Tragedy of orphans in the midst of a global pandemic

In the middle of East Kalimantan cemetery, Indonesia, a 13-year-old boy wearing protective gear stands between two graves. It was his parents who were taken away by Covid-19.

Arga attended boarding school and was often sent home-made food by her parents. Then one day, no more food boxes were sent, the boy worriedly sent a letter to his mother. “Are you sick mom? Call me when you’re okay. I’m fine here so don’t worry. I still have 133,000 rupiah in my account.”

However, Arga’s mother no longer had the opportunity to read her son’s loving letter. The boy did not know that he had lost both parents to Covid-19.

“Arga’s father died on Thursday, she didn’t know because we didn’t dare to announce it. Then two days later, her mother also passed away,” said Leo Nita, Arga’s aunt. Now, the 4 Arga brothers, with 2 children aged 9 and 4, have to fend for themselves for a future without parents.

At a house in New Delhi, India, Pratham, 5 years old, keeps asking everyone where his parents are when they never come home. Perhaps Pratham and his 10-month-old brother Ayush are too young to understand the loss of both parents forever to Covid-19 in just a few days. Now, both children have to rely on news from organizations that adopt orphans.

The story of Arga or Pratham is not unique during a pandemic. Save the Children (STV) in July called on the community to provide information about Covid-19 orphans and help connect with their loved ones. A new generation of orphans has emerged because of Covid-19 around the world. According to a July study, Covid-19 has claimed grandparents, parents, the main caregivers of about 1.5 million children globally.

“For every two Covid-19 deaths in the world, one more child is left behind, haunted by the death of a parent or caregiver. The number of orphans because of Covid-19 is increasing with modern developments. We need to prioritize this group of children and support them for many years to come,” Susan Hillis, an expert at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), warned in the study.

“We need to act fast because every 12 seconds a child loses a caregiver because of Covid-19,” said Lucie Cluver, an Oxford University expert and co-author of a study on orphans during the pandemic. , warning.

Twin sisters in India who lost their parents to Covid-19 were moved to live with relatives in Bhopal province in June. Photo: AFP.

Twin sisters in India who lost their parents to Covid-19 were moved to live with relatives in Bhopal province in June. Photo: AFP.

Hillis and his colleagues assessed that the problem of orphans because of Covid-19 has not been properly understood by developed countries, especially from the perspective of child nurturers.

Elderly people account for the majority of deaths from nCoV infection and the fact that grandparents are the main caregivers for children is quite common in many countries. In the United States, 40% of elderly people living with grandchildren are primary caregivers. In the UK, about 40% of elderly people across the country participate in child support.

“The situation of orphans and the loss of caregivers is an underground pandemic, resulting from the high number of deaths related to Covid-19,” the international expert group emphasized.

The pandemic makes taking care of children in general and orphans because of Covid-19 in particular more difficult. Restrictive measures to prevent the virus from spreading in the community, especially the stay-at-home order, significantly reduce the ability of the government and related organizations to intervene and support children.

Experts fear that the actual number of orphans during the pandemic may be higher than the number in the study.

Before the Delta mutation broke out in a series of states, the US estimated more than 113,000 children lost their breadwinners because of Covid-19. The actual number of Covid-19 orphans in the US may have increased rapidly over the past few months.

In Indonesia, the Ministry of Social Welfare requires hospitals to record information about patients’ family members, so that authorities can support their children when needed. But in the context that Indonesian hospitals are overwhelmed by Covid-19, as well as the increasing number of people dying at home, finding orphans because of the pandemic is difficult.

“The problem is that this process doesn’t work smoothly when the number of Covid-19 cases increases sharply. We only have part of the data and they are not systematized,” said Kanya Eka Santi, director of child support agency. children at the Indonesian Ministry of Social Welfare, said.

In order to support orphans because of the pandemic, the US and many Western countries rely on the Child Support Service (CPS) to verify information about children who have lost their caregivers. CPS can transfer children to relatives for care, or to organizations that connect with parents who want to adopt.

However, Santi, an official at the Indonesian Ministry of Social Welfare, said that many families, which are already facing economic difficulties because of Covid-19, are unable to adopt orphans, even if they are their own grandchildren. In such cases, Indonesian authorities have only a last resort to send the children to an orphanage.

Some countries rely on community to overcome “blind spots” in the child protection system, typically India. During the peak of the epidemic from April 1 to May 25, India’s Ministry of Women and Child Welfare recorded at least 577 children nationwide who lost both parents. The actual number may be higher than the original estimate.

“In my life, I have never seen so many people die in such a short period of time. They probably left behind so many children under the age of 18. This is a national emergency,” said Anurag Kundu, President. Delhi Committee for the Protection of Children’s Rights, commented.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on July 15 launched a portal for people to notify orphaned children because of Covid-19. Women and Children Development Minister Smriti Irani asserted that every Indian citizen has the right to “notify a government agency of any circumstances that are eligible for assistance”.

Two months earlier, India established a special social welfare fund dedicated to orphans because of Covid-19. Each child who has lost a parent to the pandemic will be allowed to open an account of $13,600. This amount will only be disbursed when the beneficiary reaches the age of 18, divided equally every month for 5 years to support university costs. Recipients will be able to withdraw all of their cash at the age of 23.

In Andhra Pradesh, bank accounts are jointly held by the government and the beneficiary. In the case of children not being raised in public institutions, the interest from the deposit is transferred monthly to the guardian, until the beneficiary reaches the age of 25.

The Indian government also subsidizes the cost of education and health insurance for orphans up to the age of 18. At the end of July, India’s Supreme Court suggested extending this model to all orphans during the pandemic, instead of limiting it to cases of bereavement due to Covid-19.

In Delhi, local leaders on July 6 launched a special subsidy program for Covid-19 victims. Each family with a loved one who has died from Covid-19 will be supported about $ 680 and orphans will be able to go to school for free and receive support of about $ 34 / month until the age of 25.

Karnataka state supports about 47 USD/month for orphans because of Covid-19. The responsibility for verifying orphan information is assigned to local authorities.

Bidisha Pillai, global policy director for STV and operations leader in India, notes that children who have lost a parent or both to Covid-19 are at high risk of being pushed into poverty and abused. , mistreat. They may have to drop out of school to join the labor market, get caught in a vicious cycle of poverty and fall into many pitfalls.

“The pandemic cannot have more victims, even indirectly. If we don’t protect this generation, the children will be left behind,” she stressed.

At the home of a social worker in Tangerang, on the outskirts of the Indonesian capital Jakarta, 10-year-old Aisyah still chokes up when she remembers her last moments with her mother.

“At that time, my mother had severe breathing difficulties, and then she lay motionless. I thought she was sleeping, but when I shook her, she did not move,” Aisyah said. Aisyah’s father died before she was born and no relatives have been in contact since Aisyah’s mother passed away, so social worker Rinamelda decided to adopt her.

“I’m glad to have Aisyah here. I love her. I don’t discriminate against my other children. Thank goodness she accepted and loved us,” Rinamelda said. “I want Aisyah to be with me and fulfill her dream.”

Aisyah’s biggest dream is to do a job to honor her mother. “I dream of becoming a doctor, I want to fulfill that dream, so that my mother can be happy about me,” Aisyah said.

Trung Nhan (Follow AFP/CNN/Lancet/Al Jazeera/BBC/Hindu)

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