Health, Helping

The Darker Side Of The Moon- The Pandemic Orphans

Globally, approximately 5,812,203 people have died so far from the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak as of February 11, 2022. But the ones who’ve had to face the brunt more severely are those left behind- friends, parents, siblings, and children. It is crucial to think about those most vulnerable to the lasting damage of the pandemic. Children may not be dying from COVID-19, but millions have already or will lose parents and caregivers before the pandemic ends.

The longer COVID-19 exists, the more parents it’s going to claim and the more the population of orphans will grow. Children may be the one group hit least hard by the virus itself, but they’re also the one that pays the highest price in the loss of the grownups around whom their fragile worlds revolve around.

A report in the Lancet estimates the toll on children left behind. The report states that for every 2 people who die of COVID, 1 child is left orphaned, facing the death of a parent or grandparent caregiver who had been living in their home. At this rate, one child is orphaned every 12 seconds due to a COVID-19-associated death, and the toll is growing.   

The emotional and developmental blowback that children suffer after losing a parent can be severe including lower educational attainment, slower brain development, and a higher risk of mental health disorders and substance abuse. And none of this touches the serious risk of socioeconomic suffering as one or both parents supporting the household financially are lost. 

In the longer term, the many orphans from poor families in remote areas face the risk of human trafficking and child marriage. Trafficking of children is rampant in India, where they are enslaved for work or sex. 

A report by UNICEF highlights the various ways in which COVID-19 is challenging decades of progress on key childhood challenges such as poverty, health, access to education, nutrition, child protection, and mental well-being. It warns that two years into the pandemic, the widespread impact of COVID-19 continues to deepen, increasing poverty, entrenching inequality, and threatening the rights of children at previously unseen levels.

Even before the pandemic, around 1 billion children worldwide suffered at least one severe deprivation, without access to education, health, housing, nutrition, sanitation, or water. This number is now rising as the unequal recovery furthers growing divides between wealthy and poor children, with the most marginalized and vulnerable hurt the most. The report notes:

  • At its peak, more than 1.5 billion students were out of school due to nationwide shutdowns. Schools were closed worldwide for almost 80 percent of the in-person instruction in the first year of the crisis.
  • Mental health conditions affect more than 13 percent of adolescents aged 10–19 worldwide. By October 2020, the pandemic had disrupted or halted critical mental health services in 93 percent of countries worldwide
  • Up to 10 million additional child marriages can occur before the end of the decade as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The number of children in child labor has risen to 160 million worldwide – an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years. An additional 9 million children are at risk of being pushed into child labor by the end of 2022 as a result of the increase in poverty triggered by the pandemic. 
  • At the peak of the pandemic, 1.8 billion children lived in the 104 countries where violence prevention and response services were seriously disrupted.
  • 50 million children suffer from wasting, the most life-threatening form of malnutrition, and this figure could increase by 9 million by 2022 due to the pandemic’s impact on children’s diets, nutrition services, and feeding practices.

This alarming data points towards the fact that the problems faced by orphans have increased manifold as a result of the pandemic. It also proves that urgent need is required to help these children cope with life and avoid further ill effects of poverty and orphanhood.

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