Friday, July 30, 2021 / 09:45 AM / By Laura Rawlings and Susan Hillis, World Bank Blog/ Header Image Credit: World Ban
At current rates, one child is orphaned every 12 seconds due to a COVID-19-associated death, and the toll is growing. Photo: World Bank
The COVID crisis will leave many unwanted legacies.
Our estimates of the toll on children left behind, just released in the Lancet, are 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. The economic, developmental, and psychological impacts on these children will reverberate across generations, a tragic legacy of COVID mortality.
To examine this pressing issue, we formed a Global Reference Group on Children Affected by COVID-19: Joint Estimates and Action through a collective of like-minded academics, practitioners from global organizations, and civil society groups.
We used mortality and fertility data to model minimum estimates and rates of COVID-19-associated deaths of primary or secondary caregivers for children younger than 18 years in 21 countries. We then extrapolated these estimates to arrive at global projections. During the pandemic's first 14 months, our minimum estimates show over 1 million children experienced death of a primary caregivers, including parents or custodial grandparents.
Countries with primary caregiver death rates of at least one per 1000 children included Peru (10.2 per 1000 children), South Africa (5.1), Mexico (3.5), Brazil (2.4), Colombia (2.3), Iran (1.7), the USA (1.5), Argentina (1.1), and Russia (1.0). In addition, over this same time frame, another half a million lost a grandparent caregiver living in their own home.
. The threats of poverty, malnutrition, displacement and separation from siblings or other family embers, school dropout, depression, violence and child marriage can emerge suddenly from the Pandora's box of COVID-19.
What can be done to stem this tide of orphanhood and to support the children and families impacted by caregiver mortality? The authors of the Lancet article have developed a policy note to guide a response. This note draws on lessons from the HIV-AIDS crisis - which also left a generation of orphans - coupled with evidence on successful policy interventions.
The strategy put forward by our team is to PREVENT death of their caregivers through the rollout of vaccinations and continued attention to mitigation, testing, tracing and isolating; to PREPARE extended or foster families to care for children left without parental care so as to avoid the institutionalization of children; and to PROTECT these children from their increased risk of poverty, vulnerability and violence, including by supporting remaining parents and caregivers with child-sensitive social protection combining cash transfers with caregiver support.
As the largest provider of development assistance globally, the World Bank has a critical role to play in supporting countries to develop policies and programs to support the children left orphaned by COVID. Our work with governments, development partners, the private sector and civil society is essential to:
Strengthening the public sector's capacity to address these issues is foundational to this overarching agenda. Community and public systems rely on a trained, empowered, and resourced workforce, notably in early childhood development, health and social protection. Governments and global partners should prioritize resources for child programming to address the COVID-19 pandemic and establish a strong foundation for an inclusive, long lasting and equitable recovery. These same national and global partners should prioritize technical resources for ongoing modeling, identification, monitoring, and evaluation of programming for children affected by COVID-19-associated orphanhood and death of caregivers. This is a challenge, particularly in countries facing fiscal constraints as the world grapples with the largest recession since WWII. These investments have high rates of return that accumulate over lifetimes, and from one generation to the next. The growing numbers of children orphaned by COVID-19 need our support.
About the Authors
Laura B. Rawlings is a Lead Economist with the Human Capital Project, a global effort to accelerate more and better investments in people for greater equity and economic growth.
CAPT Susan Hillis serves as a Senior Technical Advisor on the CDC COVID-19 International Task Force, and as Senior Technical Advisor for the Faith and Community Initiative, for the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.