An estimated 1.5 million children in 21 countries, including 119,000 in India, suffered the death of their primary or secondary caregiver between April 2020 and March 2021, according to a recent study.

Published in the Lancet medical journal, the study titled ‘Global minimum estimates of children affected by COVID-19’ estimates that 25,500 children in India lost their mother to covid in the past year, while 90,751 lost their father and 12 lost both their parents.

The study was published in collaboration with the US National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health. In a press release the NIH stated that “traumatic experiences, such as the loss of a parent or caregiver, are associated with increases in substance use, mental health conditions, and other behavioural and chronic health conditions.”

“Though the trauma a child experiences after the loss of a parent or caregiver can be devastating, there are evidence-based interventions that can prevent further adverse consequences, such as substance use, and we must ensure that children have access to these interventions,” says NIDA director Nora D. Volkow in the report.

In May the Union Ministry for Women and Child Development said that 577 children in India were orphaned between April 1, 2021 and May 25, 2021 alone.

Minister Smriti Irani had tweeted then that the “GOI is committed to support and protect every vulnerable child due to loss of both parents to Covid-19.” The ministry claims to have relied on data reported by states and union territories.

In July the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights came out with its own report, which found that at least 2,029 children in Delhi had been orphaned due to covid. Most had lost their father.

The DCPCR stated that “Of these, 67 children are those who have lost both their parents whereas 651 children have lost their mother due to Covid and 1,311 have lost their father due to Covid.”

The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights had stated in June that over 30,000 children were orphaned nationwide since the start of the pandemic.

In a reply to the Supreme Court the NCPCR stated, “Of the total 30,071, 26,176 children have lost a parent, 3,621 have been orphaned and 274 have been abandoned.”

The Lancet finding is three times that number.

Vikas Gora, deputy director, south India for the NGO Save the Children told The Citizen that “The numbers currently are evolving and can even increase. Earlier it was thought that the numbers would be less as it was believed that only the older generation would be impacted by the virus, but in the second phase a lot of young, middle-aged people have also died.”

“The orphaned children would be subjected to a lot of stigmas adding to the psycho-social impact on the children’s well being,” he added.

“On top of that, if children have lost earning members of the family, they might be forced to start working. If a child has to choose education and working to earn food for the remaining family, he would choose to earn.”

According to Padmini Kumar, assistant director at the Joint Women’s Programme, which works for the rights of children and women, “The larger problem that the kids would face would depend on the strata of the society they are living in.

“The extremely worrying concerns we have are child trafficking, child labour, young girls being married off to much older men. There seems to be no talk on media channels as to where these children are, what they are doing. The underprivileged children would be in a very delicate position.”