovery and resilience.
Global Impact on Children, Families, and Communities
The September 2022 orphanhood estimates derived from excess mortality data provide a glimpse into the magnitude and long-term potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Across multiple papers, the body of research points to:
- The increased likelihood of experiencing orphanhood among children living in countries and regions with lower vaccination rates and higher fertility rates;
- Overall, children are at a higher risk of having lost a father than a mother;
- Two out of every three affected children are between the ages of 11 and 18 globally.
To see up-to-date minimum estimates of children affected by COVID-19 orphanhood visit the Country Calculator designed by the Imperial College of London:
Timely data on cases and deaths to characterize COVID-19-associated orphanhood and caregiver deaths is essential to develop well-informed national pandemic response plans.
For global, regional, and country-level maps with estimates over time visit the Interactive Visualization tool.
Addressing COVID-19 related Orphanhood Around the World
A number of governments are enacting legislative and programmatic initiatives to address the impact on children:
- In Brazil, at least 7 bills have been presented to the Chamber of Deputies/Congress in several states to “put in place a series of measures to ensure the protection, education and health” of minors under age 18 who lost parents to COVID-19. In 2021-2022, at least 11 states and some big cities, such as São Paolo, have either ratified laws or are considering bills providing monetary monthly stipends of 500 Brazilian Reals ($100 USD) for each child until they reach the legal majority age of 18.
- Rio Grande do Norte:
- As of January 2022, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, a monthly stipend of 500 Brazilian reals (100 USD) has been issued to families caring for children affected by COVID-19-related orphanhood.
- Rio Grande do Sul:
- In February 2022, a bill was introduced to similarly offer a monthly stipend of 500 Brazilian Reals to children from poor families who lost a parent to COVID-19 in Rio Grande do Sul.
- In the city of Campinas, the amount given is 1500 Brazilian reals (approx. 300 USD), split into three installments.
- Rio Grande do Norte:
- In Colombia, the House of Representatives has proposed a law intended to provide monetary support to children who experienced orphanhood due to COVID-19 in Colombia. The purpose of this law is to create a transitory program that will correspond to a conditional and periodic monetary transfer in favor of children and adolescents who have lost at least one of their parents and/or guardians due to a health emergency generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The law also aims to create a Single National Registry of COVID-19 Orphans – RUNAHC and the Comprehensive Care Plan for COVID-19 orphans.
- Indonesia passed the Government Regulation on Special Protection for Children (August 10, 2021) to mandate that the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection coordinate the implementation of special protection for children whose parents have died due to COVID-19 through family care and fulfillment of basic and special needs. Further, the Ministry initiated a registry (via UNICEF’s RapidPro platform) to collect community-based data to determine the number of children who have lost their parents due to death from COVID-19 and identify their needs in emergency situations.
- In Mexico, the Benito Juarez scholarship offers children affected by COVID-19-related orphanhood a monthly stipend for 800 Mexican pesos (approximately 40 USD).
- In Peru, the government is expected to provide a 200 Peruvian sol monthly stipend (approx. 53 USD) through the National Comprehensive Program for Family Welfare (INABIF) for each child left without a guardian due to COVID-19. Priority will be given to families struggling with poverty or extreme poverty.
- In the United States, White House Presidential Memorandum on the long-term effects of COVID-19 recognizes the need to prevent COVID-19 deaths while ensuring families and communities can access support programs and resources they may need to help with their healing, health, and well-being. Estimates of these studies have helped inform families, communities, and the public.
- At the federal level: Many families and communities have received support from federal and local programs like the Resources to Support Youth and Families During the COVID-19 Outbreak.
- A California proposed bill would establish the California Survivor Benefit (CalSurvivor) Program, “providing trust fund accounts for children whose parent or guardian died from the COVID-19 virus and foster children,” and “eventually for all children born into low-income homes.”
- New York City supports family resource centers, which are community-based hubs of support, services, and social connection that demonstrate effectiveness in reducing the risk of child maltreatment and entry into foster care.
Créditos: Comité científico Covid