New Study Estimates There Are 1.5 Million Bereaved Children Due To Pandemic
An estimated 1.5 million children worldwide have experienced the death of a parent, custodial grandparent, or other relative who cared for them as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new study. This study published in peer-reviewed science journal The Lancet offers the first global estimates of the number of bereaved children due to the pandemic.
The figures are based on Covid-19 mortality data from March 2020 through April 2021. National fertility statistics for 21 countries were extrapolated to produce global estimates.
Findings suggest more than a million children experienced the death of one or both parents during the first 14 months of the pandemic, and another half a million experienced the death of a grandparent caregiver living in their own home.
“For every two Covid-19 deaths worldwide, one child is left behind to face the death of a parent or caregiver. By April 30, 2021, these 1.5 million children had become the tragic overlooked consequence of the 3 million Covid-19 deaths worldwide, and this number will only increase as the pandemic progresses,” said Susan Hillis of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the lead authors on the study. “Our findings highlight the urgent need to prioritize these children and invest in evidence-based programs and services to protect and support them right now and to continue to support them for many years into the future – because orphanhood does not go away.”
Before the pandemic, there were an estimated 140 million orphaned children worldwide. These children have greater risks of mental health problems, family poverty, and physical, emotional, and sexual violence. They are also more likely to die by suicide or develop a chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or stroke.
As older adults are the most vulnerable to COVID-19, many children living in multigenerational families will have experienced the death of a grandparent. Evidence shows that grandparents are increasingly playing key roles in providing care and financial support for their grandchildren worldwide.
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“We have strong evidence from HIV and Ebola to guide solutions. We need to support extended families or foster families to care for children, with cost-effective economic strengthening, parenting programs, and school access. We need to vaccinate caregivers of children – especially grandparent caregivers. And we need to respond fast because every 12 seconds a child loses their caregiver to Covid-19,” said study author Lucie Cluver, professor at Oxford University, UK, and the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
The study’s researchers developed mathematical models using the best available data as an initial attempt to estimate the magnitude of this hidden impact of the pandemic on children. In April 2021, in India, the researchers estimate an 8.5-fold increase in the numbers of children newly orphaned (43,139) compared to March 2021 (5,091).
For almost every country, deaths were greater in men than women, particularly in middle and older ages. Overall, up to five times more children lost their fathers than lost their mothers.
The authors noted that the results had limitations. Many countries do not have robust reporting systems for deaths or fertility. Data on country-specific prevalence of orphans before the pandemic was lacking, so their estimates of double orphans are limited to deaths of both parents during the pandemic.
Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, England and Wales, France, Germany, India, Islamic Republic of Iran, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, USA and Zimbabwe were the 21 countries from where the data was used.