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Covid-19 leaves 1.5 million kids Orphaned in South Africa

Covid-19 deaths in South Africa have left 1.5 million children without parents.  A new study by the University of Cape Town called Accelerating Achievement for Africas’s Adolescent Hub found that South Africa has one of the highest numbers of primary caregiver deaths to the pandemic between  March 2020  and April this year.

UCT study focused on 21 countries accounting for nearly 77% of the global Covid-19 deaths at the end of April this year.

Countries included in the study were Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, England and Wales, France, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Spain, the US and Zimbabwe.

The study found that because most of those who died due to Covid-19 were adults, little attention had been paid to the impact of the pandemic on the children left behind.

The “tragic consequence” was that the high number of adult deaths meant that more children lost their parents and caregivers to the virus, as was the case during the HIV/Aids, Ebola and influenza epidemics.

“We observed a rapid escalation in our estimates during our study period: in the final month, the total number of children orphaned or losing caregivers increased by 220 000 from 1.34 million at the end of March to 1.56 million at the end of April.”

The study notes that about 1 million children were orphaned after losing their parents and about 1.2 million children lost their custodial grandparents or other co-residing grandparents.

“Rates of children losing primary or secondary caregivers were highest in Peru, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Iran, the US, Argentina and Russia,” notes the study, adding that in these countries, at least one in 1 000 children had been affected by deaths associated with Covid-19.

There were five times more children with deceased fathers than deceased mothers. Worryingly, the study also revealed that 23% of the children in the 21 countries were raised by single parents, whose death could have dire consequences for them.

The Western Cape Social Development communications officer from the social development in Ester Lewis says not all children who have been orphaned will come through the child protection system.

She explained that some children are taken in by relatives via private arrangements, or through private social workers. Where the children are left vulnerable with no parental support (includes family members who are caregivers), they would then be referred to the Department of Social Development

Esther acknowledges that losing both parents can have a significant impact on the children’s emotional wellbeing.

“Assistance in accessing counselling for the affected children can be sought via social workers. However, each child is different, and support is provided based on an assessment of that particular child’s needs.” Said Lewis

Child and Adolescent psychiatrist at Stony Brook Medicine Judith Crowell, Md, says the loss of parents at a young age can have a long term impact on children’s mental health.

In her report, Dealing with Loss During COVID-19: Helping Children and Families  Crowell provides tips people can use they their families have been affected by bereavement and grief, which include:  the child in rituals and activities that help them remember the loved one including planning and participating in memorial services or activities, talk about feeling and the person who dies with stories and memories.

They can help support acceptance of death by explaining that: The person did not want to die, the person did not want to leave the child behind. The person who died won’t return. Cronwell also advises that caregivers should not give false hope by saying things like they are far away or asleep.

The protection of the family and its members is directly and indirectly guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 16(3) of which states that the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Including other Articles within the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which states that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation and that everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

By Siphokazi Mnyobe

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