More than 5 million children worldwide have lost a parent to Covid-19: Study

Two out of three children orphaned are adolescents aged 10 to 17 years



Reuters file for illustrative purposes
Reuters file for illustrative purposes

By Prasun Sonwalkar

Published: Fri 25 Feb 2022, 10:13 AM

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.

Published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal, the study says that estimates of the numbers of children affected by Covid-19-associated orphanhood and caregiver death nearly doubled in the six months from May 1, 2021 through October 31, 2021, compared with the amount after the first 14 months of the pandemic (March 1, 2020 through April 30, 2021).

Globally, the study suggests that two out of three children orphaned are adolescents aged 10 to 17 years. Additionally, in line with evidence that Covid-19 deaths disproportionately affect men, three out of four children worldwide who experienced the death of a parent during the pandemic 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.

The study says that overall, children who experience the loss of a caregiver have an increased risk of poverty, exploitation and sexual violence or abuse, HIV infection, mental health challenges and severe distress, and in some contexts, increased vulnerability to gang involvement and violent extremism.

The researchers call for evidence-based programs for children experiencing orphanhood to be urgently incorporated into pandemic response efforts, including programs that support economic strengthening, enhanced community and family support, and programs that avoid placing children in institutional care.

The study’s lead author, Susan Hillis, who completed the research during her tenure at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 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-19 response plan. Such support should focus on three core components: preventing caregiver death through equitable Covid-19 vaccine coverage, containment, and treatment; preparing families that are safe and nurturing to support affected children (such as through kinship care, foster care, and adoption); and protecting children using evidence-based strategies to reduce risks of poverty, childhood adversity, and violence”.

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Prior to the pandemic, there were an estimated 140 million orphaned children worldwide. The pandemic’s impact on orphanhood was first revealed in a study published in July 2021, which estimated that 1.5 million children had experienced the death of a parent or caregiver between March 2020 and April 2021 as a result of Covid-19.

The new study increases this estimate to more than 2.7 million children for the same time period, by re-calculating the figures from updated Covid-19 death figures along with excess mortality data to account for indirect deaths associated with the pandemic (July 2021 estimates: 1,562,000 children vs latest estimates: 2,737,300 children).


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