Care informed by data

India must pursue schemes for rehabilitation of children orphaned by the pandemic

Numbers can often be hustled to tell many tales; but it is the story that is picked on the basis of the desire to do what is morally right that sets the course for meaningful action. The recent lancet estimates of COVID-19 associated orphanhood , which put the number at over 19 lakh children orphaned as a result of COVID-19, has raised India’s hackles . The Lancet study generated numbers based on modelling, and therefore only estimates and not actual numbers are available. Globally, it estimated that 52 lakh children had been rendered orphans by the pandemic. The study, in its original period, March 1,2020 to April 30,2021 was revised , with updates based on excess mortality and fertility data used to model increases in estimates of COVID-19 associated orphanhood between May 1ans October 31,2021 for 21 countries. Orphanhood was defined as the death of one or both parents ; or the death of one or both custodial grandparents. The authors claimed their findings showed numbers of children orphaned by COVID-19 had almost doubled in six months compared with the data after the first 14 months of the pandemic.

India has objected strongly to the estimate of 19 lakh, terming it as “sophisticated trickery intended to create panic among citizens” . As per data collected by the National Commission for protection of child rights and collated on the Bal Swaraj portal, the number of children orphaned during COVID-19 in India was far lower, at 1.53 lakh.

While the study does include revised estimates for all the nations , the message that it seeks to convey is the absolute urgency with which governments must incorporate childcare into any COVID-19 management programme. The state should proactively draw such children into the umbrella of care to save them from numerous adversities —poverty, violence , destitution, and lack of access to education and health care. The Indian government, to its credit, announced a grand plan of support for children forced into orphanhood by COVID-19.

Well begun is half done , but the centre and the states must expand efforts. The government would do well to allow interventions for children to be informed by a “whole life” care paradigm, and fresh data from time to time , especially in a pandemic that is not only rapidly evolving, but by all accounts, is nowhere near ending.