As many as 1.19 lakh children in India lost their primary caregiver (parent or custodial grandparent) due to COVID-19, placing the country at the third spot after Mexico (1.4 lakh) and Brazil (1.3 lakh), according to estimates in a new study published in The Lancet .
Globally, this figure stood at 11.34 lakh between March 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021.
Children who lost either a mother or a father were 10.42 lakh, including 1.16 lakh in India.
The study developed estimates of pandemic-associated orphanhood and caregiver deaths using excess mortality and deaths for 21 countries that accounted for 76·4% of global deaths between March 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. It then used these findings to develop global extrapolations. It was conducted by researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control’s COVID-19 Response Team, the Imperial College, London, the University of Oxford and the World Bank among others.
More than 15 lakh children around the world had lost at least one primary caregiver or a co-residing grandparent. This figure stood at 1.86 lakh for India.
Though India ranks third in absolute numbers, its rate of loss of primary caregiver per 1,000 children at 0.3 was much less than other countries like South Africa (5·1), Mexico (3·5), Brazil (2·4), Colombia (2·3), Iran (1·7), the U.S. (1·5), Argentina (1·1) and Russia (1·0).
There were up to five times more children with deceased fathers than mothers. For example, in India, an estimated 25,500 children lost their mother and 90,751 their father and 12 children both parents.
The rapid increase in COVID-19-associated deaths from February to April, 2021 in India was associated with an 8·5-times increase in the number of children orphaned or losing caregivers in April as compared to March, according to the study.
The study underlines that such children are at greater risk of family separation and institutionalisation and recommends investments towards strengthening family based care, with the help of a surviving caregiver or through kinship, foster care or adoption.