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Do not dismiss Lancet on Covid orphans data

Covid deaths were under-reported, so were numbers orphaned
Last Updated : 11 March 2022, 18:38 IST

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A category of Covid-19 victims who have not received the care and attention that they deserve is the children who were orphaned by the pandemic. They were not affected directly by the disease but may now have to pay a price bigger than that paid by others who were hit by it. Many individual stories of children who lost one parent or both parents to Covid have come to light and they have evoked sympathy. Some have got offers of help and actual help too. But support and help on the required scale has not been seen. Even reliable data, which is the basic requirement for a support programme, is not available. A Lancet study has put the number of Covid orphans in India at 19 lakh. The figure was arrived at through modelling based on many known factors. It is estimated that 52 lakh children have been orphaned globally by the pandemic. The estimate is for the period up to October 31, 2021, for 21 countries, including India.

The government has rejected the estimate, calling it “sophisticated trickery,’’ and has maintained that the number of children orphaned by Covid in the country is only 1.53 lakh. The large gap between the two estimates is very disconcerting because most of the orphans would need State support and it is the responsibility of the government to extend it. The government’s numbers may be an underestimate, as it was in the case of the mortality figures during the three waves of the pandemic. The government’s figures turned out to be wrong when the claims for compensation were later filed. In the case of deaths, only a sum of Rs 50,000 is involved since that’s the measly compensation the government agreed to give, but in the case of the orphans, their entire lives are involved.

The government has announced a plan to support the children and has set aside an amount from the PM-Cares Fund for that. But this is considered to be inadequate. There is as yet no known active plan for identification of the beneficiaries and for reaching the aid to them. Many children do not have identity documents and there are reports that at least in some cases, their present guardians may not be able or willing to support them for long. The government should consider simplifying adoption procedures in the case of Covid orphans. There should be effective programmes for rehabilitation and for providing health and education facilities to the children. Some states have announced such plans. Central and state governments should work together and ensure that the work is done efficiently and transparently. It is a very complex and challenging task. The governments may also involve in their plans NGOs that have a credible record of performance in the field.

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Published 11 March 2022, 16:58 IST

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